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The State of the Unions

If non-standard workers, including independent workers and freelancers, are defined as workers then automatically, legally speaking, they are entitled to join a union, to collective bargaining, and to social protection. If they are not defined as workers but as individual entrepreneurs, they are outside social legislation and under the scope of competition law, and then they are fucked.

The European Parliament is supportive. The European Commission is open to consider some adjustments. But unfortunately the Council of Labour Ministers deleted the definition from these legislative initiatives. But we remain quite confident that this definition will be introduced. What do you see as the future of trade unions in Europe and how can they build collective action in precarious and gig sectors? Trade unions are already very active in these sectors. Some unions have created specific branches to represent non-standard and precarious workers.

In other countries, these forms of work have been included in traditional union branches. Youth organisations in trade unions are being very active, also through social media and online, to organise these workers. But while there are many new members, there are still some legal obstacles due to the stupid competition law I mentioned before. Removing these obstacles is essential. The political landscape is changing completely and we need allies at different levels in different positions. We also have to imagine new forms of collective bargaining.

At the same time, we cannot forget the other workers, particularly those affected by transition and at risk of losing their job, salary reductions, or deteriorating working conditions. We have to keep both these dimensions together. How can you balance these two things? Could workers in precarious sectors find demands for services just as relevant as demands for the workplace itself?

Our 150 years show that stronger unions mean a better economy

Trade unions started adapting to this new scenario some time ago, putting together the traditional forms of mobilisation, such as strikes, collective bargaining, and sectoral or branch-level agreements, with different services to be provided for workers. At the same time, we also need to act in the political arena to shape legislation, the social model, and social protection systems.

Collective agreements remain our core business but alone they are not enough. The same goes for economic policies.


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This is the reason why only being in touch with our traditional backer parties like the Social Democrats on the Left is not enough. We discuss with all governments, on condition that the government is democratic, and we try to find ways to influence policy whoever the politician we have in front of us is. There are European elections coming up next year. From a trade union perspective, what do the prospects look like for these elections? We are a bit worried, as everyone is, because we see the far right coming.

We hope they will not gain a majority or a blocking minority that could impede the creation of a democratic and possibly even socially oriented Commission. Our role is to set our social agenda and to make sure that all the forces that run for the European elections take on board some of our demands. In this respect, the Left, the progressives, are on our side of course. For most of our demands, the Green movement is on our side too. We have a little more difficulty with the Liberals, but even with them we have a dialogue. We are preparing our manifesto for the European elections as ETUC and we will start actively campaigning from September to target some parties with some demands for action.

Social democratic parties do not receive votes or attract members like they used to.

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You mentioned that the trade unions are building up stronger relationships with parties like the Five Star Movement, which has been quite suspicious of trade unions in the past. Are these new relationships developing nationally as well as on the European level? When the Five Star Movement got into power in Italy, they understood that they have to talk to us. When I met Luigi Di Maio, the political leader of the Five Star Movement and the Italian minister for economic and labour affairs, the discussion was very concrete.

Regardless of any ideological scepticism they may have about trade unions, they are obliged to sit down with us if they want to fix problems. They may be the real enemies of democracy, but when it comes to social issues, they know perfectly well that they have an interest in being pro-social. Populism is pro-social. You have to demonstrate that you are on the side of the people and so these governments do things that traditional governments could not even imagine.

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What the Polish government did in terms of decreasing the pension age, increasing the level of pensions, increasing minimum wages by up to 50 per cent, and extending minimum wages to self-employed people is astonishing, frankly speaking. But when it comes to their willingness to discuss with social partners, to re-establish tripartite social dialogue, and to enact social legislation, well we have to take it. Of course we keep our democratic values, but when we can achieve results for workers, we keep the dialogue open.

We have to combine our values with pragmatic results. Sign up to the newsletter for handpicked highlights of articles, interviews and translations published each month. Does renewed discussion at EU level present an opportunity to advance social Europe? Trade unionist Philippe Pochet on changing perspectives on climate change and transition within organised labour and the essential and challenging task of working with Greens. As digitalisation turns the world of work upside down, Reiner Hoffmann discusses the situation of employees in the future labour market, and the role of the EU and trade unions.

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“Populism is pro-social”: Trade Unions in a Changing Europe

First name. Last name. I have read the Green European Journal privacy policy and wish to subscribe to the newsletter. Notify me when articles matching my preferred languages and themes click to make selection are published. Moreover, Aldcroft and Oliver demonstrate that unions were not particularly successful in raising labors' income share, or indeed securing any major improvements in working conditions between The chapter "Trade Unions in War and Peace " begins with a fresh examination of the membership and growth of British trade unions. The graph on page 47 shows how both union membership and union density fluctuate, rising during World War One and again, just before and during World War Two, and declining after World War One.

