(ANR-DFG) EURO-DEM: Workplace democracy: a European ideal? : discourses and practices about the democratization of work after 1945

État, normes et conflits politiques

Responsable scientifique: Roberto Frega (CMB), Stefan Berger (Institut für Soziale Bewegungen RUB)
Organisme de financement: DFG-ANR
Partenaires du projet: CMB, Institut für Soziale Bewegungen RUB
Durée: 2021 – 2024

Workplace democracy: a European ideal? : discourses and practices about the democratization of work after 1945.


Project Summary

For the longest part of the 20th century, industrial democracy has been a vibrant movement that encompassed a broad spectrum of meanings, from internal union democracy over collective bargaining to co-determination at shop-floor, enterprise, industry and national economic level. Since the beginning trade-unions have played a major role in the theoretical promotion and in the concrete management of workplace democracy in most European countries. Today, however, things look different. While there are instances of democracy in the business landscape, hierarchical forms of organization remain dominant and organizational democracy commands only scant attention in the media and in public life. The decline of workplace democracy is partially tied to that of trade-unionism, and certainly related to the transformations of the economic system of production. But it is also related to the decades-long domination of a liberal (as against social) conception of political democracy which reclaimed a rigid separation between the political and the economic spheres.

In the last years there are, however, signs that the ideal of workplace democracy is getting new traction. In the academia, we observe a wide array of new publications appearing in many different disciplines such as political theory, social and political science, history, legal theory, economy, management, and work psychology. At the political level, a new EU Directive “on establishing the principle of democracy at work, in capital, and in every field of economic life” has just been drafted, and the European Trade Union Institute is actively promoting the idea among its national partners.

In this project we want to inquire into the history of this idea, exploring its moments of splendor as well as its moments of downturn and near disappearance.
We will do it through the historical lenses of conceptual and social history, exploring how this idea has been shaped by academic and non-academic discourses, by social practices, and by social struggles.

The project will focus on two main institutional actors: academia and the trade unions, and will explore their interactions, mutual influences and trajectories.
This specific approach is justified by the nature of our research object. First, although the role of academic scholars in theorizing workplace democracy is undisputed, the distinctive role played by different academic disciplines is largely understudied. This is due not only to the essential lack of communication across disciplinary fields, but also to the great variability of the object. Second, trade unions have played a major yet historically variable role in social struggles to achieve workplace democracy. At the same time, beside academia, trade unions and their research institutions have been the most important knowledge producer in this field, unrivaled by any other social institution. Third, trade unions and academia have constantly interacted influencing each other in multiple ways which have been hardly studied.

2.1. State of the art
For the longest part of the 20th century, industrial democracy has been a vibrant movement that encompassed a broad spectrum of meanings, from internal union democracy over collective bargaining to co-determination at shop-floor, enterprise, industry and national economic level. Since their origin, trade-unions have played a major role in the theoretical promotion and in the concrete management of workplace democracy in most European countries. Today, however, things look different. While there are instances of democracy in the business landscape, hierarchical forms of organization remain dominant and organizational democracy commands only scant attention in the media and in public life. The decline of workplace democracy is partially tied to that of trade-unionism, and certainly related to the transformations of the economic system of production. But it is also related to the decades-long domination of a liberal (as against social) conception of political democracy which reclaimed a rigid separation between the political and the economic spheres.

In the last years there are, however, signs that the ideal of workplace democracy is getting new traction. In the academia, we observe a wide array of new publications appearing in many different disciplines such as political theory (Anderson 2017, Singer 2018), social and political science (Landemore and Ferreras 2016), history (Berger et al. 2019), legal theory (Ackerman 2017, Ciepley 2013), economy (Mellizo 2017, Dow 2019), management (Wilkinson 2010; Grandori 2020), and work psychology (Unterreiner et al. 2011). At the political level, a new EU Directive “on establishing the principle of democracy at work, in capital, and in every field of economic life” has just been drafted, and the European Trade Union Institute is actively promoting the idea among its national partners (De Spiegelaere, et al. 2019).

