21 January 2022

Innovative union services and non-standard workers in Denmark

Photo of trade union demonstration

How has Danish trade unions reacted to declining membership and changes in the labor market? Thats the focus of a new report by Trine P. Larsen and Anna Ilsøe, who takes a closer look at how new innovative trade union services can be a tool to reach groups on the edge of the Danish labor market such as platform workers and freelancers.

The European trade union landscape is changing with declining union densities, shifting occupational labour market structures and rising numbers of traditional and emerging forms of non-standard work such as digital platform work, freelance work etc. To respond to these changes, European trade unions have initiated a series of strategies, involving what can be considered innovative union services in that the services resemble path-breaking initiatives or may involve a rethinking of traditional trade union organising activities in novel ways.

This report offers novel insights into how Danish trade unions have responded to the recent membership trends and changes with a particular focus on service provision as an instrument to reach groups on the margins of the Danish labour market. Our locus of analysis is three purposefully selected Danish trade unions (3F, HK and DM) and examples of their recent and often innovative service and organizing approach towards Danish emerging groups of workers often working in the grey zones between traditional employment and self-employment. The selected unions (3F, HK and DM) not only organise distinct occupational groups  unskilled and skilled blue collar workers (3F), unskilled and skilled white-collar workers (HK) and academics and highly skilled (DM), they also differ in size and organisational structure with HK and 3F being two of the largest Danish unions, while DM is a smaller union. However, all three unions that have been at the very fore and developed a series of novel measures to attract freelancers, self-employed and platform workers, even if they have experienced very different membership trends in recent years.

As part of these analyses, we also explore how these innovative services are tied to individual trade union’s overall strategies for expanding their membership base as well as the selected initiatives relative success in terms of their potential effects on recent membership trends and changes for the trade unions examined.  Empirically, we draw on extensive desk research of policy documents, union strategies and actions, interviews with Danish trade unions, employers’ associations, policy-makers and union and non-union members as well as input from focus group interviews and policy labs, involving representatives from distinct unions, policy-makers, employers and non-standard workers.

The report is the Danish contribution to the EU-funded project "The breakback effects of innovative trade union services for membership development in the trade union movement and party relations in the labor market. The project is funded by the EU Commission's Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs (VS / 2019/00789) and involves partners from Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Italy and Spain Trine P. Larsen and Anna Ilsøe have been responsible for the Danish part of the project.

Read the full report 'Innovative union services and non-standard workers in Denmark - National report in the Breakback project' by Trine P. Larsen, Anna Ilsøe and Emma S. Bach.