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Trade Union Decline and What Next - Is Germany a Special Case?


  • Jelle Visser


This paper commences with a survey of international trends in union membership, union density and collective bargaining, while focusing on the comparative position of trade unions in Germany. The author considers three hypotheses concerning the development of unionism in recent decades. The first one is that globalisation and structural change in the economy and labour market pull all countries towards a neo-liberal convergence of which union decline is one manifestation. The second predicts that resilient national institutions of collective bargaining and union-employer cooperation enable continued divergence in unionization levels across Western economies. The third one, which seems particularly relevant for Germany, states that feedback mechanisms from internal diversity among both employers and workers trigger processes of institutional destabilisation and decline from which both employers associations and unions suffer. In the final part of the paper the author gives a number of theoretical and empirical reasons why reversing union decline is very difficult and presents a major challenge for unions in Germany and elsewhere.

Suggested Citation

  • Jelle Visser, 2007. "Trade Union Decline and What Next - Is Germany a Special Case?," Industrielle Beziehungen - Zeitschrift fuer Arbeit, Organisation und Management - The German Journal of Industrial Relations, Rainer Hampp Verlag, vol. 14(2), pages 97-117.
  • Handle: RePEc:rai:indbez:doi_10.1688/1862-0035_indb_2007_02_visser

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    Cited by:

    1. Florian Baumann & Tobias Brändle, 2015. "We Want them all Covered! Collective Bargaining and Firm Heterogeneity. Theory and Evidence from Germany," IAW Discussion Papers 114, Institut für Angewandte Wirtschaftsforschung (IAW).
    2. Eichhorst, Werner & Marx, Paul & Tobsch, Verena, 2013. "Non-Standard Employment across Occupations in Germany: The Role of Replaceability and Labour Market Flexibility," IZA Discussion Papers 7662, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. repec:elg:eechap:14770_1 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Union Membership; Union Density; Collective Bargaining;

    JEL classification:

    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • J51 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Trade Unions: Objectives, Structure, and Effects
    • J52 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Dispute Resolution: Strikes, Arbitration, and Mediation
    • J53 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Labor-Management Relations; Industrial Jurisprudence


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