In this project we want to inquire into the history of workplace democracy and its place within trade unionism, exploring its moments of splendor as well as its moments of downturn and near disappearance in the period after WWII.
Three major assumptions shape this project. The first assumption is a pluralistic understanding of workplace democracy. By this term we will refer to a large variety of institutional, organizational and procedural models that in the post WWII period have been considered to be conducive to an organization of work and production for which the predicate ‘democratic’ has been used. The second assumption is that our current understanding of the meaning of workplace democracy has been forged not only by academic discourses, but through a wide variety of discourses and practices enacted by actors such as trade-unions, employers and manager associations, political parties, and social movements. The relations of these actors to workplace democracy displays tremendous temporal and geographical variations. Since studying the contribution of all these actors within a single project would be an exceedingly ambitious task, in our research we will devote the highest attention to trade-unions as knowledge producing institutions, and we will study the evolution and circulation of ideas about workplace democracy after WWII in the European context. The third assumption is a comparatist approach to the study of our object. Instead of focusing on national country-models (eg. self-management in France, co-determination in Germany) we will focus, instead, on how specific models have been perceived, received, discussed, adjusted through their circulation across trade unions in different countries as well as in their interactions with academic discourses and their practical application in the workplace.

Workplace democracy: a contested concept.
Debates on the democratization of workplaces during the 20th century have been characterized by an extremely varied range of theories but also of terminologies which, moreover, have been complexified by their reception in different European languages. What for reasons of simplicity we will term ‘workplace democracy’ correspond in reality to extremely diverse views concerning the meaning, the scope, and the goals of democratization of workplaces, ideas whose currency has varied across states, across academic disciplines, across types of actors, and across time. Historically, we can identify six major ideal-typical approaches to the workplace democracy. Industrial democracy refers to a system where workers are organized and represented through trade-unions that bargain with employers and employers’ associations, mostly at sectoral level (Poole 1986, Budd 2004). Since the origin of trade-unionism (Webb & Webb 1892), this model has enjoyed great popularity among trade-unions. Theories of self-management and workers control focus on decision-making and power-sharing mechanism at the level of the plant or workplace. Historical examples are radical early 20th century anarcho-syndicalist experiences and later works councils (Muldoon 2018; Azzellini 2011; Eley 2002). A third approach has focused instead on workers indirect participation at the board level, with responsibility in taking strategic decisions. Co-determination is the better-known example of a representational conception of democracy (Müller-Jentsch 2003). A fourth set of theories focuses on the lived experience of work, on the conditions through which being a worker can be an emancipatory or an alienating experience. Whilst a sensitivity for the consequences of workplace organization on workers’ life co-originates with socialist movements and is strongly rooted in trade-unionism, it is mostly within humanistic and later management and work psychology that a full-blown approach has been developed (Yeoman 2014, Veltman 2016, Unterrainer et al. 2011)). A fifth tradition of theories and practices concentrates on property rights. The cooperative movement as well as mutualism and other forms of bottom-up association for economic purposes exemplify this approach (Mills and Yeoman 2017). Later, other types of schemes have been developed either to promote workers ownership of their workplaces or to allow also other stakeholders, such as consumers, users and community to participate in the governance of firms (Merrett & Walzer 2004, Jossa 2008). Finally, particularly in the Anglo- American countries, forms of workers financial participation have been promoted, arguing that letting workers share in firms’ profit would have elevated them to the status of citizens of the firm (Kruse 2010, Poutsma 2017).

Trade-unions have displayed very diverse attitudes toward these models, ranging from overt opposition to staunch support (Poole 1986; Budd 2004; Wood 2017). If trade unions have traditionally been sympathetic to industrial forms of organization that relied on collective bargaining, their attitudes toward company-based solutions have been much more diversified (Poole 1986, Müller-Jentsch 2008). In the post WWII period, two models have been most prominent in trade-unions’ debates, the Franco-Yugoslav model of self-management (‘autogestion’) and the German dual model of labor relations, co-determination (‘Mitbestimmung’) at plant level and collective bargaining on sector level (Georgi 2018; Berger et al. 2018; Hedin 2015). This is the major rationale behind our choice of focusing on the European circulation of these two models. References to the other four models will provide the indispensable background for assessing the impact and relevance of the Franco-Yugoslav and German model in shaping European trade-unions’ attitudes toward workplace democracy.

