Since 1980, union density has declined almost all rich countries. Over the same period, the share of workers who are covered by a union contract has declined in many countries, but risen in some others. Especially in continental European countries, there is a gap between union membership and union coverage, because of institutional arrangements that extend union contracts.
John Schmitt and Alexandra Mitukiewicz of the American progressive think tank CEPR argue that these data cast doubts on the assumption that ‘unions are incompatible with the emerging, increasingly globalised, high-tech, service economy’. All these countries have been affected by globalisation. If globalisation would have a strong impact on unions, similar outcomes might have been expected in all countries, but this is not the case, they argue. The argument may not be watertight, but some previous studies have also cast doubt on the presumed effect of globalisation on unions.
According to Schmitt and Mitukiewicz, changes in union coverage and density can better be understood in relation with the political systems of these countries. Nordic, social democratic countries (where social security tends to be linked in some way to union membership) have mostly seen small increases in union coverage and small decreases in membership. The mostly Anglo-Saxon liberal market economies have seen sharp drops in both coverage and membership. The coordinated market economies with a broadly Christian democratic tradition have seen results in between. Finally, the outcomes in former dictatorships do not seem to follow a consistent pattern.
The graph above (click to enlarge) shows that especially Germany has seen a more negative development than Schmitt and Mitukiewicz’ theory would predict. Even though their model may not be able to explain all variance in union outcomes, their claim that institutions have a decisive impact on unions seems plausible enough. The implication is that unions are vulnerable when the political context changes. This would seem to apply particularly to the European continental countries, where unions are more dependent on institutions.
Via In These Times