Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Bringing Labor Back In: Varieties of Unionism and the Evolution of Employment Protection and Unemployment Benefits in the Rich Democracies

Document type Thesis
Author Gordon, Joshua
Degree Ph.D., Political Science
Publisher University of Toronto; Toronto
Date 2014-03-04
Pages 384


This thesis looks at the politics of labor market policy in the postwar period in the advanced industrialized democracies. Specifically, the dissertation seeks to explain stark cross-national differences in unemployment benefit systems and employment protection legislation. The theory advanced in this thesis emphasizes significant differences in union organization across the rich democracies. This view, “Varieties of Unionism”, shows how the varying political capacities and policy preferences of labor movements explain most of the cross-national policy differences. In particular, the research points to union movements’ ideological traditions and varying rates of union density, union centralization, and involvement in unemployment benefit administration as crucial explanatory forces. Each feature of union movements captures an important part of why they might choose to advocate on behalf of the unemployed and to their differential ability to have those policy preferences realized, as well as indicating the kinds of preferences they will have for employment protection legislation. In the case of policies directed at the unemployed (or so-called labor market ‘Outsiders’), these insights lead to the construction of an index of “Outsider-oriented Unionism”, which correlates very closely to cross-national variations in unemployment benefit generosity as well as to active labor market policy spending. The thesis also introduces a new fourfold typology of unionism that helps to explain the different combinations of employment protection legislation and ‘Outsider policy’ generosity that exist among the rich democracies, or labor market policy ‘regimes’. The thesis makes this argument with multiple regression analysis of fifteen rich democracies and with detailed historical case studies of Britain, The Netherlands, and Sweden. In making this case, the thesis strongly challenges the explanations of labor market policy put forward by the Varieties of Capitalism literature and Insider-Outsider theory. In addition, the thesis reformulates the traditional Power Resource view by introducing a more rigorous theory of labor movements’ policy preferences and thereby qualifies recent statements that have emphasized partisanship almost alone. Most broadly, the theory challenges the “individualist turn” in recent comparative political economy scholarship and suggests that the field needs to return its gaze far more toward organized interests.