Trade unions and academic disciplines as knowledge producing institutions.
In disentangling the different meanings of workplace democracy, one has to acknowledge the extreme variety of actors which have contributed to its formation. During the 19th century, and to an extent even till much later, knowledge about the workplace has mostly been produced outside the academia, initially by militants, journalists, and trade unionists, and later also by new types of experts, mostly with an economy and engineering background (Braveman 1974; Wupper-Tewes 1995; Mudge 2018). Not only because many relevant authors –– Marx is a case in point –– never joined the academic ranks, but also because work remained a topic estranged from the usually more speculative concerns of academics. As a consequence, non-academic knowledge producing institution have been decisive in orienting debates and practices of workplace democracy. For example, with reference to labor and workplace democracy issues, the origins of debates in the late 1800s and early 1900s have to be found in mixed institutions such as the German Verein für Sozialpolitik, the British Fabian Society, or the International Labor Organization (Azzellini 2015; Poole 2017; Berger et. al 2019). At this stage academics and non- academics mingled intensely and the contribution on each side was much less differentiated than it has become lately. Today, trade unions and their foundations such as the Hans-Böckler Foundation in Germany, the International Labor Office, and the European Trade Unions Institut (ETUI) at EU level continue to be active knowledge producers in this field. At the same time, the increasing specialization of academic research and the birth of new work-related academic disciplines such as industrial relations, work psychology or management studies, has offered new and increasingly fragmented perspectives on the democratization of the workplace. Today, our understanding of workplace democracy is diffracted through an increasingly fragmented variety of academic fields and languages, each one characterized by its own disciplinary perspective, normative priorities, and sometimes implicit or explicit political agenda. The emergence of increasingly professionalized academic discourses has, however, not ruled out the specific role of other institutional actors such as trade unions, whose role in the production of knowledge about workplace democracy remains major. Given their prominent role in shaping discourses and orienting practices, these two knowledge-producing institutions and their mutual influences will be at the heart of the project.

A comparative history of workplace democracy
Our project is essentially about comparison – a comparison that does not artificially isolate its units of comparison but is aware of the complex entanglements between the different units of comparison and factors into the comparison. (Berger 2020). Through a comparative conceptual and oral history of workplace democracy that is based on thorough archival research (see methodology below), we are hoping to make a major contribution to understand how the West European trajectories surrounding this concept have developed and in how far we can see a Europeanisation in this concept before the eastern extension of the European Union and the establishment of European works councils in the mid-1990s. Our project will follow the strategy of ‘individualizing comparisons’ as outlined by Tilly (1985). Individualizing comparisons aim to understand better a specific individual case by comparing it asymmetrically with a range of other cases. In examining the French-Yugoslavian model of ‘self-management’ and the German model of ‘co-determination’ and their circulation, reception, adoption, transformation within five European countries each one characterized by its own distinctive model of industrial relations, we aim to provide an ‘encompassing comparison’ where differences are explained between cases that share an overarching commonality, i.e. a concept of ‘workplace democracy’. The combined study of the history of the concept in several academic disciplines in the same period will provide an external criteria to assess the intellectual, scientific, and political orientation of trade unions’ views. We will also engage in variation-finding comparisons, as we are examining one concept – workplace democracy, seeking to delineate different layers of meaning that are associated with the concept. Overall our comparative approach will allow us to establish what was specific about each case and how the transfer of ideas on workplace democracy has influenced the overall positioning of different actors in the conceptual field of workplace democracy. (Werner and Zimmermann 2006; Zimmermann, Didry and Wagner 1999).



In this project we aim to understand what workplace democracy has meant for the most relevant European social actors after WWII, with a focus on trade unions and how their theories and practices have contributed to shape our understanding of it. We will do it through a three-fold strategy .

First, we will reconstruct academic debates in the disciplines that have mostly contributed to shaping our understanding of workplace democracy after WWII. Reference to academic debates that were dominant at the time will prove indispensable to situate trade-union discourses in the context of the broader intellectual and societal discussion about workplace democracy. The main research questions that we will ask are:

  1. How did the disciplinary division of academic work has shaped research on workplace democracy?
  2. Are there major national traditions in academic research on workplace democracy?
  3. Did academic research take trade-union’s views into account?
  4. When did trade unions develop stronger links with academic circles and how did this influence their positions vis-à-vis workplace democracy?
  5. How the historical trajectory of trade-unions (rise and decline) has influenced academic theorization of workplace democracy?

Secondly, we will reconstruct the history of the circulation of the two models of workplace democracy that have played the most important role in trade-union discourses, that is the French-Yugoslavian model of ‘autogestion’ and the German model of ‘Mitbestimmung’. Since there is general agreement that for the large majority of European trade-unions these two models have represented the most promising form of workplace democracy, these two models will provide our theoretical starting point. We will study how these two models have been discussed by trade- unions in four different countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden). Wanting to analyse the circulation and discussion of ideas of ‘co-determination’ and ‘autogestion’ in Germany, France, Sweden and Britain, we have chosen those four countries, because Germany has been the home of ideas of ‘co-determination’ and a strong advocate of this ideas from the 1950s to the present day. France, by contrast, has been the country where ideas of ‘autogestion’ have been developed most thoroughly. Sweden has been included because it has been a core Social Democratic country in the post-war Cold War world in which powerful unions also upheld strong ideas of workplace democracy based on notions of ‘co-determination’ not so dissimilar to the German ideas, although their system of works councils and industrial relations also showed enough differences to the German case to make the circulation of ideas interesting. Finally, Britain has been included as a case study as its system of industrial relations was quite different from those of Sweden and Germany. Based on the idea of the autonomous strength of unions and their workplace representatives (shop stewards), the British movement nevertheless engaged with ideas of both co-determination and autogestion.

