Bengt Larsson

Conditions for and obstacles to trade union cooperation in Europe. A comparative study of countries and sectors

This project is a comparative study of trade union cooperation and network-building at the sectoral level in Europe, aiming to explain what factors that enable or hinder cooperation. The research questions are: 1. What similarities and differences in cooperation exist between different sectors? 2. To what degree can these be explained by differences in industrial relations between sectors and between countries? 3. How are the cooperative networks structured within different sectors? 4. What resources and priorities can explain differences in network positions and forms of collaboration? The empirical material will be collected through a questionnaire sent to trade unions in six sectors in Europe, selected to maximize variation in terms of competitive pressure, production processes and risk for relocation (mining, metal, construction, transportation, banking/finance, and health care). The survey will be supplemented with interviews with union representatives, observation at coordination meetings, and collection of joint documents. The study focuses on the following aspects of cooperation: a) joint statements in the sectoral dialogue, b) training/education; c) exchange of information and coordination of collective bargaining; d) cooperation on member enrolment; e) trade union action; and f) lobbying towards the EU.
Final report

Conditions for and obstacles to trade union cooperation in Europe. A comparative study of countries and sectors – Final report


1. AIM, DEVELOPMENT AND REALIZATION OF THE PROJECT

This project aimed to study transnational trade union cooperation and networking at industry/sector level in Europe, in order to explain which factors help to promote or limit this cooperation. The project had a comparative ambition both empirically and theoretically: Empirically we focused on comparisons across countries and across industries/sectors with respect to the conditions for and the obstacles to transnational union cooperation in Europe. Theoretically, we scrutinized the explanatory power of two theories: that of country regimes and that of transnational industry/sector regimes. In addition, we utilized mixed methods network approach to acquire a deeper understanding of cooperation structures and networks across Europe.

Empirically the project focused on six industries/sectors in Europe: (1) mining; (2) metal; (3) construction; (4) transport; (5) banking and financial services; and (6) health care. The empirical material gathered were from interviews with 29 centrally placed trade union representatives from a selected number of countries in these sectors, and from a survey sent to trade unions in these sectors in 34 European countries. Both the interviews and the survey focused on themes such as: which organizations the trade union cooperate with; which forms of cooperation they utilize, and which issues they cooperate on; which arenas of forums they use for cooperation; what difficulties and challenges to transnational European cooperation that they face, and what resources that are needed for cooperation.


2. MOST IMPORTANT RESULTS AND NEW RESEARCH QUESTIONS

A first strand of important empirical results from the project concern the explanatory power of two theories in explaining structures of trade union cooperation: that of country regimes and that of transnational industry/sector regimes (cf. Larsson and Lovén Seldén 2014; Larsson 2015; Bengtsson, Larsson and Lovén Seldén 2017). These results are mainly based on quantitative survey analyses. Our analyses of different forms and issues on which trade unions cooperate show that the theories of national and sectoral regimes have supplementary explanatory power (Vulkan and Larsson forthcoming). As regards the degree to which trade unions cooperate in different forms transnationally (e.g. writing joint statements; exchange of information; collaboration on training programs; exchange of observers or coordination of collective bargaining; participation in demonstrations or strikes), we find that there are greater differences between sectors than between regimes of national industrial relations. However, another factor explaining variation in degrees of cooperation is organizational resources, which to some degree co-variate with industrial relations regimes.

As regards what issues trade unions cooperate on there are some significant industrial relations regime effects, but even here, the sectoral effects are generally stronger. There are, however, certain issues in which national industrial relations regimes explain more of the difference than sectors do. One of these is the issue of minimum wages, in which there is a strong (however varying) skepticism among trade unions in the Nordic countries (cf. Furåker 2017). Another is which channels trade unions cooperate through in order to influence EU-policies (Larsson 2015). Also when looking at the possible futures of transnational cooperation, national industrial relations regimes have stronger effects than sectoral regimes, in that particularly trade unions in the CEE-countries on the one hand acknowledge nationally protectionist tendencies among trade unions, and on the other hand see a strong need for deepened transnational cooperation (cf. Bengtsson and Vulkan forthcoming). We thus conclude that the “new” theoretical approach of focusing on transnational sectoral regimes is stronger than the “older” national industrial relations regimes, but also that they are complementary in explaining forms and issues focused in transnational trade union cooperation.

