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Worker Needs and Voice in the US and the UK


  • Alex Bryson
  • Richard B. Freeman


Workers have responded differently to declining union density in the US and UK. US workers have unfilled demand for unions whereas many UK workers free-ride at unionized workplaces. To explain this difference, we create a scalar measure of worker needs for representation and relate desire for unionism to this measure and to the choices that the US and UK labor relations systems offer workers. Our measure of needs has similar properties across countries and is the single most important determinant of worker desire for unions and collective representation. Conditional on needs, we find that in both countries workers are more favourable to unions when management is positive toward unions, but also favor them when management strongly opposes unionism, compared to management having a neutral view. Much of the difference in the response of US and UK workers to declining unionism appears to be due to the different institutional arrangements for voice that the countries offer to workers.

Suggested Citation

  • Alex Bryson & Richard B. Freeman, 2006. "Worker Needs and Voice in the US and the UK," NBER Working Papers 12310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12310
    Note: LS

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    Cited by:

    1. Barry T. Hirsch, 2008. "Sluggish Institutions in a Dynamic World: Can Unions and Industrial Competition Coexist?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(1), pages 153-176, Winter.
    2. Alex Bryson & Rafael Gomez & P Willman, 2008. "Trading Places: Employers, Unions and the Manufacture of Voice," CEP Discussion Papers dp0884, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    3. Fernández, Rosa M. & Nordman, Christophe J., 2009. "Are there pecuniary compensations for working conditions?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 194-207, April.
    4. Bryson, Alex & Freeman, Richard B., 2006. "What voice do British workers want?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19850, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    5. Alex Bryson & Lorenzo Cappellari & Claudio Lucifora, 2010. "Why So Unhappy? The Effects of Unionization on Job Satisfaction," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(3), pages 357-380, June.
    6. VAN DEN BERG, Annette & VAN WITTELOOSTUIJN, Arjen & BOONE, Christophe & VAN DER BREMPT, Olivier, 2011. "The impact of representative employee participation on organisational performance," Working Papers 2011019, University of Antwerp, Faculty of Applied Economics.
    7. Blanchflower, David G., 2006. "A Cross-Country Study of Union Membership," IZA Discussion Papers 2016, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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