The main research questions that we will ask are:

  1. How did circulation of ideas across countries shape trade-union positions concerning workplace democracy? What where the most relevant international networks?
  2. Besides ‘autogestion’ and ‘Mitbestimmung’, what other models of workplace democracy were debated by trade unions?
  3. How did trade-union discourses take academic production into account?
  4. How did influences occur? Which individuals and institutions played the most important role in the circulation of ideas?

Thirdly, we will trace the evolution of trade-union discourses to actual transformations in the socio-economic landscape, paying attention to the emergence of new models of economic production, the trajectory of trade unions, and the evolution in industrial relation, the role of national state and the emerging role of the EU. The main research questions that we will ask are:

  1. What resistances did trade union experience in translating their ideas about workplace democracy into working models in the different countries?
  2. How did legal and political frameworks influence the implementation of ideas about workplace democracy in the different countries?
  3. What contradictions did emerge between discourses and social practices?
  4. Did the decline of trade-unions favor the theorization of non-trade-union models of workplace democracy?

Research plan, methodology design and timeline

3.2.1. Methodology

In exploring the discourses and practices of workplace democracy, this project will utilise the methodological arsenal of conceptual history that was championed by Reinhart Koselleck and has since become an established method in European intellectual history (Steinmetz, Freeden and Fernández-Sebastián 2017). Exploring ‘workplace democracy’ as a concept in four different European countries is the focal point of our project that aims to identify similarities and differences in discourses and practices on workplace democracy. We will trace conceptual modifications within specific social and cultural contexts of trade unionism. We will pay particular attention to conceptual contexts within those fields and analyse the layered meanings contained in the actual usages of workplace democracy. At the same time our attention to the actual practice of workplace democracy will allow us to test the performativity of workplace democracy as a concept. This will allow us to unite our theoretical exploration of discourses with our interests regarding practices of workplace democracy.

The second methodological standpoint is transnationality: Even though we will focus above all on only two models of workplace democracy – self-management and co-determination – we are aware that different national contexts in Western Europe have significantly impacted our understandings of workplace democracy through a contextualized and diversified reception of these two models also through their relation to other ideas of workplace democracy (Wood 2017). The history of the transnational flows, exchanges, circulations and adaptations is, therefore, crucial, to understand the evolution of the theory and practice of workplace democracy across West European states. The adoption of this transnational perspective has major methodological implications, since it involves switching between languages, and the project will have to consider the importance of functional and situational multilingualism and translations. (Kjaer and Adamo, 2011; Unger, Krzyzanowski and Wodak, 2014) Linguistic contacts have often been an important trigger for semantic changes, and the semantic of workplace democracy is indeed extremely rich, varied, and often equivocal: the same terms assume different meanings, different terms are used as synonymous, etc. A foreign word coming into a new language acts as an irritant that needs to be dealt with. Reception strategies include denial of its meaningfulness, playful adaptation or wholesale endorsement or anything that lies on a wide-ranging spectrum between those reactions. (Burke and Richter 2012) Concepts are, by their very nature, indeterminate and ambiguous which also means that they are essentially contested. (Freeden 2013) They are also always related to other concepts so that they can only be discussed in a conceptual field which the project aims to establish. But transnationality adds also methodological challenges to the research, since empirical evidence of ideas will have to be searched for in sources that are written in different languages (five, in our project). This will require not only a careful search for expert collaborators, but also a methodology of team-work capable of integrating together the different lines of research.

