Richard Hyman Understanding European Trade Unionism: Between Market, Class & Society.

Author:McBride, Jo
Position:Book Review

Sage, London, 2002, 196 pp ISBN 0 7619 5220 9 (hbk) 55.00 [pounds sterling]; ISBN 0 7619 5221 7 (pbk) 18.99 [pounds sterling]

Understanding European Trade Unionism seeks to construct a theoretical analysis of the distinctive national characteristics of European trade unions, which Hyman perceives as 'adrift within a sea of variable geometry'. His focus of analysis is on a 'triple tension at the heart of unions identity and purpose--the eternal triangle'. The three contrasting ideologies and identities in this triangle are trade unions as labour marker actors; trade unions' role as agencies of class; and trade unions as agents of social integration. Each of these different dimensions he places at an apex of the triangle and argues that, in most cases, European trade unions have tended to be located 'within' the triangle usually between two points rather than balancing on one apex. Hyman perceives the interrelationship between the three themes as critical to the understanding of European national trade union identities, as is illustrated in depth in his 'stylised' account of three case study countries.

Chapters 2,3 and 4 each provide a detailed exploration of the separate 'points' of the triangle, analysing European trade unions in relation to them. The first addresses the view of trade unions as primarily economic actors, or market-oriented unionism. Hyman suggests that these notions are simple in themselves and open to relatively straightforward challenge, yet his discussion is nonetheless stimulating. His provocative discussion of the concept of the labour market concludes that unions cannot afford to ignore politics, for to exert influence on the labour market they need to address the state. Together with this, trade unions are obliged to broaden their interests to include the wider social dynamics that structure the labour market. His more general point is that a trade union confining itself to a single point of his triangle is unstable.

Chapter 3 provides a more extensive treatment of trade unions as class actors. An historical analysis of the development of unions across Europe as agencies of class struggle draws attention to persistent tensions between political action and economism, between militancy and accommodation and between a broad class orientation and narrower sectional concerns. A following section on 'theorising class' raises the question, 'How can trade unions be regarded as class actors when they are concerned with...

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