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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 11: Unions and Unionism Around the World

Jelle Visser


Jelle Visser 1. Introduction Most of our theories and research on industrial relations and trade unions are derived from a limited set of countries and experiences. Because of data limitations, comparative studies are usually limited to the 20 odd industrialized market economies. This has two disadvantages. First, our views and generalizations are likely to be biased by a ‘western’ or ‘industrialized economy’ view. Second, cross-national comparative analysis typically suffers from a small-N problem. Our predictions about the development of trade unions, and the propositions that underlie them, would gain in stature if tested in as many different national and industrial settings as possible (Verma et al., 2002). It is in this spirit, that I have tried to expand beyond the usual in this chapter. This survey covers developments of trade unions and unionization from 103 countries, together making up 2.5 billion of the three billion people who, according to the most recent estimate of International Labour Organization, form the world’s labour force (ILO, 1998, p. 1). The total number of union members can be estimated at around 320 million people: 91 million in China, 65 million in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, 61 million (74 million if retired and unemployed workers are included) in Europe (33 countries), 38 million in Asia (16 countries), 14 million in Africa (28 countries), 24 million in North America (Canada, the USA and Mexico) and 29 million in Central and Latin America (19 countries).1 If we exclude the one half of the word’s...

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