Corporatist survivors in an age of adversity – Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria compared

Mikkel Mailand, FAOS, University of Copenhagen

Studies of the role and involvement of social partners in welfare state and labour market reforms covering the period from the outset of the Great Recession have emphasized the exclusion of the social partners - especially of the trade unions - from policy making. Hereby, the studies paint a picture of decline in corporatism as a governance mode. The present paper acknowledge this general picture, but wants to nuance it by focusing on ‘corporatist survivors’, i.e. countries were corporatism during and after the Great Recession has remained important for socio-economic governance. The paper will do to illuminate how and why corporatism can survived under difficult circumstances. Moreover, while the corporatist literature for decades mostly has focuses on the grand ‘social pacts’, the present paper will in addition to these include corporatist arrangement on single issues/ in single policy area, in order to provide a more encompassing picture of corporatism. The areas of unemployment insurance, active labour market policy and further training will be in focus. Finally, to test continued relevance of corporatism the paper will analyse the extent to which new issues – such as the increasing number of refugees – are addressed by corporatist arrangements. This might also give an indication of the future relevance of corporatism.

Apart from being corporatist survivors, the three countries in focus - Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria – represent different traditions of corporatism with regards to, e.g., to what extent formal tripartite structures exist and how important they are, and to what extent regulation of wage and working are excluded from government control and placed under social partner self-governance.

More specifically, the paper will seek to answer two research questions: 1) To what extent are the social partners in the three selected countries still able to influence the regulation of old and new societal challenges through corporatism (in the form of tripartite arrangements) after the Great Recession? 2) Why has corporatism survived in these countries and which factors explain best the development in their corporatist arrangements?

Theoretically, the paper will draw on studies of corporatism and of Varieties of Capitalism as well as other studies related to these two traditions. The methods used in the paper are, firstly, analyses of 41 semi-structured interviews (with government representatives, employers’ organisations, trade unions and organisations representing municipalities, as well as a few researchers) and, secondly, analyses of relevant legislation and other policy documents.