Grievance formulation and expression, a comparative workplace study

  • Eleanor Kirk

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis concerns the expression of discontent, comparing how grievance formulation varies between different workplace regimes. Grievances, formal complaints raised by workers individually, are an understudied feature of workplace life, providing an opportunity to enrich understanding of how workplace conflict has been reorganised. Declining collective disputes and rising individual disputes over four decades appear as 'mirror images' (Dix et al 2009). What is unclear is the degree to which these parallel developments reflect the same causes, with changing forms of expression reflecting differing means to similar ends (Edwards 1986: 9). Deciphering the extent of 'method displacement' (Gall and Hebdon 2008), requires appreciation of how discontent is expressed through alternative trajectories of expression. Grievances, which underlie other more formalised expressions, provide a useful vantage of study to trace how conflict has evolved. Kelly (1998) enjoined industrial relations scholars to focus on social processes of interest definition in understanding collective action and inaction. Here, this framework is expanded toward explaining alternative trajectories of conflict, particularly how grievances can express 'collective issues writ small' (Bacon and Storey 1996). An analytical framework is developed to trace not only how conflict is expressed but what is expressed, to illustrate the reorganisation of conflict expressions. Data is drawn predominantly from three workplace case-studies, featuring varying levels of unionisation. The research illustrates the malleability of expressions of discontent, and how the nature of grievances varies in relation to the degree to which workers' interests are aggregated and represented collectively. In the context of union decline, workers are generally subject to increasingly punishing workplace regimes, but there exists a considerable gap between the breadth and depth of discontents experienced and the formulations raised in grievances. This gap is diminished where unions have the strength to create and maintain robust collective agreements, leaving a more limited role for grievances.
Date of Award6 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorPhilip Taylor (Supervisor) & Kirsty Newsome (Supervisor)

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