Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 6: Trade Unions Facing Uncertainty in Central and Eastern Europe
Sylvie Contrepois and Steve Jefferys INTRODUCTION The global power of employers has increased dramatically since 1989. Their reach has been extended to nearly every corner of the world; and in those Western countries where once their power was constrained by countervailing trade union or social democratic or Communist opposition, these universalistic oppositions are everywhere significantly weaker. But if trade unionism has had a hard time globally, trade unionism in the transition states of Central and Eastern Europe has had a really hard time. From playing major institutional roles in managing labour in the command economy and in the political sphere, CEE unions have nearly everywhere been marginalized, losing their mass memberships in downward spirals of decline and fragmentation. The political systems they operate in have generally stopped offering workers and their organizations special protection and privileges. Privatizations have swept away state-run industries and services. The economies they operated in have been restructured away from heavy industry, often in circumstances where vast injections of foreign and often highly mobile capital have permitted a few hundred multinational companies to capture considerable economic power. More recently, in 2004 and 2007, the ‘market-making’ aspect of the European Economic Community led to the enlargement of the European Union to include ten of these former Russian satellite states. Yet enlargement also imposed EU social policy, including directives which inserted or reinforced both social dialogue procedures and tripartism into existing labour codes, industrial relations systems and employment-related political decision-making processes. The intent of the wave of social...
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