In many countries, union density is decreasing, but not in Belgium. Between 2001 and 2010, union density rose from 56.9% to 60.5%, Jean Faniel and Kurt Vandaele write in a paper published earlier this year.
One obvious explanation why Belgian unions are doing well is the so-called Ghent system, which means that unions play an active role in the management of social security. In Belgium, almost 90% of unemployment benefits are paid through the unions. Partly as a result of this, Belgian unions have a growing membership, they have an influx of young workers and they are crisis-proof.
One might argue that the dependence on institutional arrangements might leave Belgian unions vulnerable – like the Swedish unions that suffered membership decline after a centre-right government took office in 2006 and immediately changed the way in which social security is administered. However, Faniel and Vandaele argue that Belgian unions not only depend on their institutional position, but also derive strenght from other factors, such as their workplace presence and militancy.
Jean Faniel and Kurt Vandaele (2012), Geen grenzen aan de groei: de Belgische syndicalisatiegraad in de jaren 2000. On Swedish unions, see Anders Kjellberg (2011), The Decline in Swedish Union Density since 2007.