Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries
Edited By Craig Phelan
Worldwide Trends and Prospects for Trade Union Revitalisation 11
CRAIG PHELAN Worldwide Trends and Prospects for Trade Union Revitalisation 1. Introduction Trade unions, it has been argued, ‘are probably the most idiosyncratic institutions in modern capitalism’ (Freeman 1994: 15). They are em- bedded in national systems of interlocking political and economic institutions. Their structure, strategies and even their goals reflect the unique historical development of the countries in which they operate. Each country’s trade union movement represents a distinctive and ever-changing accommodation to a nation’s political and legal tradi- tions, its industrial relations system and labour market, and therefore each is faced with discrete sets of opportunities and challenges. It is this diversity that makes understanding worldwide trends in trade unionism so difficult and makes predictions about future prospects so problematic. The numerous and competing scholarly attempts to cluster trade union movements serve only to highlight their diversity. One popular model posits three categories of trade unionism in the advanced economies according to their basic aims (Hollinshead and Leat 1995). Business unions are designed to represent occupational rather than class interests and thus focus primarily on collective bargaining and workplace issues. Broad social and political engagement is eschewed since it usually distracts from and potentially undermines the pursuit of occupational interests. Business unionism may be seen as the ‘self- conscious pursuit of economism’ (Hyman 2001: 3), and reached its fullest expression in the US. Welfare unions, by contrast, have expan- sive, often radical social and political agendas. Organised along class rather than occupational lines, often with clearly enunciated political...
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