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.

Responsible restructuring and integrative concession bargaining

An empirical examination of the role of trade unions at a UK steel firm

Chris McLachlan, University of Leeds
Mark Stuart, University of Leeds

This paper explores the connection between responsible restructuring and integrative bargaining at a UK steel firm. Through a qualitative case study of the negotiation process between management and trade unions, and drawing on Walton and McKersie’s (1965) seminal framework of labour negotiations, the paper argues that trade unions are able to induce management into more responsible forms of employment restructuring by realising the ‘integrative potential’ when bargaining over restructuring.

Research by Pulignano and Stewart (2012; 2013) highlights two distinct union responses to job loss, described as confrontation based on job protection and cooperation based on job transition. Findings suggest these strategies point to both the positive role unions can play in addressing the social and economic effects of restructuring for affected employees. For instance, unions may cooperate with management in the early stages and bargain around issues such as redeployment, retraining and severance payments. Alternatively, unions may take a confrontational approach that refuses redundancies initially yet uses this as a platform for subsequent negotiations. Although much of the prevailing research tends to accept that unions engage with management to shape the outcomes of restructuring, caution has been raised around whether this reduces unions’ independence from the actions of management and their ability to contest managerial initiatives (Martinez Lucio and Stuart, 2005; MacKenzie, 2009; Rodriguez-Ruiz, 2005).

Recent debates in industrial relations literature have highlighted the relationship between trade union activity and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), suggesting unions are well placed as key stakeholders to engage with CSR initiatives in order to improve outcomes for their members and wider society (Harvey et al, 2017; Preuss et al, 2014). Nonetheless, there has been little empirical research on the role of trade unions in relation to specifically responsible practices. With regards to restructuring processes, the term responsible restructuring represents a range of practices implemented by organisations in order to ameliorate the consequences of redundancy for affected employees (Forde et al, 2009). Responsible restructuring has thus been viewed as connected to an organisation’s CSR agenda, with research suggesting ways in which a more ethical approach to restructuring may also bring strategic benefits (Tsai and Shih, 2013; Rydell and Wigbald, 2013). Moreover, a burgeoning consistency has been identified between responsible restructuring and integrative bargaining, whereby unions may engage with management when bargaining over restructuring in order to seek a quid pro quo when agreeing concessions in relation to job losses (Walton and McKersie, 1965; Teague and Roche, 2014; Garaudel et al, 2008). That is, in an era where restructuring and redundancy is considered inevitable, unions may acknowledge certain complementary interests with management in times of restructuring and utilise these in the negotiation process.  Garaudel et al (2008) refer to this as ‘integrative potential’, where by unions engagement in restructuring processes may help mitigate some of the negative social and economic effects of redundancy for employees.

A key point of departure in this paper is thus to explore burgeoning claims in the literature that integrative concession bargaining may offer a strategy for unions to induce management into implementing more responsible forms of restructuring and redundancy (Teague and Roche 2014; Garaudel et al, 2008; Ahlstrand, 2015; Rodriguez-Ruiz, 2015; Kirov and Thill, 2018; Harvey et al, 2017). In particular, Teague and Roche (2014) have pointed to a consistency between integrative concession bargaining and the management practice of responsible restructuring, though in the specific context of responding to recessionary pressures. The authors suggest that greater union involvement may be mutually beneficial as unions can secure certain ‘institutional gains’ related to extended recognition or representation rights, whereas for management union involvement in restructuring programmes can bestow a legitimacy upon the process amongst the workforce. Research into partnership arrangements between union and management has also demonstrated this, where union presence in restructuring processes, and wider workplace change initiatives, afford management a ‘legitimizing rhetoric’ and help consolidate employee consent (Butler et al, 2011; Martinez Lucio and Stuart, 2004; 2005; Butler and Tregaskis, 2018).

Through an examination of a restructuring process at a UK steel firm (SteelCo), this paper explores the dynamics of management and trade unions bargaining over restructuring. Through interview and ethnographic data, the analysis highlights contextual conditions and critical moments that were indicative of an integrative bargaining approach between management and trade unions and hence shaped management’s claims to have implemented a responsible restructuring process. Three critical stages in the bargaining process are identified. First, the early engagement between senior management and senior trade union officials six months prior to the restructuring is considered. Second, the establishment of an internal redeployment process (cross-matching) shortly after the restructuring announcement which was jointly managed by the HR team and senior trade union officials. Third, contentious incidents in the subsequent delivery of the restructuring are explored. Each of these stages is analysed in relation to three criteria: how legitimacy between management and unions was established; areas of integrative potential; and the outcomes and tensions for each party. There is a specific conceptual focus on understanding an integrative bargaining approach in the restructuring process. Attention is afforded in the findings to analysing the interactions in the negotiations, the concessions sought from either party, critical moments that shaped the bargaining process and implications for trade unions’ role in the implementing of responsible restructuring. The paper concludes with an extended discussion on the subsequent implications for trade union strategy in relation to responding to restructuring processes more widely.

