European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Trade union renewal and mobilisation

Over the last twenty-five years almost all trade unions in Europe have experienced a membership decline. Other indicators for gauging unions’ influence and power also point to a weakening of their economic, political and societal position and role. This loss could be explained, to a certain extent, by short-run business cycle and structural developments in capitalist societies, by employer opposition and ‘militantism’, by government choices over the medium and long term. And yet, despite the extraordinarily difficult current context, labour history and recent trade union initiatives shows that trade unions do have room for manoeuvre.

Trade union leadership, together with the rank-and-file, can act strategically to revitalise the unions’ position and role in the workplace, the economy and society as a whole. The strategic options available to the unions change – in a path-dependent manner – over time and are contingent on the country-specific institutional environment within which unions are operating, the trade union ideology and culture, the historical memory of past experiences and practices and last but not least internal debate and organisational reform. Finally, trade unions defending the current union members’ conditions and workers’ achievements might be not enough for a revitalisation of the labour movement. Trade unions need also to develop a constructive alternative able to appeal to currently underrepresented workers (like the precarious workforce) as well as to their existing constituencies.

In line with this voluntaristic view of trade unions, the ETUI’s research is particularly focused on the membership dimension, as only one of the many dimensions of trade union revitalisation (or renewal). To this end, it studies the transferability of the ‘organising model’ and analyses, as one form of workers’ mobilisation, strike activity in the European Union. Furthermore, trade union developments in the new Member States are researched by consistent mapping of variations in union organisation and membership. Finally, the ETUI offers several training courses to trade union organisers and young trade unionists and leaders from across Europe, focussing on recruitment methods and trade union revival through the exchange of good practices. In this way it seeks to counter the downturn in trade union membership rates currently characteristic of most countries and sectors.



Kurt Vandaele Senior Researcher


Valerica Dumitrescu Education Officer


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