Organizing Workers in ‘Hybrid Systems': Comparing Trade Union Strategies in Austria, Germany, Israel and the Netherlands

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW1.3.04 (Tower One)
Guy Mundlak, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel
Organizing workers in ‘hybrid systems’: comparing trade union strategies in Austria, Germany, Israel and the Netherlands

Guy Mundlak, Tel-Aviv University – Faculty of Law & Dept. of Labor Studies

The freedom and right to associate carries multiple meanings and is perceived differently in corporatist (centrally managed) and pluralist (liberal) systems of industrial relations. The former are characterized by the view that collective labor relations are a system of governance, endorsed and supported by the state. In the latter they are viewed as a bottom-up process in which workers come together for the purpose of bargaining together. While some centrally managed systems, notably with a "Ghent system" mechanism, are associated with high levels of membership in trade unions and coverage of collective agreements, liberal-pluralist systems are characterized by low rates of both membership and coverage.

Over the last two decades, some countries have gone through a process that I designate as hybridization, in which the legitimacy structures of corporatism are declining, and a gap emerges between a rapidly declining rate of membership and persistent relatively high level of coverage. The paper looks into the significance and practice of recruiting members in these systems. Its objectives are:

(a)    To account for the growing gap between coverage and membership and its implications.

(b)   At the macro level: To explain the growing emphasis on recruitment and organizing, particularly over the last decade, emphasizing the various interests trade unions have in expanding membership; and the choice between raising membership and sustaining institutions of social partnership, noting areas of complementarity and conflict between the two options.

(c)    At the micro level: To identify strategic choices in the process of recruitment and organizing in the four countries, noting how the institutional structures of the four countries affect practices on the ground.

The discussion highlights the ongoing tension that is folded in the meeting of institutions that are aimed at sustaining the centralized system of bargaining and social partnership, with the dynamics that are characteristic to raising membership levels. Some best practices that seek to address this tension are identified, but are also characterized as difficult to emulate and extend as a general practice.

The paper is based on extensive interviews with trade unions officials, organizers, works councils members, Labor Chamber representatives, academics and journalists in the four countries. Its focus is solely on understanding the trade unions' perspective and strategies in the hybrid systems.