Adrien Thomas

Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research

Cross-border labour markets and the role of trade unions in representing migrant workers’ interests

Adrien Thomas, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research

New patterns of labour migration are on the rise. Temporary migration, circular migration, short-distance and long-distance migration, and cross-border work are reshaping labour markets and raising new challenges for labour market actors. This contribution will focus on the role and perspectives of trade unions, and critically discuss the extent of migrant workers’ involvement in trade union policy-making, taking as an example the case of Luxembourg.

Due to its multinational labour market, Luxembourg can serve as a laboratory giving valuable insights into larger debates around migrant worker participation and European citizenship. Situated in the heart of Europe, Luxembourg has a highly internationalized labour market. In 2010, 44 per cent of jobs were filled by cross-border workers who reside in a neighbouring country and work in Luxembourg, 27 per cent by resident immigrants and 29 per cent by native residents. Trade unions in Luxembourg have been relatively successful in representing this internationalized labour market. They have set up specific structures to recruit and regroup migrant workers as well as cross-border workers. With some success, since 35 per cent of Portuguese immigrant workers in Luxembourg are trade union members, as well as 27 per cent of Belgian immigrants and 19 per cent of French immigrants.

In the recent period, research on the renewal of trade unions has been interested in the programmatic and organizational revitalization of trade unionism. The creation of specific branches for migrant workers has been discussed as a possible means to favour organizing efforts directed at migrant workers. The example of Luxembourg suggests that the creation of specific migrant workers’ departments (be they cross-border workers or resident immigrants), combined with the weakness of inter-sectoral local union structures, can lead in the long-run to a situation in which unionized migrant workers mainly find themselves in contact with other fellow migrants. The existence of specific organizational structures might thus end up weakening the internal cohesion of trade union which arises among others from social interactions, even if they might be conflictual. The prevalence of servicing relationships between trade unions and members and workers reinforces the effects of this internal segmentation by establishing a relationship to union members that tends to resemble, in some instances, a relationship of social assistance.

The contribution will thus address the role of trade unions in shaping, aggregating and articulating the interests of migrant workers in a cross-border labour market. Beyond its contribution to the field of employment relations, this contribution will contribute to broader debates in the field of European studies and in the literature on the “new regionalism” on the role of non-state actors and civil society actors in the social fabric of cross-border regions. The contribution will provide empirical evidence. The respective data stems from (1) in-depth interviews with trade union representatives in Luxembourg; (2) various secondary data sources, particularly archive material.

Keywords: trade unions, immigration, cross-border work, free movement of labor, Europe

Trade union attitudes towards climate change

Developing a conceptual framework

Adrien Thomas, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research
Nadja Doerflinger, KU Leuven

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change commits the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As the latest special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrates, keeping this objective requires a rapid and far-reaching transition to a low-carbon economy (IPCC 2018). Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This large-scale transition will inevitably reshape the economy, create and destroy numerous jobs, and affect working conditions and skills.

This contribution discusses how European trade unions address the challenge of climate change mitigation through emissions reductions in the manufacturing and power generation sectors. Climate change mitigation in these sectors often represents a tremendous challenge for trade unions, confronting them with the jobs versus environment dilemma. The attitudes of trade unions toward the ecological transition are characterized by tensions between a principled adherence to the need to mitigate climate change and a concern for job losses in the traditionally unionized manufacturing industry.

To build up a typology of attitudes, we integrate two different kinds of literatures. Specifically, the literature on trade unions’ collective bargaining strategies, in particular on concession bargaining, is combined with the one on interest representation by trade unions. This is important, as the effects of possible jobs-environment concessions are not limited to the relations between management and labour in a workplace as in the traditional literature on concession bargaining (e.g. McKersie and Capelli 1982), but affect society as a whole. This is because of the much-discussed tendency of organized groups to pursue private gains at the expense of common goods (e.g. Baccaro 2001). Therefore, it is essential to explore the conditions for internalizing third-party interests in trade union decision-making processes on climate change mitigation policies.

As a result, the contribution establishes a typology of the ideal-typical attitudes of trade unions in the manufacturing and power generation sector towards emission reduction policies: opposition, hedging and support. Attitudes of opposition to climate change mitigation see trade unions outrightly refuse the adoption of emissions reduction policies in the industries they represent. Hedging strategies are adopted by trade unions who do not deny the need to mitigate climate change but seek to minimize compliance costs, advocate incremental approaches and construct a dichotomy between the competing priorities of employment and environmental protection. Attitudes of support for emissions reduction policies are adopted by trade unions who outrightly support climate change mitigation policies and adopt a proactive approach to the ecological transition.

We provide empirical evidence to illustrate such attitudes. The respective data stems from (1) in-depth interviews with trade union representatives at different levels (i.e. European, national/sectoral) focusing on the jobs versus environment dilemma carried out in 2017 and 2018; (2) various secondary data sources, particularly newspaper articles and trade union reports.

Keywords: trade union attitudes, collective bargaining, pollution control industry, environmental policy, greenhouse gases, Europe

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