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The role of trade unions in social welfare: an exploratory study of the attitudes of trade union members towards health and welfare services Pennington, Edward James

Abstract

Both the development and the effective operation of health and welfare services, public and voluntary alike, depend heavily upon public understanding and approval. Yet welfare services have changed so radically in recent decades that much misunderstanding and "cultural lag" exists. "Public opinion" comprises the expressions of interest and viewpoint of many different groups: there are many "publics" rather than one homogeneous citizenry. Trade unions are an important segment, not only as representing the increasing industrial sections of the working-force, but because of growing numbers and influence in public affairs. Accordingly, the present study is directed particularly to the attitudes, views, and information about health and welfare services among members in a large and representative trade union (International Woodworkers of America, Local 1-217). An original questionnaire was formulated and revised after some preliminary testing. After striking a random sample from membership lists, forty rank-and-file unionists and a group of officials were then interviewed in their homes or offices. Some of the most best-substantiated findings are as follows. (1) There is a high degree of unanimity concerning the assignment of welfare responsibilities to government, and in particular, the federal government, though there is doubt as to the best division between provincial and local. (2) The rank-and-file reveal favourable feelings towards the Community Chest, whereas officials' views question the need for its existence. (3) The Community Chest is identified almost wholly, by both rank-and-file and officials as a fund-raising organization. (4) There is singularly little recognition of the need for citizen participation in welfare planning. (5) Trade union members in general looked upon social workers with some respect, but ascribed low status to their professional role. Both the kinds of tabulations in this rather neglected area of opinion measurement, and the views brought to light in this pilot study, suggest there could be considerable value in continued research.

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