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Trade unions in Northern Europe

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The irrelevance of the conjectural approach in the case of the Nordic countries.
    1. Presentation of the conjectural approach.
    2. An approach unable to explain the differences in late 20th century national unionization trends.
  3. The social structural approach.
    1. Presentation of the social structural approach.
    2. White-collars: As unionized as the manual workers in the Nordic countries.
    3. The high unionization rate of women in the Nordic countries.
  4. The importance of the institutional approach in the study of northern European unionization.
    1. Presentation of the institutional approach.
    2. Access to unions on the work places.
    3. Collaboration between left-wing political parties and trade unions.
    4. The labour market centralisation.
    5. The Ghent systems.
  5. The ideological approach: Are Nordic trade unions still social movements?
    1. Presentation of the ideological approach.
    2. Affinity with the labour movement.
    3. The motives to be a union member.
    4. Participation in unions.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. Bibliography.

Among the five countries where the unionization density is currently the highest in the world, four are Nordic European ones. Sweden (78%), Finland (74.1%) and Denmark (70.4%) constitute the group of the most unionized countries, far beyond Belgium (55.4%) and Norway (53.3%). Austria is ranked sixth with a unionization rate of 35.4%, or about 20% less than in Belgium and Norway. Moreover, it seems that the Nordic countries ? together with Belgium ? have not been affected by the global de-unionization trend which has been striking the Western countries since the 1970s: The trade union membership rate roughly speaking stayed the same in Norway between 1970 and 1996, whereas it dramatically increased in the other four countries ? as shown in Annex 2. From then on, this paper wonders if there is a Nordic model of trade union membership. How to explain high unionization rate in Nordic countries? Are union membership features similar among these countries? Do they differ from the ones in the other states? Indeed, in order to deal with this issue, the common points and the differences must be sought both within the Nordic countries, and in comparison with the rest of the other advanced capitalist states.

[...] In a word, despite a lower density, Norwegian unions appear to be the most achieved social movements within the Nordic trade unions. Bibliography Böckerman, Petri and Uusitalo, Roope (2005): Union membership and the erosion of the Ghent system: Lessons from Finland, discussion paper, Helsinki: Labour Institute for Economic Research Bild, Tage; Jørgensen, Henning; Lassen, Morten; and Madsen, Morten (1998): Trade Unions have a Future? The Case of Denmark?, in Acta Sociologica, vol pp. 195-207. Ebbinghaus, Bernhard and Visser, Jelle (June 1999): ?When institutions matter: Union Growth and Decline in Western Europe (1945 - European Sociological Review, Vol pp.135-158. [...]


[...] In a word, the Ghent system provides unions with numerous workers who do not consider their membership as participation to a social movement. Even if no data are available for Sweden, one can assume that this situation is also taking place in this country. In a September 2004 survey in Finland[6], the main reason given for belonging to a union was - by far pay and job security. The access to union-run UI was the second most quoted factor, since 24% of the responders considered it was the main explanation for their membership. [...]


[...] The second section brings up the social structural approach and underlines its inability to explain the situation of trade unions in the Nordic countries, even if these theories permit to underscore important features in the different states. The institutional point of view is developed in the third part. It is deeply interesting in order to account for the unionization process in the different Nordic countries. Eventually, the ideological approach is used in the fourth part, which wonders if Nordic unions are still social movements. [...]

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