Track 3: Workers’ Voice and Industrial Democracy

Europe is the origin of a rich variety of different concepts of industrial and workplace democracy. For decades the incompatibility of these traditions was more an obstacle than a fertile ground for a strong European representation of workers’ voice. Meanwhile considerable progress has been made regarding workers’ participation in Europe as well as beyond. Yet democracy is threatened at different levels and from different sides, in particular by the rise of authoritarian political movements and new forms of racism, sexism, classism and religious fundamentalism that also affect workplace relations. At the same time new technologies lead to new challenges as well as opportunities for democratic participation. Against this background we want to discuss the future of democratic participation at local, national, European and international levels.

Functional equivalence of employment regimes under market pressure

Out-sourcing of public services in Italy and Denmark

Anna Mori, University of Milan

The article investigates how far two inclusive regimes of employment relations in the public sector, as the Italian and the Danish ones, turn to be functionally equivalent in their labour-management collaboration under market pressure in the outsourcing of public services.

The prominent ping-ponging debate about convergence or enduring differences in national models of public administration and public sector employment relations seems to have reached a shared position. Scholars agree upon the resilience of country-specific institutional configurations in coping with exogenous pressures and endogenous shocks (Bach and Bordogna 2016). The ensuing question can then involve the functional equivalence of different models sharing common structural characteristics, under analogous pressures. To what extent similar national institutional configurations are able to pursue analogous objectives in terms of distributive outcomes of market risks in employment relations under market pressure? It is of particular interest the investigation of the social solidarity capability of inclusive systems of industrial relations, against a backdrop featured by the interplay between the austerity agenda in the aftermath of the financial crisis and swelling market-type practices in public sector across Europe.

Empirically, the article illustrates the argument with an examination of Italy and Denmark, chosen as “most similar countries” characterised by centralised sector agreements, high collective bargaining coverage, protective and inclusive labour institutions and strong trade unions with a high membership rate and an institutionalised role in collective bargaining. These rooted resemblances provide a privileged test case to investigate how far these institutions perform in the same way in sheltering employment and working conditions from detrimental transformations triggered by the outsourcing processes. Furthermore, responding to the scholarly call for a an integrated approach between institutions and actors, the article looks not just at how labour market institutions and regulatory frameworks accommodate and shape market dynamics, but also at how these institutions shape room for manoeuvre that the actors can utilise and exploit (Meardi et al., 2016).

Functional equivalence is operationalised as degree of resemblance in market risks distribution. Such variable displays three patterns according to the pre-existing power relations between the social actors and the institutional framework within which these dynamics occur (Breen, 1997). The risks can be contained (hedging of risks), counterbalancing the growing exposure to the market for workers with interventions of (quasi-) general reciprocity within companies and social protection institutions. Where reciprocity is lacking, mechanisms for transferring risks to workers (transferring of risk) are triggered as a result of the greater discretion acquired by the employer in work relations. The transfer of (part of) risks through mechanisms of asymmetrical and contingent engagement of employers in labour relations would lead to greater responsibility for workers, obliging them to self-provide for individual protection against market risks. In the third case we assist to a process of re-commodification of work (re-commodification), through the overall weakening, if not the dismantling, of the mechanisms and devices of job protection.

Evidence is based on four in-depth case studies of outsourcing processes in local government and healthcare sector across the two countries, including 64 semi-structured interviews (38 in Italy and 26 in Denmark) carried out in 2013-16 with key-informants, complemented by documentary analysis of secondary sources, relevant legislation and national collective agreements. The comparative analysis looks at the transformations of working conditions following outsourcing of public services and at the unions strategical responses to such processes.

The analysis endorses a substantial degree of functional equivalence between the two employment relations systems. Italy and Denmark, though diverse mechanisms, ensure stable and protected terms and conditions of employment for the whole public personnel employed in outsourced services. Accordingly, both collaborative institutional frameworks of employment relations in the public sector can be reliably associated with the “hedging of risk” model proposed by Breen (1997). However the full functional equivalence resulted in the public employment does not apply if we expand the consideration to the repercussions of such market pressures on the intertwined private sector workforce employed in contracted services. If the “hedging of risks” pattern persists in Denmark, on the contrary in Italy market risks are heavily discharged upon private sector workers, who do not enjoy the same protections ensured to public employees, showing instead a “transfer of risks” pattern.

