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Unions and Innovation: A Survey of the Theory and Empirical Evidence

  • Menezes-Filho, Naercio
  • Van Reenen, John

This Paper surveys the economic literature on the impact of trade unions on innovation. There are many theoretical routes through which unions may have an effect on innovation, for example through their effects on relative factor prices, profitability and their attitudes towards the introduction of new technology. Recent theoretical work has focused on the possibility that trade unions will ‘hold up’ firms by expropriating sunk R&D (research and development) investments through demanding higher rewards. The hold up problem may be mitigated (or exacerbated) by strategic incentives to compete in R&D races. In an attempt to resolve the theoretical ambiguity we focus on surveying recent micro-econometric results in the areas of R&D, innovation, technological diffusion and productivity growth. North American results find consistently strong and negative impacts of unions on R&D. By contrast, European studies (mainly in the UK) generally do not uncover negative effects of unions on R&D. There is no consensus of the effects of unions on our other main measures: technological diffusion, innovation or productivity growth even in the North American studies. These cross-country differences in the R&D impact of unions could represent either unsolved econometric problems or genuine institutional differences between nations in union attitudes and ability to bargain. We suspect the latter is the main reason.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 3792.

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Date of creation: Jan 2003
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:3792
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  1. Nicholas Bloom & John Van Reenen, 2002. "Patents, Real Options and Firm Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages C97-C116, March.
  2. Johnson, George E, 1990. "Work Rules, Featherbedding, and Pareto-optimal Union-Management Bargaining," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages S237-59, January.
  3. Stewart, Mark B, 1995. "Union Wage Differentials in an Era of Declining Unionization," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 57(2), pages 143-66, May.
  4. Wendy Carlin & Andrew Glyn & John Van Reenen, 1999. "Export Market Performance of OECD countries: an empirical examination of the role of cost competitiveness," IFS Working Papers W99/22, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. Stephen Machin & John Van Reenen, 1998. "Technology And Changes In Skill Structure: Evidence From Seven Oecd Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1215-1244, November.
  6. Chennells, Lucy & Van Reenen, John, 1997. "Technical Change and Earnings in British Establishments," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 64(256), pages 587-604, November.
  7. Albert N. Link, 1982. "Productivity Growth, Environmental Regulations and the Composition of R&D," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 548-554, Autumn.
  8. Machin, S. & Wadhwani, S., 1989. "The Effects Of Unions On Organizational Change, Investment And Employment: Evidence From Wirs," Papers 355, London School of Economics - Centre for Labour Economics.
  9. Schnabel, Claus & Wagner, Joachim, 1992. "Unions and innovation : Evidence from German micro data," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 369-373, July.
  10. Naercio Aquino Menezes-Filho & Helio Zylberstajn & Jose Paulo Chahad & Elaine Pazello, 2002. "Unions and the Economic Performance of Brazilian Establishments," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 42758, Inter-American Development Bank.
  11. Mansfield, Edwin, 1980. "Basic Research and Productivity Increase in Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(5), pages 863-73, December.
  12. Geroski, P A, 1990. "Innovation, Technological Opportunity, and Market Structure," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 42(3), pages 586-602, July.
  13. Ulph, A. M. & Ulph, D. T., 1994. "Labour markets and innovation: Ex-post bargaining," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 195-210, January.
  14. Acs, Zoltan J & Audretsch, David B, 1988. "Innovation in Large and Small Firms: An Empirical Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 678-90, September.
  15. Addison, John T & Chilton, John B, 1998. "Self-Enforcing Union Contracts: Efficient Investment and Employment," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 71(3), pages 349-69, July.
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