Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

In Search of the Nordic Working Life Model; Introduction to the Thematic Issue

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

In Search of the Nordic Working Life Model; Introduction to the Thematic Issue

Article excerpt

The theme of this issue is "in search of the Nordic working life model." The main reason for choosing this theme is related to the widespread observation that several features of the Nordic institutions of work have been considered atypical when compared with those prevailing in other advanced industrial societies. We are not, of course, the first to make such an observation, and much effort has been spent in order to sort out what we actually talk about when we apply a term like the Nordic model. However, in spite of this effort, we are still toiling with the question of what it is that entitles us to talk about a specific order. Furthermore, if it really exists, will it be able to survive in the face of far-reaching changes that may be expected to take place in the coming decades? On what kinds of resources may it be based in the future?

In the following, we will present some speculations upon such questions while distinguishing between qualities at the societal and organizational level. This may, of course, be considered an artificial differentiation since organizations are a part of society. Nonetheless, we choose to apply this distinction based on analytical reasons. In this way we hope to better illustrate how these entities are linked together in a mutual relationship, thus contributing both to stability and to change. At the end of the introduction, we will give a brief orientation of the content of this issue.

Qualities at the level of society

As noted, the debate on the Nordic model has been marked by an enduring difficulty over definitions. In common parlance, it has become customary to use the term in a very general way, associating it with particularities at the level of society, such as the welfare system, the educational system, and the labor market system. A corresponding partiality has rested among researchers, leaving the question about the qualities of the organization and working life aside. For instance, in the wake of the seminal work of Hall and Soskice (2001), it has become conventional to talk about liberal market economies (LMEs) in contrast to coordinated market economies (CMEs) (Crouch 2005). The former is associated with neoliberal policies involving preferences put on the free operation of the markets, shareholder's interests and deregulation in general, while the latter is characterized by the interference of institutions toward economic affairs. Thus, Hall and Soskice approach their subject in a dualistic way, falling into dichotomies. They have been criticized for this on the grounds that their categories are too general, thus missing one of the main point they are trying to embellish, and indicated in the very title of their book: the varieties of capitalism (see, e.g., Gallie 2011). We agree with this objection and may use France and Sweden as an example, two countries that are placed among the CMEs. There are several similarities between the two, but also important differences. One, for instance, is the role played by the labor unions, which is thoroughly different in these two countries because of diverging rates of union membership. These differences affect the power and position of the unions and the role they may play in the shaping of industrial policies and dispute in general.

Hence, more fine-tuned classifications are needed, and we may find examples of them in the works of Amable (2000), Esping-Andersen (1990), and Schmidt (2002). Nevertheless, an important part of the total picture is still missing, especially if we look for qualities and mechanisms that are of importance for the development of working life. We will not be able to complete the depiction here, but instead indicate what we consider at the present time to be the most important societal qualities impinging on working life. These are in particular the following:

- a balanced and cooperative relationship between the state and the powerful representative bodies of employers and employees.

- the prevalence of centralized, coordinated collective bargaining systems. …

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