The interrelated effect of institution-related and agency-based factors contribute in explaining the non-perfect juxtaposition of the two inclusive models in shielding terms and conditions of employment from market forces. National institutional arrangements play a pivotal role in mediating the repercussions triggered by market-driven pressures on labour (Jaehrling, 2015), reconciling transformative strain with the peculiar domestic labour market configuration. Moreover trade unions’ organisational responses to outsourcing processes turned to be antipodal. Italian unions followed a concessionary and expelling strategy, in which they concentrate rather exclusively on the core workforce in standard employment relations in the public sector. Conversely trade unions in Denmark opted for integrative strategies in which workers representatives attempt to integrate in their structures the contracted workforce across the whole network of subcontracting.

To conclude, the Danish system, comprising the institutional context and actors’ agency, operates as a market-embedding tool (Jaehrling, 2015), where the market is integrated into the whole labour market through solidaristic forms of coordination, while the Italian case develops along a segmentalist social solidarity pattern (Thelen, 2004).

Beyond ideology

Comparing confrontational union responses to restructuring in France

Ruth Reaney, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Genevieve Coderre-Lapalme, University of Birmingham

For several decades, workplace restructuring has been a central feature of a shift towards market-driven employment relations in both the public and private sectors in France (Beaujolin-Bellet and Schmidt 2012). Already grappling with the challenges associated with the country’s state-driven thrust towards decentralised collective bargaining, French trade unions now face private sector employers’ adoption of tactics such as vertical disintegration, outsourcing and offshoring to improve efficiency and cut costs (Amable and Hancké 2001). In this context, private sector trade unions have found difficulties in organising and representing an increasingly fragmented workforce, particularly in circumstances where offshoring is a potential threat. Meanwhile, public administration has moved towards private sector-style management through ‘New Public Management’ mechanisms such as privatisation, marketisation and decentralisation. With French trade unionism having been described as “almost exclusively a public sector phenomenon” (Parsons 2005: 62), the privatisation of public services represents a major threat for the country’s unions.

Within this challenging environment, local unions have responded to workplace restructuring in various ways. Whilst ‘cooperative’ strategies such as concession bargaining and the negotiation of social plans are common responses to this type of restructuring, occasionally unions employ more ‘confrontational’ strategies such as political mobilisation to prompt negotiations about alternative plans (Pulignano and Stewart 2013; Marginson and Meardi 2009; Foster and Scott 1998; Jalette and Hebdon 2012; Greer et al 2013). Under what conditions do unions adopt a confrontational approach? In the literature, local unions’ strategic choices have been attributed to a number of internal and external factors (Pulignano and Stewart 2013). External circumstances including social and economic change, the institutional environment, and employer strategies may help or hinder unions in their actions (Frege and Kelly 2003; Jalette and Hebdon 2012; Martinez-Lucio and Stuart 2005). Sectoral and local contexts have also been observed as important factors in shaping union activity (Bechter et al 2012). Given the shortcomings of such external factors in explaining inter- and intra- union variation in action, research highlights the importance of internal characteristics in influencing unions’ strategic choices. While internal and external power resources (Levesque and Murray 2005; Murray et al 2010) help shape the opportunities and threats which unions see in their environment, internal ideology and identity are also considered to be key factors in shaping and sustaining union strategy (Bacon and Blyton 2004; Levesque and Murray 2010; Hodder and Edwards 2015; Hyman 2001).

In examining local unions’ choices to engage confrontational responses to restructuring, this paper compares case studies of ‘critical restructuring incidents’ in two of the country’s most unionised sectors, public healthcare and automobile manufacturing. In doing so, it extends understanding of unions’ tactical choices in responding to restructuring in both public and private sector contexts, thereby offering insight into the extent to which external factors shape trade union strategic choice. Furthermore, the cases offer empirical insight into local union identity within “one of the most divided union movements in Europe” (Connolly, 2010:3). A multi-method approach was used, drawing on semi-structured interviews with key informants and union documentation as evidence.

