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18 July 2017

Lithuanian and Czech trade unions launch anonymous membership schemes

After the systemic transition in Central Eastern Europe, joining a trade union entailed considerable risks. Multinational corporations that had invested in the postsocialist region proved reluctant to grant their new employees extensive participatory rights, and locally established enterprises were largely union-hostile. Under these circumstances, a fear of repression or a job loss often prevented workers from joining company-level labour organisation.

To remedy the situation, unions in some CEE countries encouraged workers to join their ranks without revealing their identity to employers. In Lithuania, for instance, anonymous membership existed already before the downturn, but it expanded in 2008-2010 when companies faced economic difficulties and threatened their employed with redundancies. A similar scheme was launched in 2014 by the Czech metalworking union OS KOVO. It enabled workers to become OS KOVO members either at the plant level organisation or external to the workplace, i.e. as individual members of the union’s regional organisation. The employer was subsequently informed about a trade union operating in the company, but the members’ names are not revealed. Collective bargaining on behalf of the unionised, but anonymous workers was led by a professional external negotiator.

Anonymous membership schemes gave CEE unions an opportunity to protect its existing membership from persecution ; it also enabled them to attract new members. The scheme gained considerable popularity in both examined countries. In Czechia’s South Bohemia region alone, 200 employees anonymously joined OS KOVO in 2015, whereas in Lithuania, approximately 20 per cent of the country’s total number of union members decided to keep their identity secret during the crisis years of 2009-2011.

Further reading:

Blažienė I. and Boguslavas Gruževskis B., ‘Lithuanian trade unions: from survival skills to innovative solutions’, in M. Bernaciak and M. Kahancová, Innovative union practices in Central-Eastern Europe, ETUI, 2017.

Martišková M. and Sedláková M., ‘Reinventing the role of the Czech trade unions: halfway through the journey’, in M. Bernaciak and M. Kahancová, Innovative union practices in Central-Eastern Europe, ETUI, 2017.

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