Maarten van Klaveren (AIAS) & Wim Sprenger (STZ Advies & Organisatie):
Boxing and Dancing: Dutch Trade Union and Works Council Experiences Revisited
Maarten van Klaveren works partly for AIAS, partly for STZ advies & onderzoek, an independent workers’ consultancy and research bureau based in Eindhoven; Wim Sprenger is also a senior staff member of STZ. From 1999 - 2004, Van Klaveren and Sprenger have been co-operating with researchers and trade union practitioners from eight countries in a research project, focusing on union strategies and exploring the relationship between social partnership and union renewal in a comparative context. This project resulted in a book, presented in March 2005 to the European trade unions and the European Parliament (Tony Huzzard, Dennis Gregory & Regan Scott (eds) (2004) Strategic Unionism and Partnership: Boxing or Dancing? Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan). The researchers use the terms ‘boxing’ and ‘dancing’ (B & D) as metaphors for various strategic choices and activities of actors engaged in industrial relations, denoting adversarial and co-operative modes of engagement respectively. The adversarial approach (‘boxing’) to joint regulation, normally associated with collective bargaining, is contrasted with approaches where employers, unions and Works Councils seek to co-operate and work together (‘dancing’) to find common ground for mutual gains. Of course, these terms are not representations for new phenomena: the employment relationship has always been built around shifting patterns of conflict and co-operation. Yet, the B & D metaphor enables a better understanding in specific practices and arrangements developing in larger, from the outside stable systems.
Maarten van Klaveren and Wim Sprenger judged the conceptual framework developed in the B & D project robust enough to apply it on a interesting phenomenon in the Dutch industrial relations: the efforts of union groups and Works Councils at shop-floor and company level to influence technological and organizational change. At the AIAS lunch seminar, they will present the main results of their recent AIAS Working Paper no. … This paper contains a quantitative analysis of approaches and results of 67 of such efforts, undertaken in three generations of workers’ projects between 1975 and 1996. Among other things, their research revealed that the effectiveness of problem-solving activities jointly undertaken with management was higher in realizing advances in quality of working life than that of own activities solely undertaken by union groups and Works Councils. Yet, the latter activities were more effective in improving the own position of groups and councils vis-à-vis their constituency and/or vis-à-vis management. The scores on own activities were on average substantially higher than on joint problem-solving: even in these projects, active union groups and Works Councils mostly chose for a strong own profile, related to ‘boxing’ practices. This has notably been the case in manufacturing, in larger organizations and where relatively high union densities prevail. The authors hope that their introduction and paper will stimulate about more quantitative research on labour relations.
Look at the website www.uva-aias.net for more information on the lunch seminar series.