21. august 2012

Dealing with unorganised workers in organised settings - experiences and strategies among Danish shop stewards

Paper by Anna Ilsøe

Although Danish union densities remain comparatively high, a declining tendency has been observed during the last 15 years. This development both reflects a rise in the number of workers with no union affiliation at all and a rise in the number of workers organised in alternative unions or so-called ‘yellow unions’. Local shop stewards in Denmark are therefore increasingly faced with a complex environment of organised workers and various forms of unorganised workers, when they negotiate and cooperate at company level.

Surveys have indicated that Danish shop stewards are faced with a dilemma, when it comes to workers who stay outside the traditional unions. Danish shop stewards are elected among members of the traditional unions at the workplace, and they are only obliged to represent those members. Still, approximately half of the shop stewards choose to offer non-members the same service as members, whereas the other half choose not to. 

This paper focuses on the relations between local shop stewards and workers outside the traditional unions who have joined the yellow unions instead. It examines why Danish shop stewards choose to offer (or not to offer) their service to alternatively organised workers, what this service includes and which consequences their choice has. Empirically the paper is based on two explorative case studies within one of the sectors most affected by the rise in yellow unions, namely manufacturing.

Paper presented at the ILERA World Congress 2012, Philadelphia, USA, 2-5 July 2012.