Conglomerate Unions and Union Democracy

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.01 (Tower Two)
Adrien Thomas, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research, Esch/Alzette, Luxembourg
Trade unions have lost members, bargaining power and social status over the last decades in most developed countries. Unions have reacted to this multidimensional crisis by trying to implement internal and external responses. One type of internal response has resided in changing forms of union organization, with the emergence of conglomerate unions, bringing together in one organization workers from a wide variety of sectors and occupations. This paper argues that the emergence of conglomerate unions has had important effects on the representation and participation of members within trade unions. Using interviews and archive material, the paper first looks at the driving factors behind the emergence of conglomerate mergers in France and Germany. Then, the restructuring of spaces of member representation and participation will be analyzed, as well as changing conceptions of the role of union leaderships. Finally, the impact of the creation of conglomerate unions on interest aggregation and on collective action will be examined. The paper thus offers valuable insights into the current transformations of trade unions, going beyond the established indicators of trade unions’ crisis (membership losses, declining collective bargaining coverage), and discussing their implications for trade unionism’s future.