Roland Erne: European Unions: Labour's Quest for a Transnational Democracy.

Author:Bruff, Ian
Position:Book review
 
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Roland Erne

European Unions: Labour's Quest for a Transnational Democracy

ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 260 pp.

ISBN 9780801446481 (hbk) 15 [pounds sterling]

This is a wide-ranging study that addresses two key questions: 'First, has there emerged a European trade union movement that crosses national boundaries in response to the political and socioeconomic EU integration process? Second, to what extent and under which conditions do European trade unions contribute to the making of a more democratic EU?' (pp. 1-2). Erne develops (and applies throughout the book) a fourfold typology of possible orientations that actors take towards EU integration: Euro-democratisation, Euro-technocratisation, democratic renationalisation, and technocratic renationalisation. His aim is not to classify unions according to one of the four possibilities, but to analyse the strategic choices made by unions, 'which are likely to vary in different situations and at different times' (p. 4). His reasons are clear: 'Often, the failure of unions from different countries to cooperate has been explained by national differences; but this explanation cannot elucidate why the national unions adopt different European strategies in different situations' (p. y). Thus Erne uses the fourfold typology not as a series of hypotheses to be tested, but as a sensitising device that enables him to focus on units of analysis 'such as transnational union networks that are linked to different multinational companies or different economic sectors' (p. 5). As a result, the book considers unions' European collective bargaining strategies and their responses to transnational mergers.

What follows is a substantial, often engaging description of developments through the 1990s and 2000s. The second part of the book argues that national wage-bargaining strategies are ultimately limited in what they can achieve, given the development of the European economic space. However, Erne is cautious about the impact of a more coordinated approach due to the inability of organised labour to challenge in any way the centrality of price stability to the architecture of EMU. This makes it unlikely that 'the benchmarks [for Europe-wide wage coordination] can effectively set consistent European wages patterns' (p. 115).

The third part critically discusses a Euro-democratisation strategy and a Euro-technocratisation strategy with regard to, respectively, the ABB Alstom and the Alcan-Pechiney-Algroup cases...

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