Structurering van arbeidsverhoudingen : een vergelijkende studie van medezeggenschap in de grafische industrie en in het streekvervoer

P. Leisink

    Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU


    The significance of labour relations at company level has increased in the last few years. Employers have contributed to this by their striving for flexible working and their emphasis on made-to-measure arrangements. Likewise, unions are showing more interest for the company level. A recognizable presence in the company is thought necessary in order to recruit new members and to restore the numerical strength and position of authority of the union movement.

    Decentralization does not necessarily mean democratization, no more than flexible working would have to produce more freedom for the individual. Even so, many employees are susceptible to the arguments of employers for flexible working and decentralization. According to Negt the cause of this, amongst others, is to be found in the deficiency of the co- determination policy of the union movement. Employees themselves have not actually experienced what democracy can mean. Consequently there is no fundamental opposition to the policy of the employers.

    The union movement, however, does not form a consistent unity where co-determination policy is at issue. Differences in policy exist between unions which are affiliated to the FNV with regard to participation in the works council and with respect to trade union activities within the company. The question of whether differences in policy are allied to differences in co-determination practice in the company has never previously been investigated. In this study an account is given of an investigation into co-determination practices in the printing industry and in the regional transport sector. Comparable research data are used to determine what the co-determination practices are, what differences exist and whether the differences can be traced back to differences in the co- determination policy of the unions.

    The approach to co-determination as a form of action practice concurs with Reynaerts' definition of industrial relations in which the interaction processes between employers and employees are emphasised. The action approach is further developed in chapter 2. As theoretical orientation, the structuration theory -as developed in the first instance by Giddenshas been chosen. The system approaches dominant in the field of industrial relations are critized on three points.

    The first point of criticism is the quest for laws bound up with the systems model approach. The structuration theory emphasizes that every actor monitors his actions reflexively. Actors do not have complete knowledge of the conditions and consequences of their actions. The fact that they reproduce social structures in and by their actions, belongs in general to the non-recognized conditions of action. However, actors do have the possibility of becoming acquainted with non-recognized conditions of their actions and have, on that basis, the possibility to chose another line of behaviour. For this reason the structuration theory terms generalisations concerning social reality as intrinsically unstable.

    The second point of comment on the system approach concerns the influence of surrounding contexts on the action of actors. Actors themselves bring forward the environment in the interaction situation in the form of a certain interpretation of the same. It is the subjective interpretation of the actor which guides his actions, not some functional requirement of an objective economic or technological context. Moreover, the surrounding context itself is the result of human action. The technological context is, for example, the result of decisions of engineers and managers. The activities of the employees are limited by this context and can not do very much about changing it at this particular moment. The fact that the context is the result of human action demonstrates that it can be changed in principle, as is aimed at, for example, by technology agreements.

    The third point of criticism is that the open system approaches, such as the strategic choice variant, are more alive to the action competence of actors than the original Dunlop approach, but that these still do not account for the action itself. The context is only one of the factors in the rational guidance of the action of actors. In their action actors always assimilate other motives, intentions and reasons. An intention important for the action of works council members and union representatives is the striving for greater autonomy. The structuration theory, emphasizes that the action of actors should be understood and accounted for from the point of view of the reflexive supervision which the actors themselves, maintain over their action.

    In this study, co-determination is approached as an action practice of works council members and trade union representatives in the company. Co-determination is not on a par with the legally arranged consultation between the works council and the company management. Union representatives are, moreover not considered exclusively as the rank and file of the union members on the works council. Their independent action to acquire influence in policy determination in the company is also seen as co- determination. This approach to co-determination is linked to a certain view of the union movement which is developed in chapter 3.

    The union movement has a two-fold character. It is a regulating factor and a countervailing power. The extent to which the union movement functions as a countervailing power is measured in this study by the extent to which it strives, as an emancipatory movement, for a fundamental transformation of existing social relationships. Democratization of society and of the company is impossible without a fundamental transformation of the domination-structures which are characteristic for a capitalist system. The works council has a place within this approach but there are several reasons for not considering the works council as the sole institution of co- determination

    A further definition of employees' interests produces the most important reason for not viewing co-determination as a matter exclusive to the works council. The concept of a broad union movement results in a further ascertainment of employees' interests. Firstly the mutual solidarity of employees and of those in work with the unemployed. Secondly the connection of interests in the working situation with socio-political interests. When the works council limits itself to the representation of those working within the company the danger of sectionalism. threatens. No natural connection exists between co-determination in the company and a broad promotion of interests, that relationship will have to be continually established anew. The paid trade union executive who supervises the works council members and union representatives in the company plays an important role in the process of giving concrete form to the broadly defined employees' interests. Moreover, an independent position of power outside the hierarchical line of the company is necessary in order to avoid a management definition of participation and of employees' interests. The works members group (BLG) and lively union activities within the company provide such a position. The participation of works council members m the union activities facilitates the orientation of the view of the works council members towards broad and independently articulated employees' interests.