Feminisation and exploitation of labour in India

Evidence from special economic zone

Sazzad Parwez, School of Development Studies, Indian Institute of Health Management Research University

This paper examines a new and ever-growing feminization of workforce in Special Economic Zone and implicative dynamism based on theoretical and empirical methodologies. It focuses on furthering the understanding and reasoning of prevailing employment pattern, working condition and resultant implications for women workers in the backdrop of absentia of welfare regime both at state and sweatshop level. The paper combines descriptive analysis of manual labour of women at economic enclaves leading to series of exploitative practices

This study applied a two-phase methodology, to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. For largely logistical and financial reasons, the quantitative survey was completed first. Then, about a year later, the qualitative research was undertaken. Field work for the quantitative data collection was undertaken in July-October 2015 in state of Gujarat.

The quantitative survey was completed with Secondary data has been taken from various government reports (National Sample Survey, Annual Survey of Industries, Economic Survey etc.), and other relevant data sources. The second phase was a qualitative survey designed to capture the perspectives of other stakeholder groups on issues affecting the labour condition. It involved interviews with workers, SEZ unit’s manager, labour contractors, labour officers, trade unions members and civil society members.

The feminization of the labour force is taking place in India since independence- first it was slow to begin with, but it surged after economic reforms in 1991. Even though employment opportunities may have increased, but weak immobile labour class has been left to the mercy of mobile and powerful capital. Currant form of the labour welfare legislations and implementation is with the capitalism and appropriation.

Evidently bargaining power of labour, irrespective of gender is on the decline. Traditionally, women workers have found themselves at even a greater disadvantage position. This ‘greater disadvantage’ can be explained through a patriarchal structure, formed with the status of identities and their bearing on society. The bargaining power of lower caste, lower class women workers in this structure is much lesser, not only from upper caste and upper-class men but also than that of men with similar socio-economic backgrounds as them. Globalization has escalated the social and economic marginalization of women particularly contributed in forming this new form of lower rungs. Their bargaining power in the society reflects their status.

Since women were barred from the sectors that was not considered essentially fit for employment particularly in the pre-reform era, but skepticism remains. Even meaningful economic contribution made by women workers is not recognized. The perception that women workers are inferior has perpetuated companies to secure command over them. But on the contrary, women are found to be efficient and less demanding as a worker and better than men. Manufacturing shops are in orders to cut down on labour costs, replaces man workers with women. Men have lost jobs to women; but women are no winners considering the dismal working conditions. Women are exploited in both at home and outside. Even though some time being at the upper end of the job hierarchy with relatively higher paying jobs, but women are seldom exploited if one considers worldwide evidence.

Women constraints by socio-economic restrictions are often succumb to the exploitation. But existing opportunities has not changed the situation of women as much expected, absurdly it has sustained the feminization of poverty to the greater extent. Market economy has been calling the shots in quest of manipulating the system of subordination to their advantage; as SEZs workers in general and women happens to be latest casualty. The gender socialization and the unequal power relationship that men and women share is largely dominated by women’s self-perception and how they perceive their male counterparts. They feel they deserve less because men deserve more. Socio-economic-political equality can be considered imaginary under prevailing identities and experiences of the women.

In a broad sense, the approach and actions of the state and the employers towards the worker (women), socio-economic circumstances and poor working conditions remained the same. Thus, it is easy to identify identical characteristics of workers’ plight and exploitation practices in sweatshops across the region and time.

Economic reforms have opened a new form of paid work opportunity for women. For long, women have remained marginalised and only represented overwhelmingly in the informal sector, domestic work and other casual work. Industrialisation and emergence of new formal enterprises provided impetus to the position of the poor working women. This stems from earning wage provide opportunity to take decisions, greater say in the family and community and relishing greater movement. Nevertheless, despite of new prospects, most of the women workers still live in precarious conditions with considerable insecurity in terms of the dependency on the western MNCs and import policy. Competitive global environment increases the race to the bottom among the developing economies. Women are often among the last to be included into the labour force, but in case of recession first to be terminated.

Industries tend to employ women from poverty ridden rural areas in order to leverage on availability of surplus labour and lower cost. Whole design is to create more capital in the process of exploitation and taking advantage of vulnerability of poor women. The poor socio-economic condition discourages women from protesting and tend to form allegiance with the management despite being exploited. The massive employment of women workers in SEZ contributes to the stagnation of labour movements in globalization processes.

The industrial zones have witnessed surge in employment of large number of women in last few decades. It has been beneficial for women in terms of paid employment opportunity, but the quality of work is in question. On positive note SEZs has provided opportunity to earn in the formal sector, thereby enhances their position in the family and society.

Companies in these economic enclaves hire young women workers only to reduce production cost as they lack bargaining power and considered docile in nature. Women worker’s related welfare measures are entirely absent in most of SEZ units. It must be noted that SEZ and other forms of economic enclaves has been designed to overlook welfare of workers and to concentrate only on investment, export, and creation of employment. Absence of labour welfare measures has critical impact on women workers.

Women are exploited as workers and as women, and many times, both issues are mixed in such a way that they cannot be treated separately.

So far findings suggest that SEZ symbolises lackluster approach of judicial and administrative affairs, and it has several provisions which are highly undemocratic. Given some of these concerns, SEZs cannot be the only strategy for industrialisation, and even within a broader strategy, the specific features of this policy need a systematic re-examination.

Keywords: Women; Labour; Feminisation; Exploitation; Special Economic Zone; Development

Invisible? Women unionists in sherry area. Obstacles and experiences

Eva Bermúdez-Figueroa, University of Cádiz

This paper aims to expose the process of invisibilization of women participation in the labor movement and their obstacles and experiences in taking part in the unions, as an exponent of hegemonic masculinity.  We will analyze the conclusions of research conducted in the University of Cádiz (2017-047/P01-BRM-EBF)   and financed by Electors Asociation Ganemos Jerez, with a qualitative methodology based in thirty women unionists life stories. In this project,  Women in labor movement in Sherry Area (1960-2017), we make an effort to synthesize a long period of political and economic changes in a very concrete scenario in the south of Spain, with a deep tradition on self-management and autonomous unions in an industrial area of wine and shipyards (Foweraker,1990) . Taking intersectionality as a means of analysis, in the case of this area we do not focus the ethnic or race discriminations as we do not find different ethnic groups in this area or sectors, but we do find class differences inside work and also unions (Hebson, 2001).  These women are representing different professional fields and sectors; some masculinized as the wine sector in Jerez or banking sector, some feminized professions as operators or family care, social work, teaching, and nursing. We will also make a distinction about women unionists and wives of man unionists in late Francoism period, when women in Spain weren't plenty inserted in labor market and any union activity was prosecuted by the regime. We will pay attention to the obstacles, experiences, and representations of these women about the different perceptions of dynamics in unionism, daily union company life, glass ceiling, lack of balancing of family and union and work life, protest repertories. We conclude  paying attention to the future of unionism and their necessary changes to include women in the decision making and all the areas. And this is, by the moment, very far from the reality of unionism in Spain, more specifically in Andalusia.

Context-based explanations for different occupational opportunities and employment conditions experienced by women and migrants

Andrea Signoretti, University of Trento

Addressing unequal occupational chances and employment conditions experienced by women and migrants through the application of equality measures has primarily concentrated on unions and on the cases of the United Kingdom (UK) and of the US. The context-based regulation theory has considered this research as highly useful to understand the subject but limited. Indeed, the specific focus on the UK and the US does not adequately consider and thus is not able to explain why equality outcomes vary among countries (Martinez-Lucio and Connolly, 2010, Connolly et al., 2014). These varied outcomes are seen as connected with different context-sensitive union strategies that, although playing a central role, should also be considered in interconnection with other stakeholders’ agency and external factors. This theoretical approach has been rarely applied; it has usually been enunciated in general terms. The article extends the theory through its detailed articulation.

