Handbook of Employment and Society
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Handbook of Employment and Society

Working Space

Edited by Susan McGrath-Champ, Andrew Herod and Al Rainnie

This Handbook deepens and extends the engagement between research concerned with work and employment and labour geography. It links fundamental concepts concerning the politics of place that human geographers have developed in recent years with the world of work.
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Chapter 17: European Works Councils: From the Local to the Global?

Ian Fitzgerald and John Stirling


Ian Fitzgerald and John Stirling Introduction European Works Councils (EWCs) are unique entities established by a supra-state institution, the European Union, to counterbalance the power of multinational capital by enabling workers to develop cross-border solidarities. Such a grandiose claim is quickly tempered by the reality of the operation of EWCs and any realistic assessment of ‘countervailing’ power. Nevertheless, EWCs offer a different dimension in the flat landscape of industrial relations structures that rarely stretch beyond national horizons. In this regard, they may challenge entrenched national systems or be merely subservient to the industrial relations cultures and laws of the host country of ‘their’ multinational corporation. Administratively, they sit inside a global infrastructure of trade union organisation, with its conglomerations of European and international sector-based bodies and structures of national confederations (with their arcane relationships and circumscribed representational functions). In a few cases, European works councils have become global works councils. EWCs comprise workers directly employed in their companies, and not at one remove, and thus have at least the opportunity for facilitating a direct engagement between the cross-border role of the EWC and those they represent in their own countries and workplaces. Our goal in this chapter, then, is to explore how EWCs map on to the extant geography of trade union representation, with its embedded national and local roots and its global branches. How do they relate to the multilayered organisational structures that have been developed historically by unions when trade unions are not even mentioned in the Directive...

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