Apart from relying on the rich methodological arsenal of conceptual history, the third methodological standpoint is provided by the extensive use of oral history. We intend to gain knowledge both about conceptual development and about their impact on practice through sets of actors (trade unionists, state officials, leading academics in the field and employers’ representatives) whose narratives of workplace democracy shall be examined with a view to establishing how they narrativize the development and the impact of different concepts of workplace democracy for the period between the end of the Second World War and the mid- 1990s. Like conceptual history, oral history has become an established field of historical enquiry over the last three decades. (Abrams 2010) Drawing on the insights from oral history will help us to identify different memorial cultures surrounding the histories of workplace democracy in the five countries that are at the heart of our examination here. Whilst shedding some light on actual developments, the project will have to reflect on the fact that all statements made in the present about the past are statements influenced by present-day beliefs and norms of those interviewed. Hence we will have to be cautious in applying contemporary subjectivities to the past. Statement of actors will help integrate and enrich evidence brought about through substantive archival research in the relevant archives of the five countries studied.


Work program
To achieve the stated objectives, we divide our activities into four research lines. Given the nature of the project and the reliance on a combined exploitation of a rich variety of multi- lingual resources according to linguistic competences (trade union archives in four different languages, interviews, journal data-bases), each participant to the project will be actively involved in all four research lines.

1 The theoretical construction of “workplace democracy” between trade-unions and academic discourses
Scientific coordinator: Roberto Frega


This research line studies the mutual influences and interactions between trade-union and academic disciplines in shaping discourses on workplace democracy. Understanding relations of influence and interaction is necessary to assess the distinctive contribution of trade-unions. Moreover, many trade-union theorists were at the same time university professors who made also influential contributions to academic research on workplace democracy. In this research line we will pay particular attention to the circulation of concepts among academic disciplines: in which disciplinary context did specific notions of workplace democracy or workers’ voice emerge and thrive? How are the disciplinary trajectories of concepts related to non-academic circumstances, such as in particular the geographically different and historically evolving role of other knowledge-producing institutions relevant for this field, in particular trade-unions? How did the professionalization of discourses outside academia, notably through trade-union foundations, affect academic discourses? Are references to trade-unions’ theoretical positions, or to trade- unions as democratic actors explicit? What are the major differences in terms of academic disciplines, temporal sequences, national traditions, and status of intellectuals (engaged vs. detached)?

Aims and objectives

As the state of the art has shown, workplace democracy in all its terminological diversity has been debated in many academic fields, and its conceptualization shows tremendous degrees of variation from one field to the other. One has to think only to how notions of workplace democracy, participation, voice, involvement have been discussed in academic fields as diverse as Industrial relations, economics, sociology of work, psychology of work, leadership and management studies, law, political theory, political philosophy. Not only the terminology is extremely heterogeneous from one field to the other, but even the meaning assigned to the same concept vary greatly according to the academic perspective that is privileged. Disciplinary variation has a major impact also on normative expectations concerning the goals, the beneficiaries, and the desirability of workplace democracy. For example, approaches within economics will tend to subject the study of democracy to the normative goals of efficiency and competitiveness (Dow 2017), work psychology to that of workers well-being (Yeoman 2014), political theory to norms such as justice (Hsieh 2008). Moving from one discipline to the other, workplace democracy is not only studied differently, it also evokes different social expectations and political frameworks. Different academic disciplines will have, for example, a different attitude about the priority of market or firm-based constraints over workers rights.
Besides these intra-disciplinary effects there are, however, also important exogenous effects that need to be studied. On the one hand, the rise and fall of academic disciplines is far from immune from socio-economic transformations. For example, Industrial relations, labor history, and sociology of work as academic fields peaked during the 1960s-1980s, at a time when trade-unions were strong (Budd 2004). At the same time, management studies and work-psychology emerged as major academic fields in later decades, under economic and socio-political circumstances dominated by post-industrialism and the decline of trade-unionism (Wilkinson 2010). We should, therefore, ask to what extent academic discourses on workplace democracy reflect these varied circumstances. Do they merely reflect transformations in the economic world such as the transition from industrial to post-industrial economy, or the decline in trade-union power? Relations between trade-unions and academic discourses count as one of the major exogenous factors, and one that will be at the heart of this research line. We will aim at identifying the major relational models, starting from a typology of different academic profiles and discourses.
In this project we intent to trace and disentangle these different dimensions in shaping academic discourses on workplace democracy in a way that will provide a useful baseline to better understand also the role of trade-unions as knowledge producing institutions that will be studied in the following research lines. This inquiry will provide us with a clear view of the extent to which academic discourses on workplace democracy have been related to trade-union views of the same topic in the post-WWII period.


Like in the other research lines composing this project, we will adopt a comparative perspective, investigating the relations between trade-union positions on workplace democracy and academic discourses with a focus on national differences. We will look for national differences in disciplinary concentration of studies about workplace democracy, asking which discipline have been more relevant in each country and at what time. We will also pay attention to national differences in the forms of intellectual, cultural, and professional exchanges between academics and trade unions, asking whether, when, and where academics played the role of ‘organic intellectuals’, detached experts, independent critics, or competent counselors with regard to trade-unions.

