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International Handbook of Trade Unions

Edited by John T. Addison and Claus Schnabel

This Handbook is an authoritative and invaluable reference tool, uniquely analysing the forces governing unionism, union behaviour and union impact from a variety of perspectives, both theoretical and empirical. The 14 chapters are written in an accessible style by acknowledged leading specialists from the fields of economics and industrial relations. They offer a truly international perspective on this important subject.
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Chapter 2: Determinants of Trade Union Membership

Claus Schnabel


Claus Schnabel 1. Introduction Recent economic, sociological and political science literature contains an upsurge of theoretical and empirical work on trade union membership. Interestingly, renewed interest in the area comes at a time when in many countries, unions experience severe membership losses (see the data provided by Ebbinghaus and Visser, 2000 and by Visser in Chapter 11 of this volume). As the existence and the political and economic influence of trade unions depend on their ability to attract and nurture a loyal membership, it is important to know which workers join unions and why. This survey starts to answer this question by sketching (in section 2) the conventional demand and supply framework used by economists to analyse the forces that influence union membership. Section 3 deals with the freerider problem, namely why any individual would join a union when dues are costly and when the benefits apply to all workers regardless of their union status. It points to the existence of social customs and reviews corresponding theoretical models. While in general economic explanations of union membership determination are emphasized, supplementary explanations from other social sciences are discussed in section 4. This review of the theoretical literature is followed by an overview of empirical results from time-series and cross-sectional analyses. Section 5 focuses on time-series business cycle models and attempts to identify the macro-determinants of union growth and decline. Section 6 deals with the micro-determinants of individuals’ membership decision and discusses cross-sectional studies that try to provide structural...

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