Starting with the actor-based dimension, unions’ representation of disadvantaged social groups is analysed by looking into the underlying concept of union identity in terms of internal solidarity (Heery and Conley, 2007) and approach towards employers (Hyman, 2001). At the same time, union action is considered in relation with employers’ competitive strategies and with vulnerable social groups. Indeed, it must be acknowledged that disadvantaged social groups can pose different issues to employers and unions, which may reflect specific and broad social identities, experiences and practices compared to the traditional union constituency. To this regard, unions can follow universalistic or particularistic representative strategies towards these specific needs or an integration between the two (Alberti et al., 2013). Moreover, stakeholders’ agency needs to be situated within external forces. Drawing from the conceptual work of Martinez Lucio and Connolly (2010), I map these factors as belonging to the socio-economic, structural and institutional domains. As regards the socio-economic domain, local labour markets can affect work demand amongst specific social groups. In the structural domain, technology plays a pivotal role. Finally, within the institutional domain, laws and centralised collective bargaining are significant, constituting important resources for union action at the firm level.

The research question consists of understanding if the resulting theoretical model can effectively explain the variation in the regulation of women’ and migrants’ occupational opportunities and employment conditions across different contexts through a comparison between one US and one Italian auto plants. The two contexts were selected since presenting important diversities especially in terms of union identities. The research design is placed within a comparative industrial relations tradition which helps in understanding the outcomes of different systems of regulation. In order to ensure comparability, the plants were selected as it shared several important characteristics. The research method was based on the triangulation of different qualitative research techniques. Direct observation was conducted in the period of permanency in the two plants, approximately three months in both cases (in 2010 in Italy and in 2011 in the US). Semi-structured interviews involved all of the managers in the two plants and all RSUs and shop stewards (three in each case). Employees belonging to the social groups of women and migrants were involved in the interviews. The subjects explored were drawn from the specialised literature, and included labour market access, pay rate and benefits, working time, career advancement, safety and ergonomics, and job rotation (the latter of which was primarily related to safety and ergonomic issues) (Klarsfeld et al., 2012, Connolly et al., 2014).

In the case study plants, the employment of women and migrants was remarkably different between the two factories. That despite employers followed similar cost-based competitive strategies within a tiring production process requiring technology to allow women work. In the US facility, women were much more present (39% against 2% of the Italian plant) while the reverse occurred in the case of migrants. This latter outcome was due to their different presence in the local areas, in turn deriving from different local labour market performances.

As regards employment conditions, in the US factory, shop stewards incorporated women’s representation within concessive negotiations by following an integrative approach. Indeed, after having integrated women into the workforce by assuring them equal occupational opportunities, the union started following a traditional collective based-approach of negotiation to address any possible discriminatory treatment. Women resulted to be satisfied with this action. In the Italian plant, unions clearly followed a class-based approach characterized by an adversarial stance. In such a way, unions were able to resist concessions required by managers for instance in terms of higher and less regulated extra time. Despite these results, unions were not able to fully represent migrant workers.

The theoretical model is found to be valid to explain the expected superior protection that vulnerable social groups experience in the US context compared with the Italian case. Union identity emerges as a crucial element in both contexts to explain the results, and turns out to be imbued with historical trajectories and models of union representation. However, this action was affected by the other actors and external factors considered.


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Voice within the union

Relationship of leader, status and voice behaviour

Kyungyeon Kim, Korea University

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-66-Kim.pdf

Member's participation is crucial for the survival of trade unions. However, little attention has been paid to voice within trade union, while plenty of voice literature have been studied in organizational behaviour. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to uncover the relationship with leaders, organizational support and member's voice behaviour. Also, we will attempt to explore mediating roles of felt obligation for constructive change at the individual- level of voice mechanism under the union-context.

Major result of this study will be to find out positive relationship between Authentic leadership and member's voice behaviour, as regarding to mobilization theory (H1). Also, we will exam potential positive relationship between perceived insider status and member's voice behaviour, by applying organizational support theory (H2). Moreover, in order to find out antecedent of union member's voice behaviour, we will consider felt obligation for constructive change as playing mediating role of this mechanism. (i.e. felt obligation for constructive change as mediator of authentic leadership and voice behaviour (H3), and as mediator of PIS and voice behaviour (H4))

The implication of this study is to find out that union leadership and organization supports are antecedent of members' voice behaviour via felt obligation for constructive change. Union should recognize importance of voice and try to make better climate to encourage member's voice, by using leader and organizational supports. Consequently, voice within the union should be encouraged, and so is voice research in union-context as well.

