Structure and Competing Logics: The Art of Shaping Interests within German Employers' Associations

Friday, 3 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW2.3.02 (Tower Two)
Martin Behrens, WSI Hans Böckler Stiftung, Düsseldorf, Germany
For decades scholars have referred to the idea of competing logics when conceptualizing tensions within employers’ associations (Weitbrecht 1969, Child et al. 1973, Schmitter/Streeck 1981, Traxler 1986). From this perspective a first logic materializes within the relationship between a member and the association while a second logic emerges within the relationship between the association and its environment. While the terms assigned to these dimensions are different, for example; logic of membership vs. logic of influence (Schmitter and  Streeck), representative vs. administrative rationality (Child et al.) or legitimacy vs. effectiveness (Weitbrecht), to name just a few, the authors share a set of common assumptions: firstly, there are no more than two general principles at work within an employer association. Secondly, those principles are either driven by forces which have their origin within or beyond the boundaries of those associations. Thirdly, the tensions which arise from competing logics require associations to find appropriate means to reconcile those competing principles.

However, analytical accounts differ about the means by which this is to be done: some authors argue that a first logic is subordinated to a second, others see logic emphasized or de-emphasized within a bargaining cycle, or still others argue that competing logics are attached to certain tasks to be pursued by an association. At the end of the day, as most of these authors argue, employers’ associations need the support of actors outside their own organization to be able to reconcile those competing logics, be it the unions or the state.

The paper proposed for presentation will add to this perspective and suggests a more nuanced view on employers’ associations. I will argue that a major tension within any employers’ association emerges out of the fact that by their very nature, employers’ associations are non-profit organizations of for profit members who all too often are competitors within product and labor markets. Beyond the notion of a single dimension of “membership logic” the paper emphasizes the associations’ role of seeking to reconcile conflicting interests within this dimension. Based on the analysis of the bylaws of 358 German employers’ associations, and drawing on numerous unpublished documents and interviews with employer representatives from a variety of different associations, the paper will introduce five different dimensions, through which employers, as a formal organization, do channel and shape the interests of members. Thus, employers define separate rules for the admission of members into the association, to insulate certain aspects of members’ interests from representation but also to selectively emphasize or de-emphasize certain classes of members.

Admission rules define representational domains but so do provisions for voting procedures used for admitting new entries into the associations. The insulation of certain interests constitutes a second set of rules which requires members as well as the association’s staff and leadership to keep information on members’ business affairs confidential. By assigning voting rights to members, and allowing them to vest other members with voting rights, a third set of rules contributes to shaping the division of power within employers’ associations. While some scholars have argued that through securing themselves additional voting rights large companies seek to gain privileged power over associations, the analysis will reveal that the most common rule in voting rights is the ‘one-member-one-vote’ provision. In addition, the analysis will also follow up on other sets of rules used to selectively activate members and to solve conflict among them or between members and the association. As will be shown, several associations maintain their own internal tribunals and other procedures for dispute resolution as a means to solving conflict among members but also between members and the association’s leadership. Finally, bylaws for the selective activation of members provide for special committees that involve members more deeply in the affairs of the association.

The analysis will establish that German employers’ associations vary a great deal when it comes to creating and applying certain patterns of rules to channel the interests of members. In contrast to perspectives which see employers’ association as rigid, formal and powerful interest representation bodies, the analysis that is to be presented will ague that such associations are rather vulnerable and do provide their members with multiple veto opportunities to control the associations’ leadership. In contrast to many – but not all – of the “competing logics”-accounts, the analysis finds that employers’ associations use internal rules in general - and provisions for providing members with veto rights in particular -  to establish and maintain their capacity to represent the interests of business.


Child, J./Loveridge, R./Warner, M. (1973): Towards an Organizational Study of Trade Unions. In: Sociology, 7:1, 71-99

Schmitter, P./Streeck, W. (1981): The Organizations of Business Interests. Studying the Associative Action of Business in Advanced Industrial Societies. Berlin

Traxler, F. (1986): Interessenverbände der Unternehmer. Konstitutionsbedingungen und Steuerungskapazitäten analysiert am Beispiel Österreichs. Frankfurt/New York

Weitbrecht, H. (1969): Effektivität und Legitimität der Tarifautonomie. Eine soziologische Untersuchung am Beispiel der deutschen Metallindustrie. Berlin