Partnership at work has been a central theme of the New Labour years. Defining what the phrase means in theory and practice has proved difficult and contentious. Despite this, debate over partnership has dominated the industrial relations literature combining case study analysis with broader commentary.1 Formalized union-employer collaboration was already evident in the 1980s under the Conservative governments in the guise of the ‘single union deal’ version of business unionism. The ‘new realist’ turn many unions made in the 1980s was a defensive response to the onslaught launched by the Thatcher governments. However, inter-union disputes over single union sweetheart deals left a bad taste in the mouth of the TUC and its affiliates and this form of business unionism fell into disrepute (McIlroy 1995: 215-19). Despite these early difficulties partnership has become a prominent feature of New Labour’s industrial strategy since its election in 1997, indicating some continuity with the previous experiment.