Preliminary findings from the study indicate that inter- and intra-union variation across and within the sectoral cases can be attributed to a multitude of internal and external factors influencing unions’ strategic choices. However, there are several elements that appeared to be most conducive to confrontational union response: local union identity, employer approach to restructuring, and the substantive content of the restructuring plan. Whereas some unions in the cases had confrontational responses because this forms part of their usual repertoire of action and general union identity, others opted for a confrontational response for other reasons. Unions which are generally considered in the literature to be “non-militant” engaged in confrontational action in instances where it was deemed the best way to protect their legitimacy and power within the organisation. In line with Bacon and Blyton’s (2004) propositions, unions were also prone to engage in confrontational action against restructuring in cases where the employer was seen not to ‘play fair’ in negotiations. However, the form and content of planned restructuring efforts were also important in eliciting oppositional responses. Moreover, unions appeared to be compelled to respond in such a way if proposed changes were especially unpopular (i.e. where restructuring would encroach significantly upon employees’ terms and conditions of employment) amongst members/employees. Again, unions appeared to adopt this position as a means of maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of employees. Furthermore, intra-union variation in the cases indicates that local circumstances such as workforce preferences and inter-union competition appear to play a role in shaping the extent to which unions responded confrontationally. This was particularly visible in the automobile sector, where a pattern of militant one-upmanship emerged in circumstances where workforces appeared receptive to oppositional action.

Patterns within the case findings therefore suggest that unions’ responses to restructuring, although ostensibly similar, are motivated by various external and internal factors, demonstrating that union strategic choice is  determined neither by external factors nor professed union ideology. Thus, restructuring poses strategic dilemmas for unions, forcing them to navigate the process by balancing union identity with membership and workforce preferences.

Collectivity besides the company

Workers’ representation in the German film and television sector

Lisa Basten, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)

Work in creative industries has attracted increasing attention in recent years. Academic research on creative work has focused on four main areas: Firstly, the economic significance of creative industries (e.g. Bertschek et al., 2017), subjective claims to fulfilment (e.g. Basten, 2016), project-based work arrangements (e.g. Windeler & Sydow, 2001) and the high risks of precarity (e.g. Haak, 2008). All of them, it is argued, imply specific challenges to the work of organizations that (want to) represent the collective interests of project-based workers. They correspond to challenges faced by unions, employers’ organizations and social legislation as a whole. The “crisis of normalcy” leads to a “crisis of representation” (Mückenberger, 2016).

Past research on the representation of workers’ interests in creative sectors in Germany have focused on trade unions and attested them both immense problems in organizing creative workers (e.g. Kalkowski & Mickler, 2005) and innovative measures to still try (Mirschel, 2018). But despite the problems collective actors face in creative industries it remains questionable whether this is actually a problem of these workers’ solidarity or of the established structures and organizations of representation in Germany.

My case study in the German film and television industry reveals that there is a dynamic number of associations, initiatives and unions that represent the interests of filmmakers. My data rests on 20 semi-structured interviews with experts working in the organizations, participatory observation over a 3 year period and an online survey among over 60 organizations active in the film and television sector and neighbouring sectors. For conceptualizing my research I draw from the concept of institutional change, in particular the role of agency in “institutional work” (Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2010) and the role of strong or weak ties in organizational change (Granovetter, 1983).

My results show the importance of building networks across organizations in a fragmented landscape of collective representation – a phenomenon not yet filtered into the duality of social partnership – and suggest ‚network solidarity‘ as a concept to be explored. The interorganisational network representing creative work in the German film and television sector span professions and overcome national boundaries in European initiatives aiming at Brussels.

Unsurprisingly, network solidarity is not (yet) a story of success and is far from reaching the shaping power trade unions have in other industrial sectors. Hindering issues that can be distilled from my research are conflicts over status identity (e.g. the hybrid relation of employer and employee in creative projects), the temporal concentration of collective activity around specific issues (like “gender equality” or “copyright”) and the absence of a political and legal framework enabling networks rather than single organizations to speak up for workers’ rights.

Work’s relationships and discrimination, harassment of foreign workers in some European countries

Boudjemaa Koussa, University of Setif2, Algeria

The aim of this study is to highlight the discrimination and sexual harassment of foreign workers in some countries European, as democratic and supportive of freedoms, human rights and equality.

The group concerned in this study is a group Algerian and others doctors who work in France at lower wages than France doctors, especially as they share the same functions. The second category is the category of Moroccan women working on Spanish farms where they have been harassed and sexually by some employers.

