Anyone who is interested in Europe, as a citizen or scientist, faces
the basic question of the unity and diversity of the European societies.
Three main developmental processes have shaped the social structures and
institutions of the European societies since the nineteenth century: population
growth and demographic transition; industrialization and the changing
division of labour; democratization and the growth of welfare states.
These major developments or growth processes are covered by a multi-volume-series
of historical data hand-books, named 'The Societies of Europe'. They have
been produced at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES).
With this series their editors-Peter Flora, Franz Kraus and Franz Rothenbacher-'hope
to improve the empirical basis for a comparative-historical analysis of
the Societies of Europe'. After the volume on 'Elections in Western Europe
since 1815' (Daniele Caramani), published in 1999, Bernhard Ebbinghaus
and Jelle Visser presented a comparative data handbook on trade unions
in Western Europe since 1945.
This handbook aims to map the variations in union organization and membership
in fifteen Western European economies. These are Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal,
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (or in some cases: Great
Britain, which excludes Northern Ireland). Lack of data and research support
have forced the authors to leave out late-democratizing Greece and small
state Luxemburg within the EU, and Iceland and Liechtenstein within the
European Economic Area (EEA).
Long years of authoritarian rule-in Spain until after Franco's death in
1975, in Portugal until the fall of Salazar and the April Revolution of
1974-had stalled the emergence of free trade unions until almost three decades
after the end of World War II. Data on these countries are therefore limited
to a much shorter time span, and are also less reliable, given the often
political nature of membership claims during the initial period. In a separate
concluding chapter, Ebbinghaus and Visser have brought together some data
on transnational unionism in Western Europe, in particular the European
Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and its sectoral organizations.
Data Sources and Collection
The main strategy in data gathering has been to collect data on national
unions, both affiliated and non-affiliated, with supplementary data on
independent locals and on higher-order organizations (cartels and confederations).
For each country, the database begins with recording information on the
following items: (a) The organizational history of each national union
organization, (b) The history and patterns of affiliation with a confederation,
(c) The organizational domain and type of the national unions, (d) Annual
A database was constructed for each national union and reaggregated for
each confederation and country. Thus, for each country the authors can
calculate summary statistics for three levels of aggregation: (1) the
national unions (with and without the independent locals); (2) the confederations
(affiliated unions and individual membership), and (3) the national union
system. The number of records for the organizational files varies between
less than twenty for Austria and over one thousand for the United Kingdom.
The Contents of the Handbook
Each country chapter starts with a profile, including a brief historical
sketch that introduces the reader to the country's history, the development
of labour relations, and the formation of union movements. The profile
also gives an overview of the main trends in the country tables and background
information on the sources, comparability and reliability of the data
In addition to some unstandardized tables in the profile, a number of
standardized tables are given in the second section of each chapter. Following
two chronologies (events in political development and labour relations;
changes in party, employer, and union organization) and organizational
histories (lists of major confederations and major national unions), eight
tables provide information on the trade union system: the organizational
changes, the concentration, and the share of membership across confederations.
Further tables present time-series data on union membership and union
density overall, for different domains and sectors, and for the main union
A comparative chapter maps the main trends over time and charts cross-national
differences in Western Europe since 1945. It gives an overview of the
main dimensions and variables used in the country chapters. In addition
to that analysis, this chapter presents in its comparative tables a number
of comparable indicators on the development of union organizations, the
distribution and concentration of union membership, and the mobilization
of members overall and according to various social groups.
In addition to the comparative and country chapters, the handbook gives
a brief overview of European-level union organizations in the appendix.
The appendix also includes some technical notes on the labour force statistics
used, and a brief note on the CD-ROM accompanying the handbook. While
the handbook can be used on its own, the CD-ROM supplements the handbook
and should be used as a guide. The CD-ROM not only gives the reader a
computerized version of many tables provided in the hand-book, thus allowing
further analysis, but it also presents some additional tables not published
in the handbook (in particular, where available, membership series of
all major unions included in the handbook). It also includes a database
with information on the major unions, their affiliation, their sector
distribution, and most importantly, the member-ship series. The reader
will thus find in the handbook and the CD-ROM a unique tool for further
analysis of union development in one or more countries of Western Europe.
Altogether, the data-collection presented in this handbook is, and will
remain, unrivalled for its wealth of information, its strictly comparative
character, its sensitivity to varying contexts, and its srupulosity in
dealing with the manifold data problems. Ebbinghaus and Visser 'hope that
by offering rigorously scrutinized data and comparative indicators for
historical, cross-national, sectoral, and organizational comparison, fellow
researchers and students-be they labour historians, economists, sociologists,
political scientists, or industrial relations specialists-will be able
to address old and new questions from a more informed position'.
by Günter Braun, MZES
Ebbinghaus, Bernhard, and Jelle Visser, eds. (2000). Trade Unions in Western
Europe since 1945. London/New York: Macmillan/Grove; 807 pages, with accompanying
CD-Rom. ISBN 0-333-77112-5.
The Societies of Europe. A series of historical data handbooks on the
development of Europe from the nineteenth to the end of the twentieth
century. Ed. by Peter Flora, Franz Kraus and Franz Rothenbacher. ISSN
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