Interests and Interest Representation of White Collar Workers in the Ger-Man Manufacturing Sector. Opportunity Structures, Framing and Resources

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.2.04 (Tower Two)
Thomas Haipeter, University of Duisburg-Essen, 47057 Duisburg, Germany
The employment structure in the German manufacturing sector is changing fundamentally. Recently, white collar workers have overtaken blue collars in numbers, going hand in hand with a changing composition of the workforce along lines of qualification and occupational positions and also along union density. This development raises old questions about white collar and class interests and the characteristics of white collar work anew, which have been addressed in class analysis and sociology of labor for a long time.

I will show results of a current research project in which we analyze new initiatives and attempts of unions and works councils to integrate, attract and organize white collar workers. For white collar workers do not only have a lower affinity towards collective interest representations, they are also a group of employees with higher structural power, possessing higher qualifications and higher occupational status than blue collar workers. In this way they are attractive in a double sense for works councils and unions, both as voters and members and as actors with important experiences, competencies and power resources in the plants.

This is the reason why unions in the manufacturing sector in Germany increasingly try to develop strategies to become more attractive for white collar workers and place resources at the disposal. This is done both by developing new topics and by participating white collar employees in the creation of interests and in conflicts of interests. In this way, unions and works councils try to frame the interests of white collar workers in an new way, depending on the opportunity structures they are facing with respect to collective bargaining agreements, union campaigns or the employment structure in the plants.

Based on survey analysis and case studies combining qualitative and quantitative methods, we have come to the preliminary conclusions that

  • the work situation of white collar workers is rather ambivalent, with high job satisfaction on the one and growing pressures on working time and work intensity on the other hand;
  • that the initiatives take up new issues and/or develop new processes of joint construction of collective interests;
  • that the initiatives are based on a new form of interest representation marked by the participation of employees and by supporting them to be successful in their individual pursuit of interests;
  • and that the initiatives thereby help to improve the acceptance of works councils and of unions; however, significant effects on union density are still rare.