Keywords: Voice, Authentic leadership, Perceived insider status, Trade Union

Dilemmas of union democracy, national and international

Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Birkbeck College, University of London
Richard Hyman, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

There is a broad consensus across European countries (and indeed more widely) that trade unions should be, and to a large extent are, democratic organisations. To be taken seriously by their interlocutors (employers and governments), unions require democratic legitimacy; and must be able to harness their members’ ‘willingness to act in order to mobilise collectively in support of their demands. But ever since Michels (if not earlier), it has often been argued that unions are not, and perhaps cannot be, democratic. There is also an influential thesis that ‘too much’ democracy inhibits unions effectiveness by obstructing the strategic leadership necessary to coordinate and prioritise diverse membership interests and to frame long-term policy objectives. We examine some of the different factors influencing the degree and type of union democracy, including the relation between national centres and industrial unions; the role of full time officials as opposed to lay officers and activists; and differences of power and interest within unions and how these are resolved. In our paper we will review some of these debates and examine the very different ways in which union democracy is understood cross-nationally.

Bearing in mind the increased importance of the international level in trade union action, we also examine the distinctive issues involved in applying theories of union democracy to supranational union organisations, with specific reference to the ETUC and to the ITUC (where the issue of internal democracy was a dominant theme at its December 2018 Congress). If democracy is difficult to practise at the national level, it is even more so at the international level, where the organisation is one step further away from the individual member and activist.  Further, for historical and structural reasons, the international union bodies have tended to be dominated by a multi-lingual elite who, with the best will in the world, are largely remote from the concerns of the ordinary trade unionist.

This paper will build on the authors’ recent work on union democracy and on international trade unionism to present a fresh perspective on the current practice and future perspectives for trade union democracy, at both the national and international levels.

Trade unions and perceptions of class conflicts

Josef Ringqvist, Karlstad University

Do trade unions, as some would argue, increase class division and conflict in society? Or, conversely, do they – as e.g., pluralists long have argued – institutionalise conflicts and thus contribute to bind society together? Claims about the nature of the role of unions span from those stressing their divisive character to those emphasising social integration and consensus (Brandl & Traxler, 2010; Brym, 1986; Douglas A. Hibbs, 1976; Jansson, 2012; Kelly, 1998; Wright, 1985). Trade union movements were a significant societal force of the 20th century. Although the trend toward deunionisation is more or less general across the western economies (Schnabel, 2013; Waddington, 2015), there is substantial cross-national variation. Despite decreasing degrees of organisation, trade unions remain important societal actors. Studying the implications of trade unionism pertaining to class conflict is therefore well justified. While class conflicts may take several forms, such as objective differences between classes in terms of political preferences or attitudes (Edlund & Lindh, 2015), this paper is concerned with the notion of explicitly perceived conflicts between social classes. The present paper analyses the effect of individual-level trade union membership and country-level trade union density on individuals’ perceptions of work-related class conflicts (between workers and managers). Hierarchical linear probability models (individuals nested in countries) are applied to data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) module on Social Inequality (2009). Three competing hypotheses are put to empirical testing. According to the first hypothesis, trade union members are more likely than non-members to perceive class conflicts, and trade union density, by increasing class division and workers’ critical attitudes, will further increase individuals’ perceptions of class conflicts. The second hypothesis also posits a positive association between individual-level union membership and perceived class conflicts but suggests that country-level trade union density (by contributing to the institutionalisation of class conflicts and decreasing income inequality) generally will have a negative effect on perceived class conflicts. Lastly, the third hypothesis suggests that there is no association between unionism and perceptions of class conflicts. The results in large support H2: whereas union members are more likely than non-members to perceive class conflicts, individuals in countries with higher trade union density tend to be less likely to perceive class conflicts. The effect of union density, however, is not attributable to the mediating effect of income inequality as objective levels of income inequality have no effect on perceived class conflicts. Furthermore, aside from class conflicts being less widely perceived, the paper also finds social cohesion to be higher in countries with higher trade union density. These results can be read as refuting claims about the divisive societal role of trade unions and, while here only applying to cross-country differences, thus also raise some concerns about the potential consequences of further union decline.

