There has been a crisis in socialist thought in the post-war era and increasing pessimism concerning the political effectiveness of the working class as a force for change. A study is presented of the New Zealand Trade Union leadership fraction, comprising the full-time office-holders of unions representing wage working interests (largely those registered under the Industrial Relations Act 1973). The objectives of the research were to profile (a) the composition of the group in terms of its social and career characteristics to ascertain the degree of change and permeability, and (b) the ideological orientations of the group on issues of historical centrality in class theory. Data was collected by a questionnaire and interview survey carried out in 1979. Analysis of results was carried out during 1980 at Essex University, England and in 1981 and 1982 at Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand. There are many findings on different levels. In general terms the group lacks strong social or ideological cohesion. There is evidence, in fact, of increasing social heterogeneity due to a number of factors – the rise of new types of trade unions as a consequence of 1936 ‘compulsory unionism’ legislation, the recruitment of new types of trade union official from non-working class backgrounds and the absence of any class-based theory of recruitment which rejects dominant norms of ascendant meritocracy. There is also a marked lack of transformative sentiment in the group and no overriding adherence to alternative proletarian explanative frameworks or ‘Weltanschauungen’. Opposition to capitalism is ‘piecemeal’ and is widespread only in relation to specific dimensions of the regime and on specific issues such opposition does not entail the rejection of the dominant order.