The Role of Transnational Trade Union Action for European Integration

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Susanne PERNICKA, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria
Julia HOFMANN, Department of Economic and Organisational Sociology, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria

Trade unions, NGOs and social movements have been criticising the strong emphasis on European economic integration to the detriment of social integration since the very beginning of the European Union. This asymmetry of integration corresponds to an inherent power imbalance between capital and labour: While labour is dependent on state support and ‚democratic class struggle‘ (Korpi 1979) in order to advance its interests, capital can rely on economic power by controlling the means of production. The Euro-crisis and the EU‘ crisis management with its orientation towards austerity and supply-side economic policies have widened the gap between democratically legitimized decisions vs. technocratic policies in favour of the latter. Nevertheless, scholars state an increase in transnational collective action and a new “politization of the EU” since the crisis (Rauh/Zürn 2014).

Our contribution starts from the assumption that cross-border union trade action has contributed to generate transnational social capital which in turn might contribute to ‚horizontal‘ European social integration (Pernicka 2015). However, in their attempts to create and maintain transnational networks and common understandings of resistance unions face both: supporting and impeding forces. In our presentation we focus empirically on the transnational trade union action during the crisis (e.g. European Day of Action in 2012, campaign for a “new path for Europe” in 2014). We show that the different national cultures of resistance and the heterogeneity of political and economic conditions constituted obstacles to Europe-wide trade union action. At the same time, we observe processes of transnationalization of trade union action especially in Southern Europe. These processes are characterized by inner conflicts and struggles on the question of “international solidarity”. As conflicts provide an important means to integration (Simmel) we maintain that they have contributed to transnational social integration and collective identity formation.