Methodologically we will conduct two types of studies.
On the one hand, we will rely on the results of archival research carried out in the context of the other research lines to identify any reference to academic positions and to retrace networks of influences with trade-unions. These occurrences will be organized and classified in terms of theoretical references, terms used, models of democracy, year, country. This work will provide us with a synthetic view of which academic models of workplace democracy were present in trade- union discourses, at which time, in which country, using which terminology.
On the other hand, we will systematically examine the academic production dealing directly with workplace democracy and related notions by academics active in the chosen five countries.
This review will cover:

  • All the book-length publications where one or more chapter deal directly with the issue.
  • All the scientific articles that feature the topic either in the title or in the abstract.

The research will be based on a list of terms directly related to workplace democracy that will have to be drafted in the five languages. The review will be conducted according to a double methodology .
First, a list of journals will be drafted according to the following criteria: journals that are directly or indirectly connected with professional and academic associations relevant for our topic, such as work-psychology associations; journals where a first search will show at least five articles in which one of the keyworks appear.
Secondly, to search for missing entries, a second search will be run on national academic data- bases such as CAIRN INFO as well as on general data-bases such as JSTOR.

Research outputs and activities

  1. Three to five research articles focusing explicitly on the relation between trade-unions and intellectuals as well as on the role of disciplinary effects in shaping discourses on workplace democracy.
  2. An edited book focusing on the distinctive contribution of academic disciplines to the conceptualization of workplace democracy from WWII till today.
  3. An international workshop on the same topic, enlarged to the experience of other countries, and possibly to pre-WWII period. The conference will be organized also with the aim of identifying potential contributions for the edited volume.

2 Self-Management. A "Franco-Yugoslav" model for Europe, 1945 – 1990
Scientific coordinator: Frank Georgi


In the aftermath of May 1968, and for fifteen years or so, the concept of self-management (in French Autogestion) became central to the discourse of French trade unions. It became a radical version of the idea of workplace democracy, but also a global political project, embracing all aspects of social life (Rosanvallon, 1976 and 2018; Georgi, 2003; Chambost 2020). This is one of the main differences with the "German" concept of co-determination, limited to the field of industrial relations, that we will explore in the research line A second difference being that, unlike Mitbestimmung in West Germany, self-management in France has never been an institutionalized system, really applied in companies or in even a limited industrial sector. Finally, neither the word nor the modern notion of self-management can be regarded as "French" inventions. The genesis of a French self-management "model", if there was one, cannot be understood without taking into account the existence of an experience, then of a generalised system of self-management of enterprises (in Serbo-Croatian : Samoupravljanje) in Tito's socialist Yugoslavia, from 1950 onwards. This is why, even if this designation may appear questionable and deserves to be discussed, it seems more accurate to speak of a "Franco-Yugoslavian model". The long little-known history of the transfer of the idea of self-management from Yugoslavia to France from the 1950s to the 1980s has recently been studied (Georgi 2018). This research has shown the importance of political networks, but also and perhaps above all trade unionists and academics, in the dissemination of the model in France, through exchanges, study trips, the organisation of conferences, symposiums, the publication of books, pamphlets etc. It has also shown that this transfer has been part of a wider circulation, on a European and global scale. However, it has only very marginally addressed a twofold dimension: that of the reception of the Yugoslav self-management model in countries other than France, since the 1950s), and that of the diffusion, in Europe and beyond, from the 1970s onwards, of a "French model", based on theoretical writings and concrete experiences with international repercussions such as the Lip case in Besançon (on the Lip's struggle, which continues to fascinate abroad, more than 40 years later, see Reid, 2018 and Beckmann, 2019). And the existing literature on these issues is still very deficient. Only one recent article proposes a general framework on the reception of Yugoslav self-management in Western Europe from 1968 to 1975 (Zaccaria, 2018). And we do not have an equivalent job for the reception in Western Europe of the "French model" after 1968.

