Bringing Institutions Back in: Non-Market Social Institutions in a Transnational Context

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.01 (Tower Two)
Darragh Golden, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Traditionally, Irish and Italian trade union elites have supported the European integration process. More recently, the Irish trade union movement has become divided on the question of deeper economic integration, such that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was unable to adopt a formal position on the Fiscal Compact Treaty. Italian trade unions, on the other hand, remain pledged supporters of European integration, in fact the three confederations advocate more Europe. In fact, nothing short of a federal Europe is promoted. What explains this variation?

Is disillusionment with ‘social Europe’ an over-simplistic analysis (Leconte 2010)? What explanatory power does trade union identity have? Surely, if we compare the characteristics of a relatively conservative Irish trade union and those of the Italian trade unions, especially the CGIL, one might be forgiven for anticipating the CGIL to adopt a critical stance vis-à-vis the EU. The TEEU, Ireland’s largest craft union, can be considered a typical trade union of the anglo-hiberno model (Roche and Larraghy 1989). Typically, the TEEU rarely raised its head above the parapet to publicly engage in political questions. Yet, on the Lisbon Treaty, which preceded the financial crisis, and the Fiscal Compact Treaty the TEEU led the charge on voting against the two treaties.

This paper presents a ‘contextualised comparison’ (Locke and Thelen 1995) between Irish and Italian unions. It argues that sectoral level is the most appropriate level to comparatively analyse the effects of transnational economic re-structuring. Furthermore, an argument is made that there is a feedback loop between experiences and preferences. The paper develops an analytical framework which assesses the ‘coping mechanisms’ that trade unions deploy in order to offset side-affects synonymous with ‘negative’ integration. The most valuable coping mechanism available to unions are systems of industrial relations  Where these coping mechanisms are found to be inadequate, the likelihood of a union adopting a critical position against further economic integration increases.

Focusing on the construction sector, this paper presents the findings of my PhD research. The 2004 and 2007 enlargements were of particular significance for Ireland and Italy respectively, and posed significant challenges for their construction sector unions. Previous learning cycles were key (Vester 1970; Guigni 2001) and experiences on the ground went a considerable way to informing positions adopted by the respective trade unions leaderships on questions of European integration. This challenges the notion that the trade union leadership is ‘out of step’ on the question of European integration (Hyman 2010).