Why do some European welfare states protect unemployed and inadequately employed workers ("outsiders") from economic uncertainty better than others? Philip Rathgeb’s study of labor market policy change in three somewhat-similar small states—Austria, Denmark, and Sweden—explores this fundamental question. He does so by examining the distribution of power between trade unions and political parties, attempting to bridge these two lines of research—trade unions and party politics—that, with few exceptions, have advanced without a mutual exchange.
Inclusive trade unions have high political stakes in the protection of outsiders, because they incorporate workers at risk of unemployment into their representational outlook. Yet, the impact of union preferences has declined over time, with a shift in the balance of class power from labor to capital across the Western world. National governments have accordingly prioritized flexibility for employers over the social protection of outsiders. As a result, organized labor can only protect outsiders when governments are reliant on union consent for successful consensus mobilization. When governments have a united majority of seats, on the other hand, they are strong enough to exclude unions. Strong Governments, Precarious Workers calls into question the electoral responsiveness of national governments—and thus political parties—to the social needs of an increasingly numerous group of precarious workers. In the end, Rathgeb concludes that the weaker the government, the stronger the capacity of organized labor to enhance the social protection of precarious workers.
"Looking at three small European countries, Philip Rathgeb shows that dual labor markets result from trade union weakness, not strength. Governments, both left and right, tend to protect core workforces from neoliberal reform, concentrating cuts in protection at the bottom end of the labor market. But when governments are weak, strong unions can and do prevent this. The book challenges theories that blame precarious employment on union clientelism."
Wolfgang Streeck, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, author of How Will Capitalism End?
"Philip Rathgeb’s book presents a novel and insightful interpretation of the role of unions and their interactions with governments in the crafting of labor-market reforms in contemporary Europe. The book is clearly structured and well written, presenting case studies of Austria, Denmark and Sweden in a lively, engaging way."
Jonas Pontusson, University of Geneva, author of Inequality and Prosperity
"Strong Governments, Precarious Workers develops a very interesting and innovative argument about the determinants of inclusive labor market policies. It argues that these reforms emerge when cohesive labor movements are able to influence the policy-making process, which in turn is more likely to happen if governments are "weak." The case studies of Austria, Denmark, and Sweden document that, surprisingly, it was in Austria and not in the two Scandinavian countries, that pro-outsider reforms were introduced, and their features were shaped by union intervention. The book's argument casts doubt on the thesis, popular in the dualization research, that trade unions are naturaliter pro-insider. In contrast with it, it suggests that they are the most consistent defenders of the interests of outsiders, not only for solidarity reasons, but also to further their own self-interests."
Lucio Baccaro, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, University of Geneva, coauthor of Trajectories of Neoliberal Transformation
"Philip Rathgeb’s book is a highly innovative and thought-provoking study of labor market reform in European countries. In pointing to the continued role of inclusive trade unions in resisting precarious employment, it is a tremendously important contribution to recent debates about the driving forces of labor market dualization, which will have a significant impact on the field."
Marius R. Busemeyer, University of Konstanz, author of Skills and Inequality