Academic journal article Management Revue

The Future of Trade Unions in Europe. Part I

Academic journal article Management Revue

The Future of Trade Unions in Europe. Part I

Article excerpt

Trade unions used to be important institutions in the industrial society. In Western Europe they are - with the exception of the particular situations in Portugal, Spain and Greece that were marked by dictatorship - considered to be promoting and stabilising elements of the post-war welfare state regimes. These were their roles until the late 1970s. At the same time membership numbers reached their peak. In Eastern Europe, however, trade unions were an integral part of the socialist regimes. When they did not play a crucial role in the political turnaround like the Solidarnosc in Poland in the 1980s, their hour first came with the political transformation process. Since then the trade unions have undergone a loss of significance, which - with varying momentum - becomes apparent in all European countries particularly in regard to membership numbers, where the loss has only recently come to a halt. Reasons for this loss of members are manifold. The value shift in societies towards "new" values emphasising individuality, personal responsibility and self-realisation and the lack of interest in the membership in "old" large organisations associated with it, is certainly one aspect. In addition, processes of global and regional integration have altered the basic principles for trade unions' actions. Under the guise of 'competitiveness', European governments have cut back on social benefits and questioned major accomplishments of labour organisations. As long as neoliberal thinking was mainstream, trade unions were considered at least to be slowing down progress, if not entirely obsolete. This way of thinking has changed rapidly since the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Trust in the invisible hand of the free markets is sinking, and at the same time, public acceptance of unions is rising again/on the rise and membership numbers are stabilising.

Against this backdrop we extended invitations to the spring seminar at the InterUniversity- Center Dubrovnik to discuss "The Future of Trade Unions in Europe" in the usual interdisciplinary manner. Important questions in this context were among others the reasons for the prolonged loss of significance of trade unions in Europe, new forms of collective action in the era of globalised markets and multi-national corporations, innovative forms of membership recruitment and last but not least alliances of trade unions to meet the European crisis. In addition to that we wanted to illustrate the different developments in the member states of the European Union. …

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