    The union representatives can signal problems in their contacts with memberslemployees which can be a cause for discussion of the companypolicy in the consultation meetings with the management. It is also possible that the union representatives together with the members/employees present the problem directly to the management. This second possibility is linked with the emancipatory objective of the union movement: to allow the employees to experience which action possibilities they have and to develop their action competence.

    Cooperation and a division of tasks between works council members and union representatives and members in the company is seen as a basis for achieving effective influence on company policy from the point of view of a broad definition of interests.

    An account of the theoretical points of departure of the chosen approach of industrial relations and of co-determination in the company having been given, there follows the empirical investigation.

    In chapter 4 the design and implementation of the investigation is accounted for. The action practice of works council members and union representatives is conceptualized as activities, contacts, views, intentions and reasons. In so far as data are available concerning the research population, the conclusion is justified that the samples investigated are reasonably representative.

    In chapter 5 the industrial relations in the printing industry are sketched. Attention is devoted to economic and technical developments in that branch of industry. A special point of interest in the graphic sector is the closed shop, not only because it is unique in the Netherlands but also due to its significance for the development of co-determination at company level. Special attention is focused on the policy of Druk en Papier FNV with regard to participation in the works council and the position of shop- stewards. Strengthening of co-determination is particularly sought in CAO regulations and to a much lesser degree in the building up of the trade union organisation in the company. In many large companies there is often only a single shop-steward present. Subsequently the research data concerning the action practices of works council members and shop-stewards are presented.

    In chapter 6 the industrial relations in the regional transport sector are set out in a comparable fashion. The role of the public authorities is extensively illustrated. The interference of the authorities has increased in particular since the end of the 1960s when regional transport could no longer continue to exist at an acceptable level without considerable government subsidies. The recent withdrawal by the authorities and the introduction of tighter financial budgets has strengthened mutual competition and the individual responsibility of the bus companies. The policy of the Transport Union FM in the regional transport sector with regard to co-determination in the company is likewise examined. From the middle of the 1970s that policy has been directed towards common action on the part of the trade union members on the works council, the construction of trade union groups with sub-divisions at shopfloor level and intensive cooperation between works council members and the trade union group.

    The co-determination practices in the printing industry and regional transport display substantial differences in a comparison of the main outlines (chapter 7). One cannot really speak of direct opposites, but one can speak of a tendency towards contrasting types. The activities of works council members in the printing industry can be typified as a statutory and individual action practice and those of works council members in regional transport as a collective union action practice. The activities of shop- stewards in the printing industry can be typified as a dependent supportive and individual action practice and those of the union representatives in regional transport as an independent, executive and collective action practice.

    The conclusion that the variations can be explained to a large extent by the differences in orientation of co-determination policy of Druk en Papier and the Transport Union is founded on two observations. Firstly on the extent of substantial agreement between the respective actionpractices and co-determination policy of the unions. Secondly on an analysis of other factors which possibly, to a greater or lesser extent, could be responsible for the differences which have been found. Although some factors may exercise influence, the variations in co-determination practices can be traced back mainly to trade union policy.

    Chapter 7 is concluded with a consideration of a number of main points of the study. Insights are adopted from the structuration theory which are of value for the development of co-determination in practice. Essential for that purpose is the fact that co-determination be viewed as an action practice. Subsequently the organisation of co-determination is dealt with. For a co-determination practice not oriented towards sectional self-interest, trade union activities within the company are a necessary condition. Other conditions however also make an important contribution: the supervision of works council members and union representatives and members by paid trade union executives, consultation platforms for union re presentatives at sector level and the democratization of the trade unions themselves. In conclusion the significance of trade union activities in the company for the future of the trade union movement is dealt with.

    In flexible industrial relations as envisaged by the employers, the position of a broad trade union movement is threatened by sectional associations and possibly also by the works council. For the marginal groups in society, a further weakening of a broad trade union movement offers a gloomy perspective. Strengthening of the position of the trade union movement in the company is a necessity but so is the finding of a balance between central and decentral union policy. With the increasing significance of socio-political interests such as a clean environment, peace and international division of wealth, the importance of the development of a socio-political consciousness of trade union members also increases. A specific trade union policy is necessary to bring about this broadening. The twin tasks of developing a broad trade union policy and the construction of trade union activities within the company will not be brought to a swift conclusion. The hopeful conclusion of this study, however, is that the trade union's its own policy is the pivotal point.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Mok, A.L., Promotor, External person
    • Coenen, H.M.J., Promotor, External person
    Award date31 Oct 1989
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789062245024
    Publication statusPublished - 1989


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