The Role of Unions in the Twenty-First Century: A Report for the Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti

The Role of Unions in the Twenty-First Century: A Report for the Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti

The Role of Unions in the Twenty-First Century: A Report for the Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti

The Role of Unions in the Twenty-First Century: A Report for the Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti

Synopsis

In this book, first-rate international scholars in the field explore the role that unions are likely to play in the changed economic environment of the new century. Questions discussed include: What will unions look like in the years to come? Which kind of interest groups will they represent? How important will be the broader political role of unions? To what extent do unions care about future generations?

Excerpt

Whenever structural reforms are mentioned, almost inevitably reference is made to the unions. For the good or for the bad, as an obstacle to reforms of product and labour markets or as a powerful ally of reforming governments, unions feature eminently in the debate on Social Europe(s) and on the European (un)employment problem. Yet, there is little strategic thinking, at least on a scientific basis, about the role of the unions. They are considered as a fixed, immanent, feature of the European institutional landscape, something like the Alps or the River Thames. However, it is arguable that unions will continue to be as powerful as they currently are and to play the same role in Europe as at present. It is even arguable that they will continue to exist. Overall, there is nothing inevitable about unions.

Current theories of unions are mainly theories of what unions were and did rather than theories of what unions will be and will do. In so far as much literature on unions takes membership as given and treats unions as monopolists, it cannot deal with either the decline in membership that occurred in most OECD countries or the ongoing processes of segmentation of the union movement in some European countries.

The purpose of this book is to help make economic thinking about unions more forward-looking. What will the unions look like in the years to come? What kind of interest groups will they represent? How important will be the broader political role of unions and their resistance to competitive pressures on the European welfare states? Which time horizons do union strategies have, and to what extent do they care about future generations? These are some of the issues that are addressed in this book.

The volume consists of two reports, each written by a group of economists, political scientists, and sociologists working in different countries. They are the result of coordinated efforts by some of the most authoritative scholars of the field to look ahead, develop scenarios for the future, and compare them.

The first study—by Alison Booth, Michael Burda, Lars Calmfors, Daniele Checchi, Robin Naylor, and Jelle Visser—addresses a number of issues related to the question of how the primary role of trade unions—their role in bargaining over wages and work conditions—is likely to evolve in the early decades of the new millennium. After charting the trends and patterns in trade union membership, it discusses the impact of unions on wages, income distribution, and economic efficiency and considers the extent to which the influence of unions depends on the nature of bargaining arrangements, the legal environment, and the extent of product market competition. The free-rider problems associated with the administrative extension of the coverage of collective bargaining are also discussed. Finally, the importance of the level of

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