Labor relations are subject to legal controls which are reflected in labor legislation and the internal law of enterprises, where the protection of each party is reflected in the arbitrariness of the other party, especially the weak party factor in the relationship. Since discrimination and harassment are the remnants of colonial era of the century, what are the motives of these discrimination and sexual practices and their sociocultural interpretation today and in some European countries alone?

This is what we will try to answer in accordance with a sociological relation reading of the phenomenon that includes conflict approach as a systematic analysis.


Workplace universalism

The function of German industrial relations for the integration of migrant workers and refugees

Werner Schmidt, Forschungsinstitut für Arbeit, Technik und Kultur (F.A.T.K.)
Andrea Müller, Forschungsinstitut für Arbeit, Technik und Kultur (F.A.T.K.)

When the number of asylum seekers entering the European Union peaked in 2015 and 2016, 1.1 million of them arrived in Germany. Although Germany managed to incorporate great numbers of migrants in the past, recent forced migration is widely considered to be a big challenge. And while on the one hand right-wing populism is growing, on the other hand, refugees are supported by relevant parts of the public and a variety of measures to promote the integration of refugees have been launched in the last three years.

A major field of integration is the workplace. Comparing earlier labour migration with recent forced migration, we will pursue the following questions:

  1. How has the integration of workers of different origin worked in the past, and what role did industrial relations play in this process?
  2. What differences or what similarities can be found when comparing the integration of former labour migrants and today’s refugees into the labour market and at the workplace?
  3. What is German industrial relations’ contribution to integrating refugees into the workforce?

We will draw on the findings of three research projects: (1) Employees’ origin and industrial relations at the workplace level (2003-2005) which used a mixed methods approach and carried out three comprehensive company case studies (Schmidt/Müller 2013). (2) Company measures for integrating refugees (2016) examined integration measures in 12 large companies (Müller/Schmidt 2016), and (3) Co-determination and internal social integration of refugees (2016-2019), investigated social integration in 15 companies in different industries (final report pending). Altogether, the projects are based on more than 150 interviews or group discussions, document analysis, and three employee attitude surveys.

With reference to Lockwood’s (1964) distinction of system integration and social integration, we distinguish two dimensions of workplace integration. Structural incorporation, i.e., the matching of person and job, including the internal social positioning with respect to job position and pay, and workplace social integration, the development of social relations between organization members, including everyday encounters, cooperation, and communication.

Although the focus of our paper will be on workplace integration, we will take external factors also into consideration. Differences in social and cultural capital between migrants, like language proficiency, qualifications and work experience, health and living conditions, cultural differences, networks of support, or distance to industrial work culture, may be of relevance as well as the legal status, and societal acceptance or non-acceptance of migrants and the respective discourses. Against the background of this ‘environment’, we examine how workplace integration of refugees takes place in comparison to that of other migrants.

Because their recruitment was supported by state and industry, former ‘guest workers’ usually had no problem to find a job, e.g. at the assembly lines of the automotive industry. Under the assumption that they would only stay and work temporarily, their positioning and social integration at the workplace were hardly seen as a problem. However, many of these workers stayed for good and yet remained ‘locked-in’ in the segment of unskilled or semi-skilled work, which was often reproduced in the subsequent generations.

Nevertheless, our studies suggest that social integration works rather well at the workplace. This is not only because cooperation is a requirement. We have found that even if workers just pretended to be collegial, they develop true feelings of collegiality in the course of time. However, reservations towards one another often persist and political and cultural differences are only banished from the workplace. This ‘externalization of difference’ has a function for employees, because this way potentially contentious discussions of their cultural and political differences can be avoided at the workplace. Crucial for social integration is that neither workplace-related law nor collective agreements differentiate between German and foreign employees, and all workers can be elected and elect works councils as a common institution of representation.

We call this modus of treating employees equally at the workplace, regardless of their origin and offering the same institutionalized channels of interest representation for all, ‘workplace universalism’. Backed by collective agreements and co-determination, this universalistic approach helps to foster a ‘workers identity’ beyond identities based on ethnicity or other features.

