Industrial Relations and Politics in Post-Communist Countries
funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation
2006 - 2007
Do systems of industrial relations – the interaction of labor unions, employers’ organizations, and the state – vary between post-communist nations? How can we explain this variation, if there is any? And what political role do industrial relations perform in post-communist nations? These are the guiding questions of our research project. In the established democracies of the OECD country group, industrial relations vary between nations. Much of this variation is due to historical decisions and political power distribution that determine the extent and mode of state intervention in labor relations. Here, systems of industrial relations are related to production regimes and to political systems. These labor relations are of paramount importance for the working of the democratic system: they isolate industrial conflict from political conflict; integrate employees and employers into the political system; release government from intervention by private self-regulation of working conditions and by providing vocational training through social partners; and influence the formulation and implementation of economic and social policies by providing expertise and by assuming tasks in the enforcement of laws and other public regulations. On the flip side, systems of industrial relations produce constraints, burdens, and challenges for the economic and political system. According to the most recent analyses, none of these functions do apply to industrial relations in post-communist countries. There, trade unions are weak, employers’ organizations are without much clout, collective bargaining is widely irrelevant, and union and employers’ participation in economic and social policy making and implementation is largely ineffective. Instead of many different industrial relations systems, in the former Eastern bloc we find evidence of only one type of system, characterized by feebleness and irrelevancy. Instances of temporarily strong labor movements—such as the Romanian miners’ movement—represent deviant cases. One could summarize these findings with the thesis that industrial relations hardly matter in post-communist nations.
The proposed project will test this proposition. It will do so by systematically comparing the national systems of industrial relations in post-communist countries and by analyzing the political role of industrial relations systems in the post-communist world. In order to gauge the range of variation and the effect of industrial relations systems, Western types of industrial relations systems are used as points of reference. We will start from a quantitative configurational analysis of all 28 post-communist industrial relations systems, based on a few selected indicators. This analysis will be deepened based on a larger set of indicators for the 10 countries that joined or will join the EU within the next few years. Provided data are available, this more detailed study will be done for two to four of the economically and democratically most advanced post-Soviet states. Finally, based on the results of the quantitative analysis, a sample of four to six countries, representing a typical range of inter-country variation, will be selected, and a qualitative analysis of the role of industrial relations in economic and social policy making will be conducted.