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Swords of Justice in an Age of Retrenchment? The Role of Trade Unions in Welfare Provision

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Alison Johnston, Andreas Kornelakis, Costanza Rodriguez d'Acri

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-224
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


King's Authors


The recent financial crisis has once again highlighted the precarious situation of trade unions: austerity measures have targeted unions’ traditional institutional ally, the welfare state, as well as their last organizational stronghold, the public sector. The purpose of this article is to examine how trade unions have responded to reductions in welfare provision, due either to reform or to state inaction, and how state retrenchment can provide a silver lining for unions via the enhancement of unions’ bargaining responsibilities. We argue that, apart from retrenchment and privatization, there is a third road to welfare reform which involves unions’ ‘collectivization’ of social risks through the take-up of marginalized policies in bargaining agreements. Presenting evidence from a most-likely (the Netherlands) and least-likely (Greece) case, we identify instances where unions have acted as pivotal political substitutes to the state in the realm of welfare provision.

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