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The TUC's Bridlington principles and interunion competition

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In 1991 the government''s programme of continuing labour law reform identified a new area for legal regulation: inter-union competition for members. For seventy years unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have agreed to carry out their recruitment and organisational activities in accordance with a set of voluntary principles and procedures which have been known since 1939 as the ''Bridlington'' principles. Disputes over adherence to these principles can be referred to the TUC for adjudication by a Disputes Committee. Two previous evaluations which together covered the first fifty years of Disputes Committee decisions reached rather different conclusions about the nature of these decisions and their impact on union organisation. Lerner found that in the period up to 1957 they had become rigid and bureaucratic and always supported the status quo, ignoring shifts in membership allegiance. By contrast Kallis'' survey of the 1950-1974 period found greater sensitivity to local organisational strength even where this was in conflict with national strength or bargaining rights. This paper assesses the validity of these conclusions for the period 1974-1991. It also considers the effectiveness of Disputes Committee in resolving dispute over new issues which emerged in this latest period, in particular ''single union deals''. It concludes that there is still a role for a voluntary dispute resolution mechanism for this kind, although recent experience has shown that it has its limitations. If the change in the law made by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993, which creates an individual right to belong to a union of one''s choice, forces the TUC to abandon the Bridlington principles because Disputes Committee decisions can no longer be lawfully enforced, affiliated unions will lose a useful mechanism for promoting the efficient use of their resources.

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