Aims and objectives

This research line will answer these questions by examining the dissemination and reception of the model of self-management in the trade-unions of four European countries from a comparative history perspective (what place did it occupy in relation to other, older conceptions of workplace democracy?) as well as from a transnational perspective (how and through which channels did the idea of self-management circulate? Who were the mediators? If it has been adopted by certain circles, how has the project been transformed and adapted to the political and social culture of the country?)
So far existing literature has provided only a scant overview of European trade unions’ attitudes towards the self-management "model". What is missing are, in particular, in-depth case studies based on archival research. A first overview of existing literature shows that outside France and the Latin countries self-management has sparked some interest only within the left wings of trade unions and social democratic parties, as well as within some extreme left-wing political or intellectual circles. This is, indeed, the case in West Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. There are, however, exceptions, that this research line aims to explore. For example, CFDT in France, as well as CISL in Italy, both of Catholic origin, took a deep interest in self-management, confirming the specific permeability of the Christian left to participatory ideas. But, unlike the French CGT, the Italian trade union of communist obedience, the CGIL, was also interested in self-management and even influenced the proposals of the French CFDT in the second half of the 1970s. Moderate social democrats, such as the Dutch president of the European Commission, Sicco Mansholt, publicly praised Yugoslav self-management system as a "model" for Europe at the beginning of the 1970s (Zaccaria, 2018). As these example shows, the circulation of ideas about self-management in Europe has been more complex than is usually assumed, overstepping ideological boundaries and betraying national trajectories. Through extensive archival work, this research line will disentangle these diverse trajectories and will seek to understand the reasons laying behind the different attitudes taken by different trade-union confederacies toward self-management.
This comparative study will allow us to better identify the distinctive features of the self- management model, particularly with reference to the broader issues of workplace democracy and workers' participation, to which it has often, wrongly, been reduced (see for example Deutsch, 2005).

Methodology and Research outputs and activities

Since the methodology as well as the research outputs and activities for this research line are common with the next, it will be described only once at the end of the following research line.

3 ‘Co-determination’ – a German model for Europe, 1945 – mid 1990s
Scientific coordinator: Stefan Berger

The German idea of ‘co-determination’ (Mitbestimmung), as it emerged as a hallmark of the industrial relations system in the post-Second World War Federal Republic of Germany is widely seen as a specifically German project, in which some other West European countries only took a limited interest, whilst many others were outrightly hostile (Pries, 2019). Together with the French-Yougoslavian model of self-management, it has provided one of the two most discussed models of workplace democracy throughout the post WWII period. Whilst both the study of co- determination in Germany and the transnational history of trade unionism are both mature research fields (Knotter, 2018), there is to date no sustained study of the circulation of the model of co-determination across different West European trade unions. A brief article by Schirmann (2017) comparing the reaction of French trade unions to German co-determination is the only literature that exists in comparative perspective. Hence this project will fill an important gap in the literature surrounding the transnational history of trade unionism in the period between 1945 and the mid 1990s. The study will stop around 1994 when European works’ councils were established and the whole idea of co-determination was put on a different level. Whilst time constraints prevent us from extending our study to the period from 1994 to the present, we plan to organize an international conference that will gather together experts from the academia, the trade unions, and the ETUI to discuss the evolution of the idea of co-determination in the light of European works councils after 1994. Our research will also to contribute to understanding the pre-history of why the ‘German model’ of co-determination has been so influential since 1994. The huge role of the Volkswagen company in Germany in promoting the model of co- determination nationally and internationally will be taken into account in this study (see also research line

Aims and objectives
This project will examine how ideas of ‘co-determination’ circulated between and among the respective trade union movements in those four West European countries. It will take into account the circulation of those ideas and their reception among the employers’ federations and among the political parties that were often closely allied to the trade union movements (Grebing and Meyer 1992). Furthermore, it will look at the academic discourse on co-determination and how it influenced the reception and positioning of trade unions towards this concept. The Europeanization of the industrial relations system within the European Union with the formation of the European Trades Union Congress (ETUC) in 1973 will play an important part of this study, as it was a vital forum for the exchange of ideas. (Ciampani and Tilly 2017; Degryse and Tilly 2013)
In the immediate post-war period, many labour movements across Western Europe championed ideas of a radical restructuring of the economic and social system of capitalism, as they argued that there was a strong link between capitalism and fascism in the interwar period. (Berger/Boldorf 2018) In those countries occupied by the fascist axis countries, there were broad discussions surrounding the collaboration of economic elites with the fascist occupiers. Among our five countries, particularly Italy, Germany and France were characterised by those debates. The situation in Sweden and Britain was different, as Britain had never been occupied by the enemy in the Second World War and emerged victorious from the war. Sweden was officially neutral in the Second World War. However, whilst in Sweden, powerful trade unions and a ruling Social Democratic Party set the terms of the post-war political and industrial relations system, in Britain, the Labour Party also came to government at the end of the Second World War and instigated a major programme of nationalisation of key industries. Furthermore powerful trade unions were capable of extracting major concessions from rather weak employers. In the ‘trente glorieuses’ following the Second World War, trade unions were capable of winning major concessions and victories across our five countries, even if their strategies differed fundamentally. (Crouch 1993; Streeck 2014) The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a radicalisation of workers’ representation at the shop-floor that had a very different impact on trade unions in different countries and let sometimes to a major rethinking of issues to do with workplace democracy. (McIlroy, Fishman, Campbell, 1999; Schroeder and Greef 2016; Chouraqui 2001; Telljohann 2019) With the advances of neoliberalism in the 1980s we see the beginning of major attacks on trade union power, above all in Britain, where the government destroyed one of the most powerful unions in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers and brought in tough new anti-union legislation. (Dorey, 1995) Whilst these measures found no parallel in the other four countries, the unions nevertheless increasingly found themselves on the defensive, thinking of ways of defending what they had achieved in the decades before rather than reaching for new shores. (Raphael, 2019)

