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Ten Years of New Labour: Workplace Learning, Social Partnership and Union Revitalization in Britain

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Abstract

The establishment of a role in workplace learning has been perceived as one of the achievements of trade unions under New Labour. This article analyses the part the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has played in public policy since 1997. It examines its attempts to influence government and develop social partnership and statutory backing for vocational training. It assesses its degree of success and considers whether the TUC's role is best characterized in terms of social partnership or as a rediscovery of the unions' public administration function. It reviews the literature which suggests that involvement in learning stimulates union revitalization. The article concludes that the TUC has failed to attain significant influence over public policy. Rather it has delivered policy determined by government with priority accorded to employer predilections. A public administration role focused on the Union Learning Fund has provided the TUC with a new, secondary function, which provides some compensation for the failure of its primary agenda. Nonetheless, on the evidence, involvement in workplace learning appears an implausible path to union revitalization.

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