Organizing workers in trade unions is an aspect of the work of union officers which increased greatly in salience in the 1980s, as a result of the decline in aggregate union membership. Most large unions in Britain have sought to encourage greater officer involvement in recruitment and, accordingly, the first aim of this chapter is to describe the kinds of recruitment activity in which local officers become engaged. An important distinction which has to be drawn in analysing this activity is between direct recruitment, where approaches to prospective members are made by officers themselves, and indirect recruitment, where officers support and encourage recruitment by lay representatives.
Recruitment, however, is only one part of the organizing responsibilities of officers, and a second concern of the chapter is to describe the work of officers in building, sustaining and shaping organization among existing union members. In part this work can be viewed as directed at raising and maintaining the capacity of trade unions to operate effectively in the workplace. However, it also often involves an attempt to shape union character, in that officers transmit norms of appropriate union behaviour in relations with members, employers and other unions to workplace representatives.
In addition to describing the organizing work of officers, the purpose of the chapter is to test a number of hypotheses about union organizing, derived from theoretical models of officer behaviour. The theory of bureaucracy, for instance, would lead one to expect that officers would be both anxious to limit the autonomy of workplace organization and concerned to offer tutelage to stewards in the norms of ‘good industrial relations’.