In recent years it has been variously claimed that trade unions are in chronic decline, that they can only save themselves by adapting to an environment dominated by individualism and consumerism, that they have exhausted their progressive potential, and that hopes for a fundamentally more egalitarian, democratic and responsible society will not be furthered by trade union action.
John Kelly takes issue with such views, arguing that they are based on poor sociology and bad history. After reviewing the classical Marxist critiques of trade unionism by Lenin and Gramsci, he shows that there is much evidence to support Rosa Luxemburg's view of the transformative effects of workers' participation in trade union struggles.
Kelly surveys the history of trade union organization, showing that the problems of the 1980s are not without precedent and that trade unions in Europe and North America still have considerable resources and great potential. He goes on to assess the crucial issues and strategic decisions which unions will have to confront over the next few years.