Christine Üyük

Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen

Transnational protest actions and the interplay of the different levels of employee representation in multinational companies

Christine Üyük, Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen

The paper focuses on transnational protest actions in multinational companies (MNC), because of the globalization and the orientation of modern corporate governance on financial ratios, the com-petition between locations within companies and the occurrence of transnational conflicts (cross-border restructuring, mergers, etc.) is increasing. However, for local and national interest representation there is hardly any point of intervening in transnational restructuring plans. Mostly, they have little influence on the decisions for a pan-European or worldwide restructuring taken at central level. Often, at these levels of action, they can only mitigate the effects of restructuring in form of social plans. This creates a need for collective action on transnational interest representa-tion level. One form of such a cooperation are transnational protest actions in MNC.

The focus of industrial relation research so far has mostly been on single actors, especially European Works Councils. In the last 25 years the formation of EWCs, their structures and practices as well as their impact have been examined extensive. Only in a few studies, have examined the multi-level interest representation system in its entirety. But to focus only on the European Works Council or World Works Council would be in this case not sufficient because the planning, organization and implementation of a transnational protest action requires the cooperation of the whole multi-level system of interest representation with its actors at the local, national and European level. This means in detail that European Works Councils, local works councils (or délégués du personnel or shop stewards), central works councils (or comité d'entreprise or comité de groupe), board-level employee representation, World Works Councils, union coordination groups, national trade unions, European Union Federations and Global Union Federations have to discuss their interests, to agree on a common target and to cooperate with each other. However, numerous obstacles like different languages, different interest representation cultures, different unions, missing interest representation structure in some countries and diverging interests between the countries hinder the cooperation. But despite the complexity of the interest representation system und his numerous obstacles it was possible to organize a transnational protest action in some MNC.

Against this backdrop, the aim of the paper is to focus on the interplay and the interest articulation between the different levels of interest representation in MNC which made a transnational protest action possible. Hereby the interaction, the exchange of interests and cooperation are examined on a horizontal level as well as on a vertical level. Three main questions will be examined: What have been the reasons for carrying out a transnational collective action and what have been the motives to choose transnational protest as a collective form of interest representation? Which factors have been conducive or obstructive in the organization and planning process? Which significance had the protest action in the transnational interest representation work and what effects have been achieved?

Therefore, the paper is based on Giddens’ theory of structuration with which the different levels of interest representation can be seen as “action fields”. In the action fields the actors are subject to different rules, different resources and different interpretation frames which they can use to assert their interests. The results are based on six company case studies from different sectors (food industry, mechanical engineering industry, construction materials industry, the airline industry and on one multi industry group as well as one additional case from the white goods industry). Each case is based on five to seven qualitative interviews with Works Councils, Group Works Councils, European Works Councils and Union Representatives from different representation levels and countries.

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