T3-04: Comparing trade unions

7 September 2019, 09:00–10:30

Chair: Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick


Measuring varieties of industrial democracy in Europe

A quantitative analysis

Pablo Sanz, notus-asr
Maria Caprile, notus-asr
Christian Welz, Eurofound
Ricardo Rodriguez, Eurofound

The term industrial democracy can be traced back to the late 19th century. At that time, the term was used in influential publications such as the ‘history of trade unionism’ or ‘industrial democracy’ (Webb and Webb, 1897, 1898) to explain and justify trade unions’ missions and activities in search of social justice within a free market capitalism characterized by harsh working conditions (Kauffman, 2014). Contemporary definitions of industrial democracy have moved away from the industrial democracy approach developed by the Webbs in 1898, which was mainly focused on trade unions and collective bargaining, and tend to use alternative terms, such as voice. While central to most of current approaches to industrial democracy is that employees have the opportunities and the means to have a say in an employer’s decision-making process at different levels, there is a not a consensual definition. Diverse definitions of industrial democracy and related terms such as employee involvement, participation and voice reflect competing theoretical and methodological foundations or ‘frames or references’ (Heery, 2015). This makes complex to delimitate the boundaries of the industrial democracy concept and carry out international comparison of the different forms and outcomes of industrial democracy. Overall, comparative research on industrial democracy is fragmented (González and Martínez Lucio (2016). On the one hand, some approaches have focused on the micro or company level, analysing the characteristics and outcomes of different forms of employee participation at company level (Townsend et al, 2012; Van Gyes 2016; Eurofound, 2015). On the other hand, common industrial relations comparative approaches have focused on the macro level, researching topics such as corporatism, social dialogue and multi-employer collective bargaining (Meardi, 2018; Marginson, 2017; Baccaro and Howell, 2017).

The current paper, which is based on two research projects commissioned by Eurofound, develops a comprehensive definition of industrial democracy which covers both the macro or institutional level and the micro or company level. Industrial democracy is understood as a model of employment relationship governance which rests on shared decision making between management and independent employee representation (Budd, 2004). It encompasses all participation rights of employers and employees. Industrial democracy covers four dimensions: autonomy of social partners in collective bargaining; representation rights at both macro (collective bargaining, social dialogue) and company level (work councils, etc.); participation, understood as mechanisms for involving employees in management decision making at company level; and influence, linked to bargaining power and the relative ability of the two sides of industry to exert influence over the other side in the context of collective bargaining or management decision making. Following this definition, the paper builds, firstly, a composite indicator aiming to map, measure and summarise the most important features of industrial democracy in the 28 EU countries from a static and a dynamic perspective. The computation of the composite indicator is based on the internationally accepted methodology on building composite indicators developed by JRC and the OECD (Nardo et al., 2005). The composite indicator includes annual data for the period 2008-2017 from different European data sources. The selected indicators meet strict conceptual and statistical criteria, in line both with the quality assessment and assurance framework of the European Statistical System, and other quality criteria commonly used in the literature.  In addition, only intelligible indicators which can be interpreted unambiguously, either "positive" or "negative", are included. Secondly, a cluster analysis is conducted in order to map varieties on industrial relations systems in relation to industrial democracy.  In order to cluster countries, additional relevant indicators which cannot be interpreted in terms of either positive or negative, but are relevant for mapping variety, are added. The typology of industrial relation systems is therefore based on industrial democracy performance and relevant characteristics of industrial democracy.

The outcomes of the composite index enable to measure, from a static point of view, country performance in industrial democracy. Dynamic analysis which result from comparing two time periods (2008-2012; 2013-2017), shows a downward divergence trend, illustrating that cross-national differences have been accentuated, deepening previous inequalities concerning the role played by industrial democracy in the governance of employment relationships.

The outcomes of the typology prove to be useful for better understanding diversity in terms of industrial democracy characteristics. Typology outcomes are relevant also because they challenge previous industrial relations’ typologies, providing a more nuanced description of industrial democracy characteristics of countries usually included within the broad category of ‘mixed’ or ‘transitional’ industrial relations models (Viseer, 2009).

Differences in trade union membership and influence across Europe

The importance of comparative electoral systems

John Budd, University of Minnesota
J. Ryan Lamare, School of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign

From an employment relations perspective, the ideal situation for industrial relations would likely be one where trade union membership and workplace influence are high, stable (if not increasing), and uniform across countries. However, industrial relations faces significant challenges because none of these are true. Researchers have therefore explored various explanations for declining union density as well as for persistent differences in cross-national union membership levels across countries. While research has analyzed individual attitudes and demographic characteristics, job and organizational characteristics, globalization and other economic trends, trade union activities, and differences in varieties of capitalism and industrial relations systems, it appears that the importance of a country’s political system for influencing trade union membership and workplace influence has been overlooked.

There are multiple ways in which a country’s political system might shape  union membership and influence, including enacting public policies, involving unions in peak-level corporatist initiatives, enabling direct relationships between trade unions and legislators, appointing labor-friendly ministers and other officials, establishing the employment relations parameters for public sector employees, shaping attitudes around political inclusion that affect workplace agency, and giving social legitimacy to collective voice. Empirically, we draw on the political science literature on comparative electoral systems and use a country’s level of disproportionality and its number of political parties to measure electoral system differences. Disproportionality measures deviations from the baseline of perfect proportionality in which each party’s vote share equals its share of legislative seats.

We use the 2009 and 2013 waves of the European Company Survey to conduct multivariate analyses of the relationship between trade unions and other representative bodies in the workplace and national-level electoral systems by adding these measures of comparative electoral systems to workplace-level data from 29 European countries. We also  use Round 5 of the European Social Survey (ESS) by adding these measures of comparative electoral systems to individual-level data from 26 European countries. We find consistent results that a lower level of disproportionality (that is, a greater level of legislative representativeness) is a statistically significant predictor of a greater likelihood of unions and other representative bodies being present and having influence in the workplace. Furthermore, we are able to pool all 8 rounds of the ESS and analyze individual union membership across more than 30 European countries, and we find that a lower level of disproportionality is a statistically significant predictor of a higher probability of individual union membership. All of these analyses control for organizational, demographic, and job characteristics to the extent allowed based on the information collected in each survey.

We believe that this significantly adds to the literature on union membership and employee representation, and has important implications for industrial relations not only in Europe but in other regions as well.

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