Union Revitalization Strategies in Comparative Perspective


▪ This introductory article provides a preliminary explanation of the cross-national similarities and differences of union revitalization strategies discussed in this special issue. Differences in the institutional context of industrial relations as well as state policies and employer strategies explain some major differences in how national unions are responding to the current socio-economic challenges. However, our findings reveal that union responses are also influenced by their own internal structures. In particular, we use insights of the social movement literature to highlight the importance of the cognitive or ‘framing’ processes through which unions as actors translate and act upon changes in the environment. Over the past two decades there has been an extensive debate on how far economic, political and societal changes are responsible for trade union decline (Martin and Ross, 1999; Mückenberger et al., 1996; Regini, 1992; Waddington and Hoffmann, 2000). We would like to take this debate a step further by focusing on actors’ responses rather than their external circumstances (Hyman, 2001a). We start from the premise that unions have some discretion in how to react to their changing environments. We are, therefore, interested in the following questions. First, what types of action are unions taking in different countries in order to deal with the problems they face? Second, how can we explain cross-country differences? And, third, how effective are these actions in helping to revitalize the labour movements of those countries? The programme on which our analysis is based involves five countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA), thus providing a wide range of institutional settings, union structures and identities and union responses. In terms of the varieties-of-capitalism literature, two of our countries are liberal market economies (the UK and the USA), one is a coordinated market economy (Germany) and two have been less reliably classified as ‘Mediterranean’ economies (Italy and Spain). Some of these countries possess strongly institutionalized settings with constitutional European Journal of Industrial Relations © 2003 SAGE (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) ISSN 0959-6801 Volume 9 Number 1 pp 7–24 0959-6801[2003/03]9:1;7–24;031448 76P 02frege (ds) 20/1/03 8:55 AM Page 7

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@inproceedings{Kelly2003UnionRS, title={Union Revitalization Strategies in Comparative Perspective}, author={John J. Kelly}, year={2003} }