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The (Parlous) State of German Unions

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Author Info

  • Addison, John T.

    ()
    (University of South Carolina)

  • Schnabel, Claus

    ()
    (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

  • Wagner, Joachim

    ()
    (Leuphana University Lüneburg)

Abstract

This paper traces the profound decline in German unionism over the course of the last three decades. Today just one in five workers is a union member, and it is now moot whether this degree of penetration is consistent with a corporatist model built on encompassing unions. The decline in union membership and density is attributable to external forces that have confronted unions in many countries (such as globalization and compositional changes in the workforce) and to some specifically German considerations (such as the transition process in post-communist Eastern Germany) and sustained intervals of classic insider behavior on the part of German unions. The 'correctives' have included mergers between unions, decentralization, and wages that are more responsive to unemployment. At issue is the success of these innovations. For instance, the trend toward decentralization in collective bargaining hinges in part on the health of that other pillar of the dual system of industrial relations, the works council. But works council coverage has also declined, leading some observers to equate decentralization with deregulation. While this conclusion is likely too radical, German unions are at the cross roads. It is argued here that if they fail to define what they stand for, are unable to increase their presence at the workplace, and continue to lack convincing strategies to deal with contemporary economic and political trends working against them, then their decline may become a rout.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2000.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of Labor Research, 2007, 28 (1), 3-18
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2000

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Postal: IZA, P.O. Box 7240, D-53072 Bonn, Germany
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Related research

Keywords: union density; union mergers; collective bargaining; works councils; decentralization/deregulation; union membership; corporatist model;

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References

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  1. Goerke, Laszlo & Pannenberg, Markus, 2003. "Norm-Based Trade Union Membership: Evidence for Germany," IZA Discussion Papers 962, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. John T. Addison & Claus Schnabel & Joachim Wagner, 2004. "The Course of Research into the Economic Consequences of German Works Councils," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 42(2), pages 255-281, 06.
  3. Martin Beck & Bernd Fitzenberger, 2004. "Changes in Union Membership Over Time: A Panel Analysis for West Germany," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 18(3), pages 329-362, 09.
  4. Gesine Stephan & Knut Gerlach, 2005. "Wage settlements and wage setting: results from a multi-level model," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(20), pages 2297-2306.
  5. Carruth, Alan & Schnabel, Claus, 1993. " The Determination of Contract Wages in West Germany," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 95(3), pages 297-310.
  6. Addison, John T. & Bellmann, Lutz & Schnabel, Claus & Wagner, Joachim, 2002. "German works councils old and new: incidence, coverage and determinants," Discussion Papers 10, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Chair of Labour and Regional Economics.
  7. Schnabel, Claus & Wagner, Joachim, 2003. "Trade union membership in Eastern and Western Germany: convergence or divergence?," Discussion Papers 18, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Chair of Labour and Regional Economics.
  8. Addison, John T. & Bellmann, Lutz & Schnabel, Claus & Wagner, Joachim, 2002. "The reform of the German works constitution act: a critical assessment," Discussion Papers 16, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Chair of Labour and Regional Economics.
  9. Bellmann, Lutz & Addison, John T. & Wagner, Joachim & Schnabel, Claus, 2002. "The Long Awaited Reform of the German Works Constitution Act," IZA Discussion Papers 422, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Christoph Knoppik & Thomas Beissinger, 2003. "How Rigid are Nominal Wages? Evidence and Implications for Germany," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 105(4), pages 619-641, December.
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