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From indecision to indifference
Author: Thomas Prosser

European labour movements in crisis contends that labour movements respond to European integration in a manner which instigates competition between national labour markets. This argument is based on analysis of four countries (Germany, Spain, France and Poland) and two processes: the collective bargaining practices of trade unions in the first decade of the Eurozone and the response of trade unions and social-democratic parties to austerity in Southern Europe. In the first process, although unions did not intentionally compete, there was a drift towards zero-sum outcomes which benefited national workforces in stronger structural positions. In the second process, during which a crisis resulting from the earlier actions of labour occurred, lack of solidarity reinforced effects of competition.

Such processes are indicative of relations between national labour movements which are rooted in competition, even if causal mechanisms are somewhat indirect. The book moreover engages with debates concerning the dualization of labour markets, arguing that substantive outcomes demonstrate the existence of a European insider–outsider division. Findings also confirm the salience of intergovernmentalist analyses of integration and point to a relationship between labour sectionalism and European disintegration.

Self-interest and political difference
Author: Thomas Prosser

This punchy and provocative book asks a simple but overlooked question: why do we have the political views that we do?

Offering a lively and original analysis of five worldviews – conservatism, national populism, liberalism, the new left and social democracy – Thomas Prosser argues that our views tend to satisfy self-interest, albeit indirectly, and that progressive worldviews are not as altruistic as their adherents believe.

But What’s in it for me? is far from pessimistic. Prosser contends that recognition of self-interest makes us more self-reflective, allowing us to see humanity in adversaries and countering the influence of echo chambers.

As populist parties rise and liberalism and social democracy decline, this timely intervention argues that to solve our political differences, we must first realise what we have in common.

Thomas Prosser

Chapter 9 answers the research question. It is argued that, rather than being based on cooperation, the behaviour of labour tends to facilitate competition between national regimes. Owing to the nationally embedded nature of labour movements, which is itself in the interests of certain workers, bargaining processes tend to lead to an unplanned yet incremental drift towards zero-sum outcomes which benefit national workforces in stronger structural positions. Strategies which aim to correct discrepant outcomes, particularly necessary at times of crisis, are generally unsuccessful. Not only are attempts at European cooperation weakly prioritized by labour movements, which is related to the tendency for certain workers to benefit from the status quo, but difficulties associated with collective action mean they can be easily vetoed. This theory may be generalized to other settings, though the extent to which it is specific to contemporary Europe is emphasized. A series of further issues is raised by this argument, including implications for the Europeanization of social-democracy and the extent to which the actions of labour movements were generally representative of workers. The chapter concludes with an assessment of implications for related academic debates.

in European labour movements in crisis
Thomas Prosser

A final chapter sets out an argument about the role of labour in the process of European integration. Rather than facilitating Europeanization, as certain theories predict, relations between separate labour movements tend to be based on national interests and, within EMU, exploitative relations form between strong and weak. It is argued that such developments validate intergovernmentalist theories of European integration and, consistent with an emerging agenda which underlines the capacity of the EU to disintegrate, point to the ability of labour sectionalism to undermine the European project. An agenda for future research is also outlined, which encourages investigation into asymmetric relations between labour movements, the capacity of actors to prioritize competing goals and the manner in which non-state actors drive the (dis)integration process. Finally, it is stressed that the endurance of the EU is unequivocally in the interests of labour; the book ends with evaluation of ways in which the EU might be reformed so as to strengthen institutional grounds for labour cooperation.

in European labour movements in crisis
Thomas Prosser

Chapter 1 introduces the book and outlines its main argument. Rather than cooperating with European counterparts so as to maximize joint outcomes, labour movements rely on national institutions; this instigates zero-sum forms of competition between regimes in different member states, albeit through largely unintentional means. Lack of solidarity during resulting crises reinforces effects of competition. The arguments of individual chapters are also set out.

in European labour movements in crisis
Thomas Prosser

Chapter 2 outlines scholarship concerning the reaction of labour movements to European integration. The chapter commences with an examination of historic attempts by labour to respond to integration. Though political economists writing after the Maastricht Treaty emphasized processes of competition (Rhodes, 1998; Scharpf, 1999; Streeck, 1996), scholars who underline actor agency have focused upon initiatives which aim at cooperation; this literature examines European social dialogue (Falkner, 1998), unilateral efforts by unions to cooperate on a European scale (Erne, 2008) and Europeanization of social-democratic parties (Ladrech, 2000).

