Academic journal article Management Revue

Transnational Trade Union Cooperation in the Nordic Countries**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Transnational Trade Union Cooperation in the Nordic Countries**

Article excerpt

This article analyzes how Nordic trade unions cooperate with unions in Europe, and what actors and organizations they cooperate with to influence EU policies. We examine both similarities and differences between the Nordic countries and between unions in different sectors, and make some comparisons with unions in other European countries. As a background, we first present the Nordic model(s) of industrial relations, and some important national and sectoral differences. Thereafter follows an analysis based on a survey carried out in 2010-11. The results show strong similarities between the Nordic countries regarding transnational union cooperation and union action, but also that there is greater diversity between sectors than between countries. The internationally exposed manufacturing sector is the most engaged in transnational cooperation, followed by the construction industry. The more sheltered services sector has a somewhat lower degree of cooperation, and the professional/academic unions are the least engaged. This implies that, besides variation between countries, variation between sectors must be taken into account when analyzing the existence of a common Nordic approach to transnational cooperation.

Key words: industrial relations, Nordic regime, sector, union action (JEL:J51,J52)


It is common to speak of different regimes of industrial relations, based on similarities and differences between countries. The Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are often said to belong to a common regime. Even if regime typologies downplay diversity between and within countries, it seems particularly pertinent to speak of a regime regarding the Nordic countries. The reason is that the variation in industrial relations both between these countries and within them - that is, the variation between different sectors or industries - is less than in many other European countries (Bechter et al., 2011).

The Nordic regime is characterized by strong trade unions and employer associations negotiating collective agreements with a high degree of autonomy, and with wide bargaining coverage, on both the national and local levels in most sectors of the labor market. The peak-level unions are strong, and are organized primarily on an occupation/class basis. Unions are institutionally supported by welfare states with corporatist arrangements and active labor market policies, and have a strong historical basis in social democracy (Esping-Andersen, 1 999, p. 78; Dolvik, 2007; European Commission, 2009; Jochem, 2011).

With the exception of Iceland, the Nordic economies entered the financial crisis of 2008 with sound public finances. Even so, all Nordic countries were hit hard in the form of GDP busts, which led to restructurings, lay-offs, and decreasing employment rates (European Foundation, 2011; Jochem, 2011). As in other countries, the Nordic trade unions were forced to make concessions such as wage cuts and temporary layoffs (Glassner & Keune, 2009). In addition, one should note that this happened in a time when union density was decreasing in the Nordic countries. While previously being an exception, the Nordic countries have shown the same tendency of decreasing union density during the last 10-15 years (Scheuer, 2011).

Trade unions are of course not passive bystanders to these problems. The major "revitalization strategies" discussed within unions are membership enrollment, social partnership building, political mobilization, internal union restructuring, and transnational union cooperation (Behrens et al., 2004). In this article, we will analyze transnational union cooperation among the Nordic trade unions, as well as which actors and organizations they cooperate with in order to influence EU policies. The aim is to show what similarities and differences there are between the Nordic countries, but also to what degree there are sectoral differences. In addition, we also make some comparisons between the Nordic unions and unions in other European countries. …

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