‘Nothing gets done and no one knows why’: PCS and workplace control of Lean in HM Revenue and Customs


  • Bob Carter is Professor in De Montfort University, Andy Danford is Professor in University West of England, Debra Howcroft is Professor in Manchester Business School and Visiting Professor at Social Informatics, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden, Helen Richardson is Reader in Salford University, Andrew Smith is Lecturer in Bradford University and Phil Taylor is Professor in University of Strathclyde.

Bob Carter, Department of HRM, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH; email: rcarter@dmu.ac.uk


This article examines the willingness and capacity of public sector unions to mobilise action against changes in the labour process in order to maintain some measure of control at the point of production. Taking as an instance an extended dispute in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over the introduction and impact of Lean processes, it marshals evidence gathered from documentary sources, branch representatives and national lay full-time officers to engage with the notion of a trade union bureaucracy. In taking a union with a left-wing leadership and a section with 80 per cent membership with an expressed willingness to escalate industrial action, the article tests Hyman's 1979 contention that, rather than a concentration on a bureaucratic caste, a much better explanation for conservatism centres on the nature of social relations within the union that encompass a wider layer of representatives.