A second strand of important empirical results from the project concern which factors that explain the differences related to industrial relations and sectoral regimes. These results are mainly based on interview data, but to some extent also on the survey data and the mixed method network analysis. From both quantitative and qualitative studies, we find that financial and organizational resources are very important for the quality and density of trade union cooperation. Large organizations cooperate to a higher degree than small (Larsson 2015; Vulkan and Larsson Forthcoming), but as both parties in a collaboration need resources, we find that some cooperative links in the network get weakened because of lack of resources from one part, even though the other has resources to cooperate. Overall, there are strong tendencies of regional clustering of the sectoral cooperation networks in Europe, however often with the continental regional and particularly German trade unions functioning as regionally bridging nodes. In addition, we find that not only factors relating to structural differences between sectors and national contexts matter in cooperation, but also cultural factors such as language, ideology and cultural practices and traditions (Larsson, Lovén Seldén and Bengtsson 2016; Larsson 2017).

As regards new research questions, the project has led to two spin-offs for the project leader – both of which take departure from the sectoral approach of this project, but expands it to encompass both trade unions and employer organizations, and how they interact in social dialogue on the European level. Firstly, Larsson has participated as a partner in an international project funded by DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion 2016-2018. The project is called SPEEED (Social Partner Engagement and Effectiveness in European Dialogue) and is led by Dr. Barbara Bechter, Durham University. Secondly, Larsson is partner 2018-2020 in another project funded by DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. The project is called EESDA (Enhancing the Effectiveness of Social Dialogue Articulation in Europe) and is led by Dr. Miroslav Beblavý, CEPS, Brussels.


3. INTERNATIONAL DIMENSIONS AND DISPERSION OF RESULTS

The international dimension of the projects has been strong. The project group has organized and co-funded one international conference, the Industrial Relations in Europe Conference (IREC 2015) in Gothenburg in September 2015, with participants from a number of European countries. The conference was organized in cooperation with Professor Richard Hyman, London School of Economics. We also co-hosted and co-funded a public research workshop in connection to the European Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg: Welfare, Inequality and the Social Dimension in Europe. This workshop gathered Swedish researchers as well as two international guests, Dr. Barbara Bechter, Durham University Business School and Professor John D. Stephens, Centre for European Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Finally, as can be seen from the list of Conference and Seminar presentations below, the project members have presented results from the project at a number of international conferences. In addition, a majority of the publications has been in English and thus have targeted an international audience.

As regards cooperation and dispersion of results to stakeholders and the general public, the list of conference/seminar presentations below shows that the project group has held presentations for trade unions, employer organisations, as well as the labour movement at large and the general public. We have also distributed short summaries of a general report via email to approximately 600 trade unions across Europe (i.e. all invited to take part in the survey). In addition, the IREC-2015 conference we hosted included a panel with representatives for trade unions as well as employer organisations.

Publication list

A) PUBLICATIONS (OA1 = direct open access; OA2 = parallel publication at repository)

1. Larsson, B. and Lovén Seldén, K. (2014) “Facket och EU”, in Berg, L. and Lindahl, R. (eds) Förhoppningar och farhågor. Sveriges första 20 år i EU. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet. (s 285-304). OA1
2. Larsson, B. (2015) “Trade union channels for influencing European Union policies”, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 5(3), 101-121. OA1
3. Larsson, B. (2016) ”Kulturella skillnader och fackligt samarbete i Europa – nordiska erfarenheter av ett gränsöverskridande arbete”, i Berg, L. Lindahl, R. & Ström, P. (eds) Gränsöverskridande. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet. (pp 173-184) OA1
4. Larsson, B., Lovén Seldén, K. & Bengtsson, M. (2016) Nordiska perspektiv på transnationellt fackligt samarbete i Europa – former, hinder, utmaningar och strategier, Forskningsrapporter i Sociologi Nr 147. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet. (180p) OA1
5. Larsson, B., Lovén Seldén, K. & Bengtsson, M. (2016) ”Nordic Perspectives on Trade Union Cooperation”, in  Larsson, B., Lovén Seldén, K. & Bengtsson, M. Nordiska perspektiv på transnationellt fackligt samarbete i Europa – former, hinder, utmaningar och strategier, Forskningsrapporter i Sociologi Nr 147. (pp 6-21), Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet. OA1
6. Furåker, B. & Lovén Seldén, K. (2016) ”Patterns of speech activity at ETUC Executive Committee meetings, 2005-2012”, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 22 (1): 57-71. OA2
7. Bengtsson, M. Larsson, B. & Lovén Seldén, K. (2017) ”Europeiska arbetsmarknader: institutioner, aktörer, politik”, i Bengtsson, M & Berglund, T. (red) Arbetslivet. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
8. Furåker, B. (2017) “The Issue of Statutory Minimum Wages: Views among Nordic Trade Unions”, Economic and Industrial Democracy. Online a-head of print: 1-17. OA1
9. Larsson, B. (2017) ”Cultural borders as obstacles to European trade union cooperation”, in Andrén, Mats (ed). Cultural Borders and European Integration. Gothenburg: CERGU .OA1
10. Bengtsson, M. and Vulkan, P. (forthcoming/submitted) “After the Great Recession: Unions’ views on transnational interests and cooperation”.
11. Furåker, B. (forthcoming/submitted) “Trade Union Cooperation, Social Dumping and the Revision of the EU Posting of Workers Directive”.
12. Vulkan, P. and Larsson, B. (forthcoming/resubmitted). “Forms and focus of transnational trade union cooperation in Europe”.