In some respects, refugees face a different situation. In addition to stresses and strains related to forced migration, insecure legal status and mass accommodation, many refugees have difficulties to match the requirements of a labour market demanding a certain level of language and occupational skills. However, compared to former labour migrants, there are advantages such as support by volunteers, better opportunities to learn German and to participate in assistance measures and – already in the first generation – vocational training. Nevertheless, it is still not decided how long the workplace incorporation of refugees will take. Another uncertainty factor is that ‘workplace universalism’ is under pressure. On the one hand, special support for refugees is not provided by the rules of workplace-restricted universalism and needs a wider understanding of universalism which also includes the world outside the workplace. On the other hand, right-wing, anti-refugee discourses have grown more obtrusive, making it harder to prevent them from affecting the workplace. A crucial question will be whether ‘workplace universalism’ can be extended by taking into account external differences and disadvantages guided by a concept of solidarity or whether it will be destroyed by group particularism and right-wing populism.

  • Lockwood, D. (1964): Social Integration and System Integration. In: Zollschan, G. K., Hirsch, W. (eds.): Explorations in Social Change. Routledge & Kegan, London: 244–257.
  • Müller, A./Schmidt, W. (2016): Fluchtmigration und Arbeitswelt. Study der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung 339, Düsseldorf.
  • Schmidt, W./Müller, A. (2013): Social Integration and Workplace Industrial Relations. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 68 (3): 361–386.


Precarious solidarities

Unions, young workers and representative claims

Melanie Simms, University of Glasgow

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-26-Simms.pdf

It is widely accepted that union movements in many countries face profound structural challenges organising and representing young workers, despite often significant investment in this area (Hodder and Kretsos 2015). This raises questions about the limitations of current activities and what might be necessary to improve outcomes. This paper draws on two forms of claims that unions make when representing any group of workers; solidaristic claims (Hyman 1997) and representative claims (Saward 2010).

After an exploration of the theoretical basis of these two forms of claims, this paper addresses two central research questions:

  • What soldiaristic claims are being made when unions seek to organise and represent young workers?
  • What representational claims are being made in these processes?

The presentation draws on evidence from three research projects undertaken by the author since 2011. The first was a Eurofound survey of social partner responses to helping young workers during the crisis. The second was a British Academy Small grant comparing the UK, Ital and France. And the third was a large-scale international comparative project comparing the USA, UK, Netherlands, France and Germany. Despite slightly different research questions and methodological approaches, all three projects have resulted in a wealth of data from trade unions regarding their efforts to organise and represent young workers.

Using evidence from these studies, the paper argues that solidaristic claims are extremely important ‘rallying cries’ (Hyman 1997) but, in practice, often precarious because they are typically invoked when there are few avenues for effective bargaining and representation. Evidence shows that unions are keen to stand in solidarity with young workers, but often have few mechanisms to represent their interests. In this space, new representative claims are being made by unions. In some cases, institutional arrangements allow unions to make ‘expert claims’ (Saward 2010) and represent young workers despite very low membership. This is typically the case where unions are embedded in extensive networks of nationally supported representation systems. Where that is not evidence, or perceived as ineffective, we sometimes see the emergence of new representative organisations such as San Precario in Italy, which make ‘alternative claims’ (Saward 2010) in the spaces where unions are absent or ineffective.

This presentation argues that solidaristic claims are important but not sufficient to build effective representation of young workers. Too often the debate is framed in terms of what young workers can do for unions with regard to survival and renewal, rather than what unions can do for young workers.

  • Hodder, A. and L. Kretsos. (2015) Young Workers and Trade Unions: A Global View. Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Hyman, R. (1997). ‘Trade unions and interest representation in the context of globalisation’. Transfer. 3 (3) pp 515-533.
  • Saward, M. (2010) The Representative Claim. Oxford University Press.


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


Flexibilizing organizations: Consequences for worker participation?

Jan Kees Looise, University of Twente

Since about the 1980s we experience an ongoing shift from bureaucratic to more flexible organizations. Indications of this shift are:

  • breaking up of conglomerates into more focused and flexible companies
  • outsourcing of parts of production and services to other organizations, including those in low cost countries
  • growing accent on return on investment
  • strengthening of the position of shareholders (viz. top management)
  • replacement of forms of vertical command and communication by lateral relationships within organizational networks and alliances
  • growing role of information technology in production, services and organization
  • growing accent on smart production and agile (teal) organizing
  • replacement of permanent labor by flexible labor

This list is not exhaustive, but is long enough to give an indication of the amount and impact of the changes that are taken place since about the 1980s. Given the fact that these changes will continue to take place in the future it is impossible to give a definite picture of where this organizational change will end. The only thing we can do is trying to understand how the ongoing and possible new changes impact organizational forms, corporate governance and the arrangement of work. And in line with that the position and form of worker participation as it exists now.

