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, 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. [...]
[...] When left parties are in government, they indeed promote the conditions in which trade unions can develop and are more likely to follow their claims - at least to a certain extent. According to Bruce Western (1997), social-democratic governments have historically supported legislations that have expanded the role of trade unions in collective bargaining, especially in the most unionized countries. Historically, the links between social democratic parties and trade unions are particularly strong in the Nordic countries, where the labour parties were created in order to give a parliamentarian representation to the unions at the end of the 19th century. [...]
[...] They show that at this time, non- manual and manual workers are equally unionized both in Sweden and Denmark, and that the latter are even more present in Norwegian trade unions than the former. This is in total opposition with the social structural theories. The important development of the public sector provides the main explanation of the inefficiency of this range of theories in the Nordic case. Indeed, the public sector has employed more and more workers in these societies in parallel with the development of their welfare states, which are the most achieved in the world. [...]
[...] This last point underline the fact that, even if the centralisation of bargaining played an important part in the development of unions after the Second World War in the Nordic countries, it is not able to explain this situation in all of them anymore. The Ghent systems All the literature underlines the fundamental part that the union- run unemployment insurance systems or Ghent systems play in the unionization process in the four countries where union membership is the most developed in the world: Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Belgium. [...]
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