B) CONFERENCE-PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS

1. Larsson, B. (2014) ”Trade union cooperation and networking in Europe”, CERGU-seminar, University of Gothenburg, 140505.
2. Larsson, B. (2014)”Studying trade union cooperation and networking in Europe with a comparative approach – potentials and problems”, IREC 2014, Dublin 10-12/10 2014.
3. Larsson, B (2014) ”Conditions for and obstacles to trade union cooperation in Europe”, Universität Bochum 140901.
4. Lovén Seldén, K. (2014) ”Varför har Europas fackföreningar svårt att samarbeta över gränserna”, Stockholm university, 141124.
5. Larsson, B. & Lovén Seldén (2014) Participants in Workshop “Social Dialogue in SME:s”, arranged by Företagarna 140826, Gothenburg.
6. Larsson,B. (2015) ”Transnational trade union cooperation in Europe”, Umeå university, 150513.
7. Larsson, B. & Lovén Seldén, K. (2015) ”Trade union cooperation and networking in Europe – from the perspective of Nordic TU’s”, IREC 2015, Göteborg, 10-11/9 2015.
8. Larsson, B. (2015) ”European trade unionism – improving work and employment in Europe?”, WE (Centre for Work & Employment), University of Gothenburg, 150930.
9. Larsson B. Bengtsson, M. & Lovén Seldén K. (2016) ”Nordic Perspectives on Transnational Trade Union Cooperation in Europe”, 11th ILERA European Regional Congress, Milan Sept 2016.
10. Larsson, B & Lovén Seldén, K. (2015)”Förutsättningar och hinder för fackligt samarbete”, TCOs EU-nätverksmöte, 150901, Stockholm.
11. Larsson, B. (2017) Key-note and paneldiscussant, tema ”Fackliga rättigheter i Europa”, Arbetarrörelsens Europakonferens, 11 feb ABF, Stockholm.
12. Larsson, B. (2017) “Cultural obstacles to transnational trade union cooperation in Europe” CGHRM-Conference 23-25 March 2017, Gothenburg.
13. Larsson, B. (2017) “Cultural obstacles to transnational trade union cooperation in Europe” CES-Conference 12-14 July 2017, Glasgow.
14. Vulkan, P. and Larsson, B. (2017) “Forms and focus of transnational trade union cooperation in Europe: Between Countries and Sectors”, European Sociological Association, Athens, 29 Aug -1 Sept, 2017.
15. Vulkan, P. and Larsson, B. (2017) “Forms and focus of transnational trade union cooperation in Europe: Between Countries and Sectors”, IREC 2017, 7-8 Sept, Warsaw.
16. Furåker, B. (2017) “The Issue of Statutory Minimum Wages: Views among Nordic Trade Unions”, IREC 2017 , 7-8 Sept, Warsaw.
17. Larsson, B. (2017) Public Lunch Seminar ”Mer facklig samverkan – bra för EU?”, Arrangerad av Folkuniversitetet, Göteborg 171102.
18. Larsson, B. (2017) “Trade unions and the social dimension in Europe”, Presentation at Public Workshop ”Welfare, Inequality and the Social Dimension in Europe”, 16-17 Nov 2017, Gothenburg.
19. Furåker, B. (2017) ‘Social dumping and transnational trade union cooperation’, Presentation at Public Workshop ”Welfare, Inequality and the Social Dimension in Europe”, 16-17 Nov 2017, Gothenburg.
20. Larsson, B. and Törnberg, A. (2018/forthcoming) “Transnational trade union co-operation networks on sectoral level in Europe”, IREC-2018, 10-12 sept 2018, Leuven.

Grant administrator
University of Gothenburg
Reference number
P13-0776:1
Amount
SEK 3,265,300.00
Funding
Projects
Subject
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Year
2013