Young Workers and Worker Interest Representation

: A five-country comparative analysis of case-study success

Forschungsschwerpunkt: Mitbestimmung

Status: Abgeschlossen

Projektende: 31.08.2019

Projektnummer: 2014-742-2


We examine the inclusion of young workers in processes of worker interest representation. By conducting an in-depth qualitative study of best-practice cases in four countries - Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States - we analyse the conditions under which young workers are being drawn into active participation in interest representation at the workplace.



1. Kontext

Democratic workplace representation is a fundamental underpinning of a vibrant democratic society, and as a consequence, works councils and trade unions are critical institutions to enhance workplace democracy. While some scholars have lamented the decline in civic engagement more generally, others have pointed towards important grassroots initiatives more specifically that reinvigorate democracy and equality from below. However, if works councils and trade unions cannot attract young workers and develop new leadership, the future of worker interest representation is everywhere in peril and, more generally, a crisis of engagement is upon us. Based on scientific analysis, our aim in this research is to offer successful approaches to the development of a new generation of leaders in workplace representation, strategies that enrich works councils and trade unions in their diversity as well as practices that enhance workplace democracy and civic engagement more broadly.

2. Fragestellung

Our study revolves around the following research questions: To what extent do works councils (in Germany and France) and unions (in the UK and US) consciously pursue strategies aimed at integrating young workers in the life of the works council or union? What are the accomplishments and limitations of these specific strategic approaches? In other words, we examine what accounts for the relative success, accomplishments and limitations of such strategies and hypothesize that these will vary according to factors such as: national and local contexts (political, social, economic), workforce demographics, leadership choice, ideology, strategies of young workers groups, social coalition building, and the presence or absence of "bridge-building" individuals.

3. Untersuchungsmethoden

This research takes a qualitative, inductive, case study approach. The core sample is composed of "best practice" cases in which works councils and/or unions have developed specific strategies towards young workers that have worked well and can inform future research and strategy development.

Through systematic case study analysis and process-tracing, we identify underlying causal processes that explain the successful integration of young workers into institutions and processes of worker interest representation. Rich data analysis occurs at two levels: we combine cross-case comparisons and within-case analysis, seeking to identify causal variables through process-tracing.

Each country team has identified successful cases, conducted in-depth case study research, and written country reports. Team members also participated in workshops after the first and second project years to discuss findings and develop a cross-national comparative analysis.

4. Darstellung der Ergebnisse

Our research exposed four key themes.

First, precarity breeds innovation. With many young people finding themselves in precarious job situations, either enterprising young workers or established unions have devised innovative and more flexible ways to improve their working conditions.

Second, it is important to build alliances between the labour movement and civil society organisations. These alliances act as catalysts for innovation or change in unions’ framing of issues, their tactics, and even their organisational structures.

Third, finding a balance between gaining union support and allowing for local autonomy also emerged as a critical theme. Young worker groups are more likely to succeed when they enjoy sufficient leeway to undertake independent initiatives while also having the backing of an established union.

Fourth, is the significance of leadership training for young activists. It is critical, however, to examine whether such training allows for young worker empowerment and does merely socialise them into reproducing existing practices of the labour movement.

Projektleitung und Bearbeiter/in:


Prof. Lowell Turner

Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Maite Tapia

Michigan State University School ,of Human Resources and Labor Relations


Prof. Melanie Simms

University of Leicester School of Management

Prof. Dr. Maarten Keune

University of Amsterdam Amsterdam Instiute for Advances Labour Studies

Kurt Vandaele

ETUI - Europäische Gewerkschaftsakademie Research

Prof. Jane Holgate

Leed University Business School Maurice Keyworth Building

Legna Cabrera

The Worker Institute Cornell University

Zach Cunningham

Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Marcus Kahmann

Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales

Lena Hipp

Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung GmbH (WZB)

Dennis Eversberg

Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena Institut für Soziologie

Katrin Schmid

Wilke, Maack GmbH wmp consult

Camille Dupuy

ENS Cachan

Karel Yon

Université de Lille

Sophie Beroud

L' Université de Lyon


Dr. Stefan Lücking



Newsletter mit Ihren Themen

Bleiben Sie informiert: Neueste Forschungsergebnisse und Infos zu den Themen Mitbestimmung, Arbeit, Soziales, Wirtschaft. Unsere Newsletter können Sie jederzeit abbestellen.

Der Beitrag wurde zu Ihrerm Merkzettel hinzugefügt.

Merkzettel öffnen