Monday, September 20, 2021

The Importance of Political Systems for Trade Union Membership, Coverage, and Influence

Here's the Twitter thread version of my new article:

Excited that “The Importance of Political Systems for Trade Union Membership, Coverage, and Influence: Theory and Comparative Evidence” with @jryanlamare is in the current BJIR issue.

Ideological links between the state & industrial relations have-of course-been recognized as important for a long time. We build on this to consider the influence of the structural nature of a country’s political system, irrespective of the ideological leaning of the state.

By political system, we mean 1) the extent to which a national electoral system yields a legislative body that is (dis)proportional to the fraction of votes each party received, 2) effective number of parties, 3) multiparty ruling coalitions.

We theorize that these can influence workplace-level unionism, holding state ideology constant, via incentives for inclusionary governance & legislative body diversity. In short, a pol. system that rewards compromise rather than competition may create similar workplace norms.

Eg, in more representative & coalitional systems, unions have more opportunities to use their extra-parliamentary status to act as consensus-builders, increasing their legitimacy. Also, employers have incentives to influence as a social partner, so can't bust unions.

Using @eurofound establishment data & @ESS_Survey individual data for 25+ European countries, increased political representativeness (lower disproportionality,  coalitions) is a statistically significant predictor of a greater likelihood of individual trade union membership.

And competitive fragmentation, measured by greater numbers of political parties, is associated with weakened collective voice. Causal ambiguity is likely the strongest for the multiparty coalition outcomes.

The importance of cross-national institutional differences in the nature of trade unions & workplace voice, supportive legislative policies, and varieties of capitalism needs to be complemented by a deeper understanding of the role of varieties of political systems.

Non-paywall version:
9-minute animation (fewer details, more fun):
And we are deeply touched by the care shown to us & our work by the late David Marsden who was the editor.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Worker Voice and Political Participation in Civil Society: Lousy Work Is Bad for Democracy

The stories are familiar by now: businesses claim that there’s a labor shortage and others reply that they need to pay more. Pay is obviously an important part of a job, but we need to remember that the positive and negative aspects of work are complicated, which means that we must consider more than pay when evaluating job quality and worker well-being. Among many important things, this includes paying attention to how the quality of work affects society.  

Concerns with how workplace experiences affect the political arena are longstanding. Over 150 years ago, John Stuart Mill advocated for worker cooperatives and participatory economic systems because he believed economic democracy fostered political democracy. Most workers, however, do not work in cooperatives. But varying forms of worker voice can have elements of economic democracy, or more widely-speaking, at least some degree of autonomy. In a seminal book, Carole Pateman argued that individuals with autonomy in their work—e.g., the ability to control certain aspects of the job—develop confidence that they are capable of autonomous action. This confidence can spill over to the political and civic arenas leading to higher levels of participation in these arenas. In other words, workplace voice can create “psychological supports” for political and civic engagement. A second line of theorizing focuses instead on skill development. That is, exercising voice in the workplace can enhance skills pertaining to things like advocacy, negotiation, and communication, which can also be useful in the political and civic arenas. So workplace voice can lead to greater political and civic participation through skill enhancement.

Stronger forms of workplace democracy include being represented by a labor union or works council, and being involved with these forms of voice can also trigger both of these channels. That is, participating in a union or works counciland probably a worker center, toocan enhance confidence, instill beliefs about the importance of democratic decision-making, and develop skills that translate into greater political and civic engagement. 

If individual or collective voice prompts greater political and civic participation through these channels, it’s a happy byproduct of workplace voice rather than intentional one. But labor unions and other collective bodies can also intentionally try to increase political and civic participation through voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, campaigns to contact politicians or join demonstrations, and training programs for political advocacy and running for political office. So unintentionally and intentionally, unions, works councils, and worker centers can build “democratic character: the willingness and capacity of individuals to engage in democratic politics and to do so in ways that are informed by judgements of the common good.” Conceptually, then, we should expect workers involved with these forms of collective voice to participate more readily in the political and civic arenas compared to workers that lack avenues of workplace voice.

But does this happen in practice? Ryan Lamare and I have recently reviewed the literature, and we conclude quite strongly that there are strong relationships between individual or collective voice on the one hand, and political and civic participation on the other. One of our favorite studies—because we authored it!—shows that across 27 European countries, workers with greater individual workplace voice are more likely to vote, contact politicians, work in a political party, and engage in other activities. This is just one of a number of studies on individual voice that have broadly similar findings across various samples and using diverse measures of individual voice and political participation. But spillovers are not guaranteedsupervisor support or suppression can also affect the workplace-political linkage. There is also a large literature on the effects of union voice. Empirical results show that union members are more likely to vote (in the US, Canada,  and Europe), engage in other political activities, and give to charity. There's also evidence that unions can also mobilize non-members to engage in protests. 

Admittedly, specifically identifying causal relationships can be challenging. For example, workers who are pre-disposed toward political and civic participation might look for jobs with individual and/or collective voice, so their observed participation was not caused by workplace voice. But the studies that are able to specifically address issues of causality typically find that non-causal explanations cannot fully explain the observed empirical relationships. In other words, it appears that individual and collective voice prompt some additional political and civic participation that would not have occurred in the absence of this workplace voice. In this way, having more individual and collective voice would be good for society.

