This thesis combines a number of studies about the changing landscape of organized labor. Ever since the late 1970s there has been much debate about the decline of union power, particularly in Western Europe. Globalization and European integration have indeed forced labor unions to reposition themselves in their economic and political environment. Old alliances with national political parties have weakened, and new ones are being formed transnationally. The first two chapters of this dissertation deal with transnational cooperation between trade unions. The third chapter explores the consequences of trade unions’ increased independence from political parties.
Present-day European trade unions seem to struggle to keep up with the pace of economic and political integration. Despite the shared belief that transnational cooperation is of vital importance, many initiatives to set up transnational structures have remained a dead letter. Numerous obstacles to the Europeanization of industrial relations have been identified in the literature. In the first two chapters of this dissertation, we contribute to this literature by demonstrating that the reluctance to engage in transnational cooperation does not always originate from unenlightened self-interest. If we take heterogeneity among trade unions with respect to reservation wages into account, the distribution of the benefits from cooperation can be very uneven. Under specific circumstances, some trade unions may even attain a higher level of utility if they do not coordinate wage claims across borders.
In the third chapter of this dissertation, we explore the renewed relationship between European labor unions and their national governments. More specifically, we study union strikes against the government in a strategic setting. A central question in studies of general strikes and protests against the government is whether the government is more likely to make concessions when its popularity is decreasing or increasing. So far, the literature remains inconclusive. We contribute to this literature with an empirical analysis of strategic behavior during strikes. Unlike previous studies, we take into account that the union leaders are forward looking. This allows us to explain why long lasting conflicts often occur when elections are close and the parties in office are doing well at the polls.