The Shifting role role of unions in the social dialogue

  • Anders Kjellberg Lund University


The article deals with the declining union density and shrinking coverage of collective agreements in most EU/EES countries, in particular in Eastern Europe and Greece. In many countries, international organizations pushed through “structural reforms” weakening trade unions. The result is declining union density and decreased capacity to conclude sectoral collective agreements and avoid downwards derogations at company level. Even in some core eurozone countries have governments without much of social dialogue carried through “internal devaluation” to restore competitiveness. High union density (Finland) or high union mobilization capacity (France) could not prevent this development. The economic performance of a country and degree of globalization, including the absence of a national currency, appear to be more important. The Swedish (and Nordic) model of self-regulation, resting on negotiations between the labour market parties, contrasts sharply to French state regulation with its high frequency of state extension of collective agreements and minimum wages set by the state. Union density in Sweden is still among the highest in the world but has declined considerably the last twenty years, in particular among the rapidly growing share of foreign-born blue-collar workers. As a small, strongly export-dependent country dominated by large transnational groups, Swedish economy is very influenced by globalization. This has shifted the balance of power to the advantage of employers, and by that circumscribed the unions’ efforts to achieve developing jobs and improved working environment.