Challenges to Membership Organizations: European Trade Unions in Comparison

Research question/goal: 

Trade unions and other collective membership organizations have difficulties in mobilizing members and representing ever more heterogeneous interests within their domain. In many European countries trade unions face considerable membership problems with multiple implications for labour relations and societies in general. The project aimed at studying changes in membership organizations across Europe from different perspectives, combining analyses at the national, organizational and individual level. The project organized two workshops in the context of the EU-funded EQUALSOC network at the MZES in March 2007 and at AIAS, University of Amsterdam in July 2009. A special issue with seven papers was edited by Alex Bryson (LSE), Bernhard Ebbinghaus (MZES) and Jelle Visser (AIAS) on “Causes, Consequences and Cures of Union Decline” and published in the European Journal of Industrial Relations in June 2011. As part of the project, a working paper with descriptive statistics and a journal article with a multi-level analysis of the European Social Survey were published by the Mannheim team. Union density still varies considerably between a mostly low level in Southern and Eastern European societies and high levels in Nordic countries. In addition to social structural causes for low union density of women, the unemployed and atypical employed, several institutional factors provide selective incentives for membership and foster union access to workplaces. When controlling for individual factors, the cross-national variations in union density depend largely on meso- and macro-level variables, in particular workplace representation, establishment size, Ghent unemployment insurance and a society’s social capital. These institutional and social contextual factors matter in explaining differences in union membership across Europe.

Fact sheet

Uni Mannheim, EQUALSOC, MZES
2006 to 2011
Data Sources: 
Micro data analysis, organizational records, secondary analy
Geographic Space: 
Europe (western Europe, new EU-member countries)