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A Comparative Portrait of Trade Union Development in Western Europe since 1945

Günter Braun

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.

Geographical Scope

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 membership data.
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 collection.
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 confederations.
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 1-56159-244-7.

Further reading

Bain, George S., and Robert Price (1980). Profiles of Union Growth. A Comparative Statistical Portrait of Eight Countries. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Botella, Louis (1999). Les Syndicalismes en Europe. Paris: Technologia.
Ebbinghaus, Bernhard and Jelle Visser (1997). 'European Labor and Transnational Solidarity: Challenges, Pathways, and Barriers'. In J. Klausen and L. Tilly eds. European Integration in Social and Historical Perspective: 1850 to the Present. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 195-221.
- (1999). 'When Institutions Matter: Union Growth and Decline in Western Europe, 1950-1995'. European Sociological Review 15(2): 135-58.
Kjellberg, Anders (1983). Facklig organisering i tolv länder. Lund: Arkiv.
Visser, Jelle (1989). European Trade Unions in Figures. Deventer: Kluwer.
- (1994). 'Union Organization: Why Countries Differ?' In J. Niland, R. Lansbury, and C. Verevis, eds. The Future of Industrial Relations. Global Change and Challenges. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 164-84.
- and Bernhard Ebbinghaus (1992). 'Making the Most of Diversity? European Integration and Transnational Organisation of Labour'. In J. Greenwood, J. Grote, and K. Ronit, eds. Organized Interests and the European Community. London: Sage, 206-37.