Lise Lotte Hansen

Department of Social Science & Business, Roskilde University

Perspectives of worker solidarity in changing times

Lise Lotte Hansen, Department of Social Science & Business, Roskilde University

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-150-Hansen.pdf

The paper concludes on the research project ‘Workers solidarity/ies –between crisis and renewal’ funded by the Danish Research Council for Society and Business. The overall interest of the research project is how solidarity among a widely diverse group of workers is produced, reproduced, changed, and challenged. The main research question is: What unifies and what divides workers with diverse backgrounds? And what is the role of trade unions in this? The research focuses on commercial cleaners of which many are women and migrant workers, and the Danish trade union 3F.

The paper will discuss solidarity dynamics in different ways:

  • Processes leading to and from political identification, challenged workplace collectivism, the building of a new ‘we’ in 3F as well as the mutual relations between the three (identification, collectivism, trade union)
  • Struggles on perceptions of solidarity and the challenge to institutions and regulations supporting solidarity
  • What characterizes workers solidarity/ties today: Is it ‘unity in diversity’/’mutuality despite difference’ (Briskin/Hyman)? Who is the adversary? Who is it with? What is it for? How is it solidarity achieved?

The conclusion will consists of three parts. First, it will conclude on the Danish case. Then, it will discuss what can be learned about solidarity dynamics in general. And finally, it will discuss theoretical implications for the conceptualization of worker solidary/ies.

To unveil a few of the discussions and conclusions:

  • It is not diversity in itself that challenges solidarity. But diversity (nationality, culture, language, contracts) in combination with management attitudes and actions challenge workplace collectivism.
  • Migrant workers are not against trade unions in principle, and the trade union includes migrant workers in democracy and interest representation (also Doellgast el al 2018). When migrants do not join unions, it is more likely to be because they do not know about the union or because of management hostility to unions. A closed union culture is a challenge to activism.
  • Feelings of disrespect are a strong motivation for collective action among the cleaners. More than problems re pay.
  • It is important for migrant workers that they get information about union activities directly and in a language they understand, but not taking part is just as much about being too tired, feeling depressed, don’t believe that taking action will do any difference, fear of losing job/income and a low self-esteem.
  • Trade union leaders are very clear about solidarity practices, but to speak about solidarity make them uncomfortable. The understanding of solidarity is unclear, and some even distance themselves from using the word solidarity.
  • Despite challenges to the Nordic class compromise, regulation and institutions still support workers’ collective voice and interest representation.

Data production

The study consists of 27 interviews (34 persons) with trade union leaders, employee representatives, cleaners in hotels and hospitals and migrant network leaders; fieldwork in the trade union 3F, at organising activities, in migrant networks and in workplaces; one memory workshop with female trade union leaders and officers; and one research circle with trade union leaders, officers, and activists of different genders, ages and ethnicities as well as different unions. The study also includes activities on Facebook as well as document studies. Data production ran from 2013-2016.


  • Briskin, L. (1999): ‘Autonomy, diversity, and integration: union women’s separate organization in North America and Western Europe in the context of restructuring and globalization’ in Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol.22 No.5
  • Doellgast, V., Lillie, N. & Pulignano, V. (2018): Reconstructing Solidarity: Labour Unions, Precarious Work, and the Politics of Institutional Change in Europe, Oxford University Press
  • Hyman, R. (2011) ‘Trade unions, global competition and options for solidarity’, in Bieler, A. and Lindberg, I. (eds.) Global Restructuring, Labour and the Challenges for Transnational Solidarity, pp 16-29. London and New York: Routledge


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