Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date

July 2007


Unions’ decline is prevalent in most western democracies (Blanchflower 2007). Decline takes many features – decreasing bargaining power, reduced role in political negotiations, reduced coverage of collective agreements, shallow bargaining (in terms of topics covered and the extent of workers rights), and declining membership rates. In this article I would like to focus on the latter aspect. The article discusses the need for organizing members, and the different implications organizing may have in different industrial relations regime. I argue that organizing is a necessary component of trade union revitalization strategies in most countries. Only when the individual incentives to join a trade union are very high can trade unions forgo the task of organizing. In all other cases, recruiting new members is necessary for revitalization. However, even this wide-spread need is not a uniform strategy. The need to organize and recruit new members is dependent on the institutional design of the industrial relations system. Hence it is argued that there are logics of organization. The article focuses on systems that maintain a structure of centralized bargaining. It is argued that in such systems that need for recruiting new members is not always readily apparent. Moreover, in such systems the organizing of workers runs into an internal contradiction, whereby the reliance on the more developed strategies for organizing that were borrowed from the liberal systems, notably – the United States, may undermine the comprehensive coverage and centralized nature of the system. More specifically, it is argued that in the process of adaptation there are two basic tracks: (a) organizing within the centralized tradition, where the expected benefits and risks are high, and (b) organizing according to the decentralized systems’ method at the enterprise level, where the benefits and stakes are high. The former will be demonstrated by a Dutch example and the latter by an Israeli example.