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Abstract

The year 2003 was widely perceived as the year of the ‘awkward squad’— a group of recently elected union leaders more prepared than their predecessors to challenge New Labour. It was also a year in which unions were perceived to have experienced the beginnings of a recovery. In this review I argue that both of these perceptions are misplaced. The new generation of union leaders are a more disparate bunch than the ‘awkward squad’ label implies. The unions they lead remain seriously weakened by a harsh and inhospitable environment. Union recovery is unlikely unless the environment changes or the new union leaders can succeed against the odds in changing the environment through political activity.