N° 27, 2009/1 – Unions Standing the Test of Europe

PE27Unions Standing the Test of Europe

edited by Patrick Hassenteufel, Jean-Marie Pernot, 2009/1 (n°27)


Patrick Hassenteufel, Jean-Marie Pernot – Preamble. Unions Standing the Test of Europe


Anne Dufresne – European Labor Unions and Wages

At the national level, wages have historically been central to labor union identity. However, at the European Union level, European unions relinquished the topic of pay for many years, accepting the convergence toward wage restraint that emerged in the 1980s. This paper analyzes the ways in which they are now seeking to (re)construct the Europeanization of wages via initiatives aiming to coordinate national collective bargaining in their sectors and more recently by formulating a new demand for a European minimum wage. Will these strategies enable European unions to acquire sufficient legitimacy to intervene in the field of wages at the supranational level?


Nadia Hilal – The European Union as a New Cause of Labor Union Crisis? European Labor Unions and Rail Liberalization

Since the adoption of the first European Directive for the restructuring of railway systems (the 91/440 directive) in 1991, European rail monopolies are undergoing sweeping changes. It is not an exaggeration to compare these changes to a revolution in structure and management. This article examines whether the EU policy of rail liberalisation has contributed to changes in European Trade Union strategy and discourse. Three stages within the Trade Union response need to be analysed. Firstly, we will study the Trade Union inability to give a unified interpretation of EU challenges. Secondly, the acceleration of liberalisation has meant that Trade Unions have gradually become aware of the need to take action at the European level. This has led to the organisation of European annual social protests. Finally, due to the limited influence of these social movements on the European Union agenda, Trade Unions are reverting back to national solutions, in an attempt to mitigate the social costs of deregulation.


Anne-Catherine Wagner – The Making of European Labor Unionists: An Investigation into European Trades Union Council’s Training Courses

Since the 1980s, the European Trades Union Council (ETUC) has organized training courses that aim to Europeanize unionists. This paper analysis these courses as a specific mode of acculturation in Europe. These training courses consist not in inculcating an identity but in transmitting technical and social skills. They allow for the accumulation of social capital and the consolidation of European networks. However, they also reveal a number of contradictions in the Europeanization of labor unions.


Hélène Michel – Labor Unions and the New European Governance. The Issue of Representing and Defending Social Interests

The white paper on European governance of 2001 advocated the participation of civil society in devising and implementing European policies as a matter of principle. Thus, it encouraged the various institutions to set up a civil dialogue along the lines of the social dialogue, as if the borders between the two were definite and referred to distinct organizations. Based on the conceptions and experiences of the civil dialogue discussed in the European Economic and Social Committee and the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities, this paper shows how labor unionists had to redefine the nature of the interests they represent and the way they defend them at the European level. Contrary to analyses that see worker participation as weakening labor unions and hence as mere interest groups among others with no more legitimacy or prerogatives, a survey of the practices of groups representing social interests show that under some conditions, such participation can be an asset for labor unions concerned with promoting a less institutional idea of unionism and its means of intervention at the European level.


Loïc Moissonnier – European Labor Unions and the Global Justice Movement: Strengthened Cohesion or Reflection of Diversity?

This paper deals with the participation of labor unions in the Global Justice Movement at the European level. We focus on the strategies of unions that are members of the European Trades Union Council (ETUC) and of the Council itself toward this transnational movement of contention, which has been visible in Europe and the world through several counter-summits and social forums since the end of the 1990s. Do the unions in the Global Justice Movement refer to a common strategy aimed at reinforcing the cohesion of labor unionism behind the ETUC banner? Although the decisions to take part (or not) in the movement reflect a great diversity of conceptions of labor unionism in Europe, the unions and the ETUC try to appear as a homogeneous actor within it. However, these attempts remain limited by the remote participation of the ETUC and by its lack of leadership. From a labor union viewpoint, the emergence of the Global Justice Movement reveals the weaknesses of organized unionism at the European level as it has been built since the 1970s.


Thomas Collombat – The Debate on Eurocentrism in the International Labor Movement: A View from the Americas

This paper deals with the evolution of European influence on international labor organizations since the end of the Cold War. The perceptions of Latin American union officials are analyzed in order to understand how they react to a supposed European domination. The author argues that if European influence remains strong, its nature has changed. It has been transformed by the experience of European unionism, which allowed European labor unions to practice internationalism and provided them with strategies they could export. Observations made in Latin America also lead to the conclusion that when labor unions closely coordinate their activities at the regional level, their influence on the international labor movement is strengthened.




Noëlle Burgi – The Emerging Minimal Social State in Europe

As an ideal-type, the « minimal » social state has become the model towards which national social protection systems are converging in Europe. This translates as a shift from the universalistic redistributive aims of the social state to policies of management of the poor who are tightly bound in administrative webs of constraint and control. Starting from the hypothesis that the generalisation of means-tested benefits cannot be understood as a « natural » adaptation to global market forces, this article reintroduces political power as an important variable, with the aim of identifying state action and not merely its reaction to external constraints. Though state autonomy is constrained by the « new constitutionalism » in Europe, state intervention has contributed in decisive manner to social minimalism, altering the foundations of the post-1945 social democratic pact and undermining the balance of social forces that it generated.


Sara Casella-Colombeau – Border Guards at Work: The Construction of the European Border. Areas of Research


Comparative Readings


Franck Petiteville – New Publications on the International Policy of the European Union: New Research


Critical Readings