[Excerpt] Recently, much has been written about social partnership. Especially in Europe, the spread of national social pacts, the introduction of tripartite institutions to the Central and Eastern European accession countries, and the implementation of the Social Dialogue in the European Union have created a new interest in the effects and effectiveness of such arrangements. In the United States, the meaning of labour-management partnership is developing further, as revitalized unions of service and construction workers have applied this instrument to extend and consolidate gains (Mills 2001; WAI 2002).
This chapter focuses on one issue among many with regard to social partnership: When can it be a tool of union revitalization? In the past, critics close to the labour movement associated social partnership with a stagnant and defensive brand of unionism that was out of touch with the working class, overly concerned about ongoing relations with the state and capital, and incapable of carrying out a contentious role in class struggle and pluralist industrial relations (Parker and Slaughter 1994; Kelly 1998). More recently, critical voices have taken a more contingent approach by using different union capacities (Parker and Slaughter 1997) and differing product and labour market conditions (Kelly 2004) to explain varying outcomes of partnership experiences for unions and their members. Using evidence from five countries, we find that social partnership contributes to revitalization, when it is institutionalized, integrated with other union strategies, and, most importantly, when it is pursued in the interest of a broader social agenda.