Roland Erne – Explaining transnational union action: Lessons from the European integration process

Roland Erne – Explaining transnational union action: Lessons from the European integration process

The intensification of the EU integration process after the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty has provided us with an excellent opportunity to examine competing explanations regarding the possibilities of transnational union action. But while numerous case studies of successful and failed instances of transnational union cooperation have been published during recent years, there have been only a few attempts to theorize cross-border trade union action (Abbott 2011, Cohen 1987, Ramsey 1999, Logue 1980).

In European Unions. Labor’s Quest for a Transnational Democracy (Erne 2008), I argued that neither diverse national backgrounds nor technocratic supranational governance structures rules out transnational action. Other case studies came to similar conclusions (see for, instance, Crespy 2012, Meardi 2012, Gajewska 2009). Conversely, however, I also saw that economic integration does not necessarily trigger transnational union cooperation either, arguably because of the difficulties to reveal the social relations that constitute markets. All cases of successful transnational mobilizations of organised labour that I analysed so far occurred only if trade unions were able to ‘politicize’ socio-economic interactions – either within multinational companies or (supranational) public policy arenas. Thus, transnational union action may be related to the degree of centralisation of decision making within multinational corporations, to the decision-making power of supranational organisations, and to the degree of cross-border mobility of migrant workers; hence, to instances that not only limit the autonomy of domestic trade unions but also provide crystallisation points for political action.

At the CAS, I would therefore like to go beyond my previous case study research. Hence, I would like to make a contribution to theory building in the field of transnational trade union action. Being inspired by Silver (2003), I would like to compile a comprehensive database of transnational union action in Europe; using electronic newspaper databases, scholarly journals, and trade union sources. This compilation will provide the basis for a systematic assessment of the role ‘politicization’ processes play in triggering transnational union action. In so doing, I will take into account inter alia Ragin’s Comparative Qualitative Analysis (1987) and Bourdieu and Wacquant’s (1992) reflexive approach to sociology, which support the making of meaningful inferences on the basis of a small number of cases.