Worker participation (WP) as we know it is a product of bureaucratic capitalism that mainly developed from about 1890 and lasted till about the 1980s. During this period most organizations – and especially large ones – became bureaucratized while industrial relations became institutionalized and bureaucratized as well. Trade unions became recognized as legitimate representatives of and negotiators on behalf of workers at different levels (organizations, industries, regional and national) and in most European countries WP at company level was institutionalized, be it legally or by collective agreement. In this institutionalization of WP two main lines developed: WP via worker representatives in works councils and/or trade unions delegations aimed at company policies and WP via worker representatives in supervisory boards aimed at corporate governance. From the 1980’s both lines have been extended to the European level via the Directives on Employee Involvement, on European Works Councils and on Employee Involvement in European Companies (European Company Statute). Besides these formal and representative forms of WP in most European companies informal and direct forms of WP have developed as well. According to the Third European Company Survey (2015) in more than half (56%) of the company establishments there are `extensive and supported’ forms of direct employee participation, so this is quite substantive. As most of the formal arrangements for WP were developed in relation to bureaucratic organizations, it can be questioned whether these arrangements are still actual and effective in relation to the ongoing flexibilization of organizations. And if this is no longer the case, what should be done to make WP actual and effective again? Can new forms of representative WP be developed? Or should informal direct participation - be it partly - take over the role of formal representative WP? These questions have been debated already for quite some time, but not yet in a very thorough way. Both advocates and opponents of change in the existing WP-arrangements seem mainly driven by ideological or political motives - either led by the wish to get rid of trade unions and or works councils or by the conviction that we need to keep them as they are - though an in depth analysis of the place and role of WP in flexible organizations is missing. This is also due to the fact that, although overall characteristics of these organizations become gradually better known, it is still not yet very clear what the characteristics of flexible organizations are. Therefore this paper will try to bring some clarity using a historical and differentiated approach

Flexibilization may be an important trend since the 1980s, this does not mean that - as some authors seem to expect - everything is or will be flexibilized in the same way and amount. In general flexibilization can be seen as a trend that takes place already since long in Western Europe – perhaps even since the Middle Ages – comparable with and in relation to trends like individualization, economization, rationalization and so on. And it is true that this flexibilization trend influences most elements of our societies – especially since the acceleration of it since the 1980s. This justifies the use of terms like `the flexible age’ or `flexible capitalism’. But in practice there are large differences in the way and amount flexibilization influences existing institutions and organizations. Some institutions and organizations are only limitedly affected, while others are heavily influenced. Regarding the flexibilization of organizations we can see large differences in form as well as amount between e.g. international and national organizations; profit and non-profit organizations; industrial and service organizations; technology intensive and extensive organizations and so on. In the context of this paper it is not possible to distinguish between all these variations in organizations. Therefore we focus on three main historically dominant types of organizations, namely: large (international) organizations, middle-sized organizations work and small organizations and one recent new organizational form: the platform organization (although still has to been whether this form will hold as a really new type of organization or will assimilate to one of the existing forms). In the paper the flexibilization of all four types organizations will be evaluated in combination with the consequences for WP. Basis for the evaluation is the conceptual and historical literature on the different types of organization and the way they have been flexibilized and the available empirical data about WP in these organizations (mainly from the Netherlands and the EU). As empirical evidence is only limited available, the paper will have a rather explorative character. The results of the paper will contribute to further theory development on the differentiated flexibilization of organizations over longer periods and the effects on WP and to more extensive follow-up research.


  • Eurofound (2015), Workplace practices: patterns, performance and well-being. Third European Company Survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
  • Harisson, B. (1994), Lean and mean. The changing landscape of corporate power in the age of flexibility. New York: Basic Books.
  • Jacoby (2004), Employing bureaucracy. Managers, unions and the transformation of work in the 20th century. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Jonge, J. de, A. Hol & B. de Lange (2014), Worker participation on the move. Changing organizations and the role of the works council (in Dutch). Hoofddorp: Vakmedianet.



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