At its highest point during this period, membership was at approximately nine million and density was around 55 percent. This contrasts greatly with the former period, in which union membership and density were both still comparatively small. During the First World War, trade unions were afforded "greater recognition on behalf of the government and a more favourable response by employers" The unions were able to use labor shortages during this period to their advantage, and the authors demonstrate how "the growth of collective bargaining and the persistence of a craft mentality, provided the essential ingredients for unions to damage the UK's competitive position and to affect adversely the investment, innovation, productivity growth and the cost structure of industry" pp.

The areas the authors focus on in particular are the creation of wage rigidity -- particularly through wage differentials -- payment systems and conditions of work, and industrial disputes. Although, during the period, labor gains were very good in comparison to the previous period, Aldcroft and Oliver argue that "it is the post period where more genuine concerns need to be expressed about the capacity of organised labour to damage the state of the economy" p.

Chapter 3, entitled "The Zenith of Labour Power s" depicts a period, which the authors identify as being "labour's finest hour" p.

Union membership and density grew fairly steadily between the years and , peaking at 13,, and This seems to have corresponded with a rising trend in strike activity in the same period, although when put in an historical context or compared with other countries, Britain's strike record is actually relatively good. However, the actual impact of British strike activity on the economy was negative. Not only were large-scale strike actions disruptive to production and economically damaging, but small-scale stoppages also had negative consequences and unofficial strike action earned affected suppliers and exporters bad reputations.

Restrictive practices and work rules were found to be probably even more of an impediment to long-term efficiency and structural change than strikes. During this period, the system of industrial relations changed such that a two-tier system of collective bargaining emerged, where the authority of management and national union officers was undermined by a shift of power to the shop floor. This two-tier system was not conducive to increased efficiency through the removal of restrictive practices.

The Economics of Trade Unions | SpringerLink

The penultimate chapter "The Unions in Retreat " discusses the effect of the Conservatives' legislative program, which dismantled many of the pre collective structures and employment regulations. Initially a good overview of the literature, which attempts to explain the reason for union density decline in this period, is given.


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  4. Many reasons are identified, including growing unemployment, the rise in the number of women in the workforce, the increase in part-time work, the growth of white-collar workers and the expansion of the service industry. Moreover the increasing trend towards smaller workplace sizes also negatively affected unionization. In an examination of the legislation introduced by the Conservatives, the authors argue: "The regulatory approach adopted by the Conservatives sought to provide a framework which would balance the rights of employers and managers on the one hand, and the rights of employees and unions on the other.

    Conservative policy did not seek to abolish or outlaw the unions ; policy-makers saw the issue more in terms of choice, albeit regulated choice p. The post reforms focused on the following main areas: the coverage of collective bargaining and trade union recognition, the closed shop and industrial action. In the same period there was growing wage inequality and there was no change in the labor share of total income. The period of the Labour government is briefly addressed also. Tony Blair is quoted twice as stating during the election campaign, that New Labour would be committed to maintaining the main elements of the s industrial relations legislation.

    However, according to Aldcroft and Oliver, the main lesson to be learnt from this period is that while many of the Conservative reforms addressed some of the deficiencies in the UK economy, some aspects of their industrial relations strategy were more controversial and may arguably have had a negative effect on the UK economy in the twentieth century. In previous studies, other researchers for example Freeman and Medoff, have concluded that unionism per se, does not guarantee either good or poor performance of an economy or business. It was found that the quality of the relationship between unions and business was the determining factor.

    Although Aldcroft and Oliver do state in the first chapter that they cannot "for reasons of space, write a full account of the management side in a volume which deals specifically with the impact on unions" p.

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    It is also noticeable that Aldcroft and Oliver equate "strong" union activity and "powerful" unions with "adversarialism. The use of strike action, for example, does not necessarily demonstrate that a union is strong. Moreover, there are isolated examples in the book where the authors quote studies which show that management itself had displayed significant failings, and that organized labor was a help rather than a hindrance.

    For example a Ministry of Labour report concluded that overmanning stemmed more from managerial weakness than from union recalcitrance, whereas Turner et al highlighted the constructive role of the shop stewards in the motor industry in sorting out grievances, preventing spontaneous strikes and maintaining the flow of production p. Aldcroft and Oliver write in the conclusion of chapter 3 "it is true that there are plenty of gaps in our knowledge as to how union activity affected economic variables, either directly, and even more so indirectly" p.