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Trade Union Revitalisation

Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries

Edited By Craig Phelan

Although trade unionism has been declining in virtually every part of the world, its continued demise is not a foregone conclusion. As it has throughout its history, trade unionism has demonstrated a capacity to adapt, to make its voice heard, to reassert its power. The scale and scope of experimentation taking place in the labour movement today is testimony not just to the depth of the crisis but also to the possibility of resurgence in the years ahead. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to know about contemporary labour issues. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the state of trade unionism in the world today, and the often innovative strategies and tactics trade unionists are using to revive their organisations in each of the major nations of the world. Leading labour scholars discuss, in clear prose, the health of the trade union movement, the present political and economic climate for trade union advancement, the dominant revitalisation strategies, and future prospects in each nation. Each chapter includes an up-to-date guide to further reading.


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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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