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Radical Unions in Europe and the Future of Collective Interest Representation


Edited By Heather Connolly, Lefteris Kretsos and Craig Phelan

This book analyses contemporary trends in radical unionism in Europe. It contains nine country case-studies that probe the limits and possibilities of trade union renewal with a focus on radical activity. The editors follow a broad definition of radical unionism, including trade union organisations that can be characterised as radical either in terms of ideology and political identity or in terms of organising and mobilising activity. The ongoing economic crisis and consequent austerity measures, and employers’ strategies for increasing labour market flexibility have encouraged the deregulation of capitalism in Europe. The question this book asks is whether radicalised unionism, political action and grassroots activism present opportunities for union renewal and collective interest representation in this economic context. This question is examined in nine national contexts with diverse industrial relations frameworks and trade unions. The editors assess the degree to which we are witnessing the emergence of ‘radical political unionism’ as an alternative model of trade unionism in Europe, focused on class struggle, engagement in social movement activity beyond the workplace, and politicised union strategies aligned to new left-wing political formations.
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The Future of European Unions: Radical Prospects?



Europe is the birthplace of trade unionism. It is here that the earliest trade unions emerged from craft guilds and later mutual aid societies. As early as the sixteenth century craftsmen in small shops banded together in fraternal associations to define and protect their skills, to enforce apprenticeship rules, to discuss politics and other weighty matters, and to cease work when their perceived rights and privileges were challenged (Chase, 2000). From the early nineteenth century, when modern trade unionism took shape, until the present day, trade unionism has been a mainstay of European economic and political history, arguably the most significant progressive force in civil society in all corners of the European continent. The ‘business unions’ that represented occupational rather than class interests and battled at the workplace against recalcitrant employers to secure better wages and working conditions; the ‘welfare unions’ that organised along class rather than occupation lines with their often radical political and social goals; the ‘social partner’ unions that participated in tripartite bodies in an effort to define national labour and social policies that would benefit all citizens – it is here in Europe that all variations of trade unionism were first seen.

Europe is where trade unionism was first conceived to be something much more than economistic institutions to determine wages and working conditions for their own members. It is here that intellectuals and ideologues first saw that trade unionism could potentially be transformative and could radicalise social relations by...

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