Transnational representation of workers’ interests in MNC and the problem of articulation

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

Transnational information and consultation has become an integral part of labour regulation in a number of multinational companies (MNC), driven by the EU directive on European Works Councils (EWC). Empirical studies have offered valuable and manifold insights into structures and practices of EWCs. However, many of these studies focused to a large extent on EWCs as a singular institution or as an independent (collective) actor or organization, while the complex interplay of different actors and institutional levels within MNCs – the way interests are articulated – was not systematically taken into account. The perspective on EWC as single actors, however, does not seem to be sufficient to understand the way interests and identities are constructed and shaped – if at all – on the transnational level. Especially it does not explain how information, definitions and resources flow between the different levels and institutions of interest representation, for instance works councils, comités d’établissement, délégués du personnel or shop stewards at the local level, comités central d’entreprise/comités de groupe, central or group works councils and board-level employee representation at the national company level. The picture is even getting more complex if the trade unions, local unions, national unions as well as European and Global Union Federations are taken into account as well.

Against this backdrop, we will try to widen the perspective and to analyse the processes of articulation that are developing between these different institutions and levels of interest representation in processes of restructuring and whipsawing within MNC. Our analysis is based on case studies in ten MNC we made in the context of a research project funded by the German Research Foundation. The case studies are based on semi-structured interviews with EWC members, employee and union representatives at the national and local level in at least three countries within each of the MNC. We will develop a typology of patterns of articulation of interest representation and show why and in what respect the cases differ, what the conditions for higher levels of articulation are, why actors from local and national levels get involved in transnational collective action and if and in how far they benefit from transnational interest representation on the local and national levels.