Consequently, while individual and collective forms of worker voice are accurately viewed primarily as workplace phenomena, the interconnections to and ramifications for political and civic engagement should not be overlooked. Labor unions, with their own internal participatory, democratic systems and their incentives for political education and mobilization, are perhaps the form of worker voice in which it is easiest to expect there to be spillovers into the political and civic arena—including spillovers that are the byproduct of experiencing unionization and others that result from intentional union strategies. But even the experience of individual forms of workplace voice such as in-job autonomy can have spillovers by fostering democratizing attitudes and civic skills.

Across time and space, then, what happens at work is not expected to stay at work. Researchers and commentators often present this in a positive frame, as has been done here—that is, higher levels of workplace voice are associated with higher levels of political and civic participation. But it is important to remember that if this is true, then so is the corresponding negative framing—that is, dictatorial and authoritarian workplaces in which workers lack individual and/or collective voice likely lead to lower levels of political and civic participation, with consequent negative impacts on society. Pay might be the #1 concern of workers struggling to make ends meet, but societally we should be pushing not only for jobs that allow workers to support themselves and their families, but also that contribute to the broader health of our society.

Source: John W. Budd and J. Ryan Lamare (2021) "Worker Voice and Political Participation in Civil Society," in Klaus F. Zimmermann, ed., Handbook of Labor, Human Resources and Population Economics (Cham: Springer). [free access to the pre-publication version here].

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Will Work Really Change That Much?

 As people look ahead to the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are heralding a work-from-home revolution. But for centuries, it’s been easy to overstate predictions about the future of work. Even when they are not just plain wrong, such predictions are, at best, only partially true because how people experience work varies tremendously by education and skill level, gender, race, class, age, unionization, geography, sector, occupation, employer, and more. Even someone in 1935 who predicted a future of greater unionization in the wake of the then-new National Labor Relations Act would have been more wrong than right. 

Predictions about remote work are likely to suffer the same fate. Even during the height of the pandemic, less than half of U.S. workers were working remotely, and having the privilege of being able to do so was much less likely for Black and Hispanic workers and those without a college degree. When women choose flexible working arrangements, they are more likely than men to be perceived as having weakened career commitment. So even if we think that the future of work will be significantly different because remote work outlives the pandemic, this change will likely reproduce inequalities rooted in intersectional combinations of gender, race, and class. So at a fundamental level, this doesn’t sound like much of a change.

But will remote work even outlive the pandemic? The optimistic prediction is that workers who have been able to work at home will be able to have the autonomy to choose how to best structure their working arrangements. Most workers lost this autonomy with the advent of industrialization and the shift from home-based work to mills, factories, and offices. So at first glance, this could be a significant change for some workers. But less optimistically, this could become more of a return to pre-industrialization work arrangements than workers imagine. In a widely-publicized editorial, the CEO of Washingtonian Media openly admitted that if workers are rarely on-site, then “management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor.’” Indeed, Nicola Countouris and Valerio De Stefano warn that only employees with “highly-desirable, hard-to-find, firm-specific, ‘core’ skills” are likely to remain as regular employees while being allowed to work remotely; others are likely to be reclassified as contractors, with the accompanying loss of benefits and security. So even if it looks like workers have a choice of working remotely, for many it could be less of a free choice and more of an economically-coerced choice. Again, this doesn’t sound like much of a change in the fundamental nature of capitalist work.

Industry leaders have also been trying to lead the narratives around the future of remote work. Finance industry leaders have largely been preaching the need to return to the traditional office while technology industry leaders have signaled greater willingness to continue with remote work. These differences may stem from a variety of reasons, such as assumptions of how to manage workers, a need for different mentoring methods in certain settings, or the tech industry’s self-interest in selling products that support remote work. More generally, there are multiple reasons why a return to traditional work is likely, such as a need for belonging, learning from others, and separating work from home. But in any case, these narratives are laying the foundation for decisions about the future of work that will likely be made by employers, not workers, without significant worker voice.

While (some) employers are re-assessing their policies on work, it is also likely that workers and their families will be doing their own re-assessments. One recent survey revealed that a full-time, stay-at-home parent is the most popular family structure for caring for young children except among those earning more than $150,000. So 25 percent of women are thinking about reducing their labor market attachment, including dropping out of the workforce altogether. Others are re-assessing whether low-paid retail jobs are worth it when they face bullying from the public because of masks, their race, or other things that have become politicized and divisive. But until there are significant shifts in power relations, a recognition of deep-seated structural inequalities and privilege, and changed social norms, these reassessments are likely to yield individual and family decisions about work that react to the options available to them rather than shape new forms of work in meaningful ways. If work is going to shift more fundamentally, we need to center power and public policy, and do so in identity-conscious and intersectionality-aware ways.

So in thinking about the future of work, we need to remember that work is complex and diverse. If we focus on remote work, increased flexibility doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the employment relationship. Workers are still trading their time for money fulfilling the policies and requirement set by employers. More importantly, a focus on remote work renders a majority of the workforce invisible, especially those who have traditionally been most vulnerable and least well-off. This is where a fundamental change is needed the most. So if we are looking at remote work to see whether work is really changing, we’re looking in the wrong place.