Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

The Making of UNITE the Union: The Dynamics of Amalgamation

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2018), 39, (1), 139–168.


In 2007, UNITE the Union became Britain’s largest trade union with 2.1 million members, following the amalgamation of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) and AMICUS. Given their similar size and status, UNITE can be defined as a ‘balanced-partner’ amalgamation. The initial plan had included the GMB but it had withdrawn from the talks in 2006.

Since 1979, in response to the adverse industrial relations context and loss of members all three potential partners had competed for new members by launching rival bids for mergers. An amalgamation offered a way to replace such competition with institutionalized co-operation, and resources could then be committed to regenerate union membership.

The article analyses unions’ strategies and policies in relation to Mintzberg and Waters’s categories of ‘deliberate’ and ‘emergent’ strategies. However, such strategies may not be realized or only partially so, as a result of unintended consequences and unknown or misunderstood factors. Union mergers are beset with such examples because unions embody complex, political processes in which discrete groups – lay members and full-time officers – interact and compete to promote and negotiate distinctive visions as to the role and future of the union. Hence to analyse mergers in and between distinctive trade unions, a longitudinal, processional analysis, which explores the role of key personnel and their power resources, was required.

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Author details

Undy, Roger