Electoral opposition in the British National Union of Mineworkers: The effects of local union organization

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Richard Ratcliff



Subject Categories

Labor Relations | Political Science


This study examines electoral competition in the National Union of Mineworkers (N.U.M.), a labor union of underground and surface workers employed in Great Britain's state-owned coal industry. The empirical core of the study is a statistical analysis of voting in three referendum elections for top national officers in the N.U.M., all taking place in a 17-month period between January 1959 and May 1960. The central hypotheses of the study argue that larger local unions are prone to greater electoral competition than smaller locals, which are more prone to greater internal consensus. The former situation is deemed to be preferable from the standpoint of union democracy. The study results indicate substantial but erratic support for the hypotheses. The impact of other variables at the regional and national levels are also taken into account as possible sources of the inconsistent results.

While not directly comparable in certain important respects to the work of previous authors, the findings of the present study are largely consistent with those of Lipset, Trow, and Coleman (1956), Faunce (1962), Edelstein and Warner (1979), and Lorenz (1986). Evidence from the present study poses a challenge not only to Michels's 'iron law of oligarchy' but also to the idea advanced by Lipset, et al. (1956) that an institutionalized party system is necessary to sustain electoral competition in labor unions. The study also affords an opportunity to explore the little-studied phenomenon of dissensus in membership organizations, as well as to consider electoral competition in the context of multiple candidates. The concluding chapter brings out the implications of the study's findings for contemporary unions, especially with regard to the possible role of union democracy in revitalizing the labor movement.


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