‘European Trade Unions and Their Links with NGOs and New Social Movements: How to Explain Differences Between Countries?'

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Rebecca GUMBRELL-MCCORMICK, Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
Trade unions are one of the major social actors operating at both national and international levels, and there is a long tradition of both country-specific and comparative research. The relationship between national trade union movements and non-governmental organisations, including ‘new’ social movements, has however mainly been studied at the national level and there are fewer comparative studies. This presentation will compare the varying patterns of relationships between trade unions and NGOs in five western European countries, based my jointly-authored book with Richard Hyman (LSE), European Trade Unions: Hard Times; Hard Choices (OUP 2013). 

I will focus here on one of the key themes that we did not get a chance to explore in sufficient detail in the book:  the relationship between unions and non-governmental organisations, including traditional NGOs and ‘new’ social movements, using data from five of the ten countries we studied:  France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. Each country represents a particular European industrial relations model, and there are many interesting comparisons and contrasts between them in how and the extent to which they collaborate with NGOs, including new social movements. Three of the countries have two or more national confederations, divided ideologically, and there are also different patterns in the autonomy of individual unions within their respective national confederations, along with differences between governance and internal policy making structures. I will look at the degree to which all these differences affect the relationships between national union movements and NGOs. I will conclude that ideology and structure are both important in explaining the very different attitudes and  practices  in different countries, but that all the national trade union movements studied are moving toward closer relations with NGOs and new social movements during a time of economic and political crisis and union renewal.