Notwithstanding achievements of this scholarship, such work inadequately theorizes the manner in which labour competition and/or cooperation affect substantive conditions in labour markets. Research on dualization is therefore evaluated; this literature provides valuable insight into the relationship between labour behaviour and substantive change, though fails to conceptualize forces external to nation states (Emmenegger et al., 2012; Palier and Thelen, 2010). Controversies regarding labour movements and the broader trajectory of European integration are also introduced. The manner in which theories such as neofunctionalism and intergovernmentalism aid understandings of labour movements is appraised, before it is asserted that the reaction of labour to the crisis provides rich material for reconsideration of prevailing approaches.

in European labour movements in crisis
Thomas Prosser

Chapter 3 sets out a research design. It is contended that a framework rooted in the discipline of political economy is most appropriate, given that this tradition is particularly concerned with explaining long-term socio-economic outcomes and the related role of actors. Operationalization of the research question is then discussed. The two periods in which the actions of labour movements are evaluated are outlined; these span from the launch of the euro to the outbreak of the sovereign debt crisis (1999–2010) and from the onset of this crisis to its apparent conclusion (2010–15).

Countries selected for case study are presented. Four countries (Germany, Spain, France and Poland) which exhibit different values in terms of status within the Eurozone and form of labour movement are chosen, so that deductions about the importance of these variables are as broad as possible. Research methodology and methods are also set out, involving an approach to the explanation of change which is rooted in historical institutionalism and critical juncture theory, and a methodological stance which is based on the work of Blatter and Haverland (2012). Semi-structured interviews and analysis of relevant documentation are used as research methods.

in European labour movements in crisis
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Accidental neomercantilism, questionable Solidarity?
Thomas Prosser

Germany is the archetypal core Eurozone country and its labour movement is one which is well-organized and moderate. After the launch of the euro, the capacity of German unions to control wages via well-established sectoral bargaining institutions ensured that the country increasingly enjoyed competitive advantage within EMU (Hassel, 2014). The case of Germany consequently allows assessment of the extent to which unions may use sectoral bargaining to plan competitiveness. It is argued that constraints on the ability of unions to calculate precluded such strategies and that the superior competitiveness of Germany was the result of structural influences. Following the onset of crisis and the implementation of austerity in Southern Europe, German ascendancy within the Eurozone raised the question of the extent to which a core labour movement was likely to extend solidarity to benighted counterparts. Though SPD often denounced austerity, certain actions of the party could be perceived as supportive. The disagreement of German unions with austerity was more vocal, yet their commitment to concrete opposition was arguably lacklustre (Dribbusch, 2015). The chapter concludes that the lukewarm reaction of German labour was rooted in the dominant national position within EMU.

in European labour movements in crisis
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Going under
Thomas Prosser

Spain is a periphery Eurozone country and its labour movement is one which is unevenly developed. After the launch of EMU, Spanish unit labour costs (ULCs) escalated; this led to a loss of competitiveness within EMU (Johnston, 2016). Owing to the existence of inter-sectoral agreements in which unions attempt to establish competitiveness, the case of Spain raises the question of the extent to which efforts to achieve moderation are feasible in a periphery country. The failure of this strategy not only points to further constraints on the ability of actors to plan competitiveness, but also demonstrates the importance of structural influences; in this case, inefficiencies associated with lower-level bargaining institutions were crucial. Following the outbreak of crisis, the question was raised of the ability of periphery labour movements to marshal pan-European opposition. Though Spanish unions were at the vanguard of attempts to organize European protests and general strikes were held in Spain on European days of action, the mobilization capacity of unions was constrained by their under-Europeanized profile. The earlier implementation of austerity measures by a Socialist Government also restricted the extent of social-democratic opposition, both domestically and at European-level.

in European labour movements in crisis
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Au milieu
Thomas Prosser

France occupies an intermediate position in the Eurozone and its labour movement is one which is fragmented and adversarial. Lack of corporatist tradition means unions in France have historically experienced difficulties responding to external shocks (Crouch, 1993); the French case therefore raises the question of how unions in weak structural positions can effectively react to Europeanization. Following the introduction of EMU, this was partly resolved by a state incomes policy which limited potential loss of competitiveness; the role of unions in this process was nonetheless minor. The Eurozone crisis raised a further question of the French labour movement; namely the extent to which a movement in an intermediate country was likely to extend solidarity to counterparts in the periphery. Though mobilizations in France were more impressive than in core countries, significant protests being organized in France at key points, this response had limits and was a secondary priority for unions. The disposition of Parti Socialiste (PS) was also lukewarm. This was particularly the case on the right of the party; after François Hollande became president in 2012, the line of the German Government was increasingly followed.

in European labour movements in crisis