Objectives and Working Plan

In this project we aim to understand what workplace democracy has meant for the most relevant European social actors after WWII, with a focus on trade unions and how their theories and practices have contributed to shape our understanding of it. We will do it through a three-fold strategy.

First, we will reconstruct academic debates in the disciplines that have mostly contributed to shaping our understanding of workplace democracy after WWII. Reference to academic debates that were dominant at the time will prove indispensable to situate trade-union discourses in the context of the broader intellectual and societal discussion about workplace democracy. The main research questions that we will ask are:

1.    How did the disciplinary division of academic work has shaped research on workplace democracy?
2.    Are there major national traditions in academic research on workplace democracy?
3.    Did academic research take trade-union’s views into account?
4.    When did trade unions develop stronger links with academic circles and how did this influence their
       positions vis-à-vis workplace democracy?
5.    How the historical trajectory of trade-unions (rise and decline) has influenced academic theorization of
       workplace democracy?

Secondly, we will reconstruct the history of the circulation of the two models of workplace democracy that have played the most important role in trade-union discourses, that is the French-Yugoslavian model of ‘autogestion’ and the German model of ‘Mitbestimmung’. Since there is general agreement that for the large majority of European trade-unions these two models have represented the most promising form of workplace democracy, these two models will provide our theoretical starting point. We will study how these two models have been discussed by trade- unions in four different countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden). Wanting to analyse the circulation and discussion of ideas of ‘co-determination’ and ‘autogestion’ in Germany, France, Sweden and Britain, we have chosen those four countries, because Germany has been the home of ideas of ‘co-determination’ and a strong advocate of this ideas from the 1950s to the present day. France, by contrast, has been the country where ideas of ‘autogestion’ have been developed most thoroughly. Sweden has been included because it has been a core Social Democratic country in the post-war Cold War world in which powerful unions also upheld strong ideas of workplace democracy based on notions of ‘co-determination’ not so dissimilar to the German ideas, although their system of works councils and industrial relations also showed enough differences to the German case to make the circulation of ideas interesting. Finally, Britain has been included as a case study as its system of industrial relations was quite different from those of Sweden and Germany. Based on the idea of the autonomous strength of unions and their workplace representatives (shop stewards), the British movement nevertheless engaged with ideas of both co-determination and autogestion.
The main research questions that we will ask are:

1.    How did circulation of ideas across countries shape trade-union positions concerning workplace
       democracy? What where the most relevant international networks?
2.    Besides ‘autogestion’ and ‘Mitbestimmung’, what other models of workplace democracy were debated
       by trade unions?
3.    How did trade-union discourses take academic production into account?
4.    How did influences occur? Which individuals and institutions played the most important role in the
       circulation of ideas?

Thirdly, we will trace the evolution of trade-union discourses to actual transformations in the socio-economic landscape, paying attention to the emergence of new models of economic production, the trajectory of trade unions, and the evolution in industrial relation, the role of national state and the emerging role of the EU. The main research questions that we will ask are:

1.    What resistances did trade union experience in translating their ideas about workplace democracy into
       working models in the different countries?
2.    How did legal and political frameworks influence the implementation of ideas about workplace
       democracy in the different countries?
3.    What contradictions did emerge between discourses and social practices?
4.    Did the decline of trade-unions favor the theorization of non-trade-union models of workplace