Keywords: class conflicts, perceptions, trade unions, social cohesion

On the role of works councils and plant level agreements for developing more sustainable organisations

Florian Krause, Leibniz University Hannover

The academic attention towards sustainability continues to be on a high level. While the focus has been largely on voluntary agreements with mostly external stakeholders like NGOs, the role of binding plant level agreements with works councils has rarely been discussed. With our empirical and interdisciplinary study, we aim to pick up this line and enhance the discussion on the role of works councils and plant level agreements by shedding light on the introduction, implementation, institutionalisation and continuation of sustainability related projects within a firm. While sustainability is often discussed in a frame of voluntariness, our main focus is on the motivation of works councils and management to negotiate binding plant level agreements on sustainability related issues and how these agreements support the continuation of a sustainability project – or, in other words, the sustainability of a sustainability project.

While from the perspective of the structural antagonism, explicit or implicit economic reasoning for certain projects is part of the managements role, while works councils would reason with social arguments. For the paper, we focus on the reasoning of different individual and collective actors with regard to sustainability topics and which internal action strategies they develop in this regard (Bondy 2008). For ecological as well as social projects, it is an open empirical question, which topics are favoured by different actors and why (Aguinis & Glavas 2012). Also, it is not very clear yet whether and how ecological and social projects are processed within a firm (Baumann-Pauly et al 2013, Wickert et al 2016).

But the thematization and implementation of a new practice is only the first step. For the continuation of a sustainability project within a firm, research for example in strategic HRM reveals two major barriers that make it hard for new practices to succeed (see Wright & Nishii, 2013). On the one hand, new practices might not fit into the company's strategic concept (vertical integration: see the overview by Allen & Wright, 2007). On the other hand, new practices are often not aligned with the already established practices (horizontal integration: see the overview by Boxall & Purcell, 2011). New practices correspond to existing practices but they are not always synergetic with them. In addition, existing practices have certain persistence and are difficult to change (Daudigeos, 2013; Haack et al 2012). The assumption that every executive and every employee simply understands, accepts and implements new practices as planned is just not plausible. Many practices are not adequately communicated, emphasized and understood or cannot be carried out due to insufficient qualification. In these situations, executives and employees prefer established, short-term successful behaviour over new, long-term successful behaviour (Bansal & DesJardine 2014). From vocational education and training, we know, that sustainability activities can only be sustained when they connect organisational development and individual development of competencies (Siebenhüner 2004, Siebenhüner & Arnold 2007). Siebenhüner (2004) defines "sustainability-oriented learning" individually and organisationally as "the change of their [the actors] action pattern, which is due to a changed knowledge base as a result of reflexive processes and is based on the concept of sustainability as a target frame" (p. 8).

Empirical Design

In order to introduce new internal practices, works councils can demand the negotiation of plant-level agreements on topics connected with sustainability. The German Works Constitution Act provides a wide range of options for picking up social and environmental issues. These issues can be negotiated and recorded in the form of legally binding plant-level agreements. We analysed 133 plant-level agreements on sustainability related issues (e.g. health and safety, digital labour, flexible work, vocational training, environment) focussing on rationale, conflict arrangements and evaluation. In addition, we conducted expert interviews with representatives of trade unions and employer associations focussing on promoting and hindering factors of introducing, implementing, institutionalizing and continuing sustainability within a company. We identified five companies (of which are 4 from the chemical industry) with the most promising plant-level agreements on sustainability issues and conducted intensive case studies. In these companies, interviews with (HR-)managers, works-councils representatives, sustainability managers and internal experts (health and safety, environment, HR-development) have been conducted focussing on reasoning, negotiation process and the role of the plant-level agreements for a sustainable change of organisational practices.

For the analysis, we combine an institutionalist view of employment relations at the national, sector-specific and company level with a micropolitical analysis of the interests and strategies of the actors involved (Krause & Haunschild 2017) in the German context. Since important actors within a German company are collective actors (especially works councils), the analysis needs to take into account the German system of industrial relations (Hall & Soskice 2001, Whitley 1992), which shapes power structures within a company (especially through co-determination and collective bargaining) and sets certain goals for the individual and collective actors involved (vgl. Brandl 2006; Matten & Moon 2008; Preuss et al. 2009; Haunschild & Krause 2014).


In the main paper, we will present findings from the analysis of the plant-level agreements, the expert interviews as well as the five case studies, focusing on the internal dynamics of the different actors connected with sustainability issues.

With our study, we contribute to research on the role of co-determination for the sustainable implementation of sustainability projects within existing organisational contexts. We shed light on the promotion, implementation and hindrance of sustainability by analysing from a micro-political perspective the role of and interactions between individual and collective actors (works councils, trade-unions, employer associations and networks). The paper advances our understanding of roles that works-councils and trade unions play in the development of more sustainable organisations.


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