Coffee, cigarettes and coordination

Networks and the relational approach to wage-setting

Oscar Molina, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

The network as a theoretical framework or as a metaphor has also been referred in industrial relations studies (Saundry et al 2011, Fichter and Sydow 2016), but few of them have applied the methodology in a rigorous way. Networks have been used in industrial relations first of all in relation to actors, and more specifically, trade unions. However, when it comes to analysing the network relations underpinning collective bargaining, we find several references to the network idea in transnational or cross-border collective bargaining (Gollbach and Schulten 2000, Schulten 2003) but hardly anything when it comes collective bargaining at national level. One possible explanation for this lack of scholarly attention is the view that collective bargaining at national level does not conform to the idea of a network. In this view, collective bargaining would be better depicted in terms of a small number of actors who meet regularly and take decisions based on routine negotiations and with little scope for innovation.

The analysis of collective bargaining coordination has attracted the attention of scholars and policy-makers since the early 1990s, but has witnessed a renaissance more recently in the context of generalised de-centralization and the new constraints imposed by the EMU. Originally, coordination was presented as a dimension of collective bargaining considered alternative to centralization, as it focused on processes rather than structures. However, the reality was that all coordination indexes and scores made so far have tended to reflect structural characteristics of collective bargaining, and have provided very little insights on the processes and relational aspects underpinning coordination.

In this way, most studies have paid attention to the level where coordination occurs, assuming a correspondence between formal roles across levels and actors. A too strong focus on structures has resulted in limited knowledge about the actual mechanisms that industrial relations actors deploy in order to solve coordination problems. Despite growing research on the comparative analysis of collective bargaining coordination and its impact, we still lack profound knowledge about: the mechanisms sustaining coordination; how information flows between actors in the collective bargaining structure; the exact role played by different organisations / actors or the way in which actors and the different levels of the collective bargaining structure are articulated, including the national and trans-national levels.

The objective of the paper is to provide an alternative assessment of how coordination takes places in different collective bargaining systems and sectors. In order to do so, the paper adopts a behavioural and relational view based on the methodological and analytical tools of Social Network Analysis (SNA). By doing so, it will provide very valuable complementary evidence on collective bargaining coordination to the institutional information already available.

The relational view on coordination pays attention to the actual roles and interactions of actors, not their formal attributions in the collective bargaining structure. Social network methods are particularly well suited for dealing with multiple levels of analysis and multi-modal data structures, as is the case of collective bargaining systems in most EU countries. In particular, two-mode networks provide a specific type of network where individual actors are embedded in networks (organisations) that are embedded in networks (collective bargaining).