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Trade Unions and Democratic Participation in Europe: A Scenario for the 21st Century.

The central argument motivating the project that led to the publication of this book is that "participation is a basic human right and that ultimately, political democracy cannot flourish without social and economic democracy." Although Kester and Pinaud tell us "worker participation was a dynamic and growing phenomenon in many Western European countries in the 1960s and 1970s," the 1980s were "a decade of stagnation." There were, they recognize, initiatives during the 1980s by employers to introduce a panoply of direct participation schemes with a view to "transform worker participation into a tool of human resource management." Further, Conservative governments introduced some financial participation schemes, we are told, with the object of establishing "people's capitalism." But proselytizing those forms of participation was not an aim of this project. The brand of workers' participation Kester and Pinaud have in mind is, instead, a "tool of democratic control over capital."

The explicit object of the project is to reignite academic, political, and trade union interest in and commitment to worker participation as democratic control over capital. In particular, Kester and Pinaud argue that the burden of putting participation back at the top of the agenda rests mostly with trade unions. In their own interest, unions must take a proactive stance not only toward collective bargaining and statutory participation such as works councils, but also toward direct participation and financial participation. Since the latter two forms of participation, which seem to benefit and win the approval of workers and the broader society in at least some circumstances, have over the past decade or so become associated with management, it is necessary for unions to seize the initiative or face becoming viewed as obstructionist and thus alienating much of their constituency.

This book is not entirely hortatory. In order to rekindle interest in the issue, Kester and Pinaud have assembled essays on developments in the European Community (there is a short but very useful paper by Janine Goetschy on the development of the European Works Council Directive), Scandinavia, and six individual countries: France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Malta, and Sweden. The book also contains very short, cursory papers on Central and Eastern Europe and, in a section entitled "Beyond Europe," Asia, North America, Latin America, and Africa (which get about a page each). The recent evolution of financial participation is treated in a chapter by Vaughn-Whitehead, who has done a good deal of work on this subject.

One means proposed by Kester and Pinaud to achieve enhanced commitment to workers' participation is to strengthen the ties between trade unions and academics. With that object in mind, essays on union-academic relations in France, Malta, Germany, Italy the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden were commissioned. In addition, Kester provides a paper on the African Workers' Participation Development Programme, which is operated largely from his own institution, the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague.

The tone of this book is quite clearly normative. Nevertheless, it contains useful objective information on the broad range of participation schemes, with the major emphasis on European developments. Given the wide swing of the pendulum since the early 1980s toward economic concerns and the current propensity of academic researchers to justify proposals for enhanced participation almost exclusively in economic terms, this volume is a welcome reminder that there are more fundamental reasons to be concerned with the health of labor participation. I most certainly would rather live in modest economic conditions under democratic institutions than in luxury in a political system in which liberty and integrity might be compromised at the whim of a dictator. Even though the available evidence suggests that high levels of economic performance and labor participation go hand-in-hand, democratic participation needs no economic justification. It is a basic pillar of democratic society that needs to be vigorously defended regardless of economic circumstance. For all of those who feel the same, this book is a call to action. Ignore it at your peril.

Roy J. Adams Professor of Industrial Relations and Director, Theme School on International Justice and Human Rights McMaster University
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Author:Adams, Roy J.
Publication:ILR Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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