Organizing Workers in “Hybrid Systems”: Comparing Trade Union Strategies in Four Countries — Austria, Germany, Israel and the Netherlands
The freedom and right to associate carries distinct meanings in different systems of industrial relations, giving rise to distinct institutions. Where bargaining is based on grassroots association, rates of membership in trade unions and coverage of collective agreements are low. Where bargaining is actively endorsed by the state, high rates of membership are matched by considerable coverage. Over the last two decades, some countries, four of which are studied here, have gone through a process that I designate as hybridization, in which a gap emerges between a rapidly declining rate of membership and persistent relatively high level of coverage. The Article accounts for the growing gap between coverage and membership and its implications. On the basis of extensive interviews with trade union officials, organizers, works councils’ members, Labor Chamber representatives, academics and journalists in the four countries, the Article further seeks to document and explain new organizing practices at two levels. First, why do unions seeks to organize, despite persistent power accorded to collective agreements by the state? Second, which strategies are used for current recruitment and organizing practices? The discussion highlights the ongoing tension that is folded in the meeting of institutions that are aimed at sustaining the centralized system of bargaining and social partnership, with the dynamics that are characteristic of raising membership levels. Some best practices that seek to address this tension are identified, but are also characterized as difficult to emulate and extend as a general practice.