[Excerpt] These are hard times for unions. There is currently a broad cross-national trend toward the decentralization of bargaining in industrial relations, which challenges established bases of union influence everywhere. The combined effects of intensified world market competition, new microelectronic technologies, managerial strategies to reorganize production, and the success and influence of Japanese production models are exerting great pressure on systems of industrial relations in Western Europe and North America; in many societies, unions are among the major losers in political realignments and industrial adjustment. Alongside wide-ranging discussions of competitiveness and the causes and consequences of trade and other economic problems, heated debate is heard in both public and academic arenas within every industrial society concerning the contemporary position of major interest groups, including (often most prominently) organized labor.
This book addresses critical questions arising from these debates. Why have Western industrial relations systems experienced widespread destabilization since the late 1970s? What accounts for the prolonged decline of unions in the turbulent markets and changed political circumstances of the past decade? Are contemporary unions, once critical bastions in the historical development of political and industrial democracy, now a spent force, increasingly irrelevant in highly differentiated modern societies (playing important roles only in countries in earlier stages of development such as Poland and South Korea)? If not, what constructive role can unions play in a period of market turbulence and rapid, continuous industrial adjustment? What, if any, conditions are necessary for contemporary unions to succeed in advanced industrial democracies?