New report shows political environment has greater impact on unionization rates than economy

Politics, more than the economy and technology, has a greater impact on rates of unionization.

Washington, DC (18 Nov. 2011) - The national political environment, not globalization or technology, is the most important factor driving long-run changes in unionization rates in the United States and other rich economies, according to new research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

The report, "Politics Matter: Changes in Unionization Rates in Rich Countries, 1960-2010”, reviews unionization data covering the last five decades for 21 rich economies. The researchers consider both union coverage (the share of workers whose terms of employment are covered by a collective bargaining agreement) and union membership (the share of workers who are members of a union) and find a wide range of trends in union membership and collective bargaining coverage in countries subject to roughly similar levels of globalization and technology.

"In half of the rich countries we studied, the share of the workforce covered by a collective bargaining agreement has remained constant or even increased since 1980 - despite being exposed to the same kinds of pressures from globalization and technology that we experienced here in the United States," said John Schmitt, a CEPR senior economist and co-author of the report.

Countries typically identified with social democratic parties – Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland – have generally seen small increases in union coverage and only small decreases in union membership since 1980. Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other liberal market economies with less protective labour-market systems have generally experienced sharp drops in union coverage and membership. Countries referred to as continental market economies, including Germany and France, saw small drops in union coverage and moderate declines in union membership.

The report demonstrates that national politics are a major determinant of national unionization rates in recent decades. To the extent that globalization and the new economy play a role, that role is less important than the one played by national political regimes.

More information:

Politics Matter: Changes in Unionization Rates in Rich Countries, 1960-2010


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE