Union Renewal and Business Strategies - Strategic Codetermination of Works Councils and the Campaign “Better Not Cheaper” of the German Metalworkers’ Union

  •  Thomas Haipeter    


The trade union campaign “Better not cheaper” of the German metalworkers’ union IG Metall is one of the most famous attempts of union revitalization in Germany and at the same time a new approach of unions to influence business strategies. Focusing on the activation of works councils, the aim of the campaign is to cope with the problem of disorganized decentralization of collective bargaining by developing concepts for a renewal of business strategies in the firms. The paper is based on a research project recently finished. In the project 16 case studies of plants which have been part of the campaign have been made and a survey among union locals was conducted. The paper analyzes the effects of the campaign on works councils’ codetermination, on labor relations and on business strategies. The author concludes that the results of the campaign have been mixed up to now. On the one hand, the campaign has proven to be successful in activating the works councils to challenge management concepts, to enhance competencies and resources and, most important, to develop new forms of expert participation of employees. On the other hand, the scope of strategic codetermination and of the renewal of business concepts has been rather narrow, and membership effects for the union have been only sporadic and indirect. Therefore, the campaign should provide strategic competencies for the works councils more systematically, and the fight for new business strategies should go hand in hand with membership campaigns in the plants.

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