Within this overall framework of development, this project wants to trace the exchanges surrounding the German concept of ‘co-determination’ across the four countries. Using the trade union archives as well as the archives of the employers’ federations in the five countries concerned, we will also use interviews with key players as well as published pamphlets and sources dealing with the concept of ‘co-determination’ from the five countries. (Andresen 2014)


This research line continues along the same lines the research carried on in the research line, focusing in symmetric ways on the conceptual development and spread of another key model of industrial relations after WWII. Together, these two research lines aim at questioning the existing typologies in industrial relations research which have established an Anglo-Saxon type of IR system and differentiated it from a continental one that is often further sub-divided into a South-Western type, headed by France and Italy and a Northern type of IR system for which often Germany and Sweden are seen as representative. Both will be based on a double methodology combining archival work with oral history.

Archival work will be conducted in the following archives:

  • Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bonn: trade union archives of the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund and affiliated unions
  • Stiftung Geschichte des Ruhrgebiets, Bochum: trade union archive of the IGBCE
  • Historisches Archiv des Bundesverbandes der deutschen Industrie, Berlin
  • Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick: TUC archive and archives of many of its affiliated unions
  • People’s History Museum, Manchester: Archives of the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain
  • National Archives, London: Confederation of British Industries papers
  • Arbedarrarrölsen Arkiv , Stockholm
  • Archives de la CFDT (Paris)
  • Institut CGT d'histoire sociale (Montreuil)
  • Archives of Yugoslavia (Belgrade)
  • Archives of the World Confederation of Labour (Kadok, Keuven)
  • Archives of the ICFTU (IISH, Amsterdam)
  • Institut mémoire de l'édition contemporaine (IMEC, Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe) :
  • Yvon Bourdet's and Olivier Corpet's Archives
  • Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme FMSH (Paris): Fonds "Autogestion". We plan to establish a cooperation with the team of computer scientists at the new ANR archive enhancement project (ARCHIVAL, 2020), who are working on FMSH’s corpus by testing innovative tools and methods (multimodal automatic language comprehension for new intelligent interfaces for mediation and knowledge transmission).

Besides archival research, we plan to interview both key union leaders and key academics working closely with the trade unions, who have showed a keen interest in the promotion of ideas of co-determination. There will be 5 – 6 interviews each in the four countries under examination. The names of those to be interviewed will have to be decided within the first phase of the research project (months 1 – 6).

Research outputs and activities

  1. Three synthetic articles on the reception of the Franco-Yugoslav and German models in each of the European countries considered from the fifties to the eighties.
  2. An international conference on the dissemination of the idea of self-management and co- determination to south-European countries, from the 1950's to the present.
  3. An edited book, based on the main contributions of this conference.

Workplace democracy – The contradiction between discourses and practices from 1975 to 2000
Scientific coordinator: Manfred Wannöffel.


Production of discourses about workplace democracy has been met with hopes of radical renewal as well as with cynical statement of make-believe. Reality has been, as often, in the middle. The aim of this fourth research line is to explore some of the tensions that have been triggered by attempts to achieve democracy in the workplace, in a way that combines together trade-union proposals, academic discourses, and experimentations at plant and workplace level. Given the nature of this research question, we will focus on a single case studied – Germany – that we will complement with a literature review that will allow us to offer more general considerations about how contradictions between discourses and practices took place elsewhere in Europe in the selected time period.
The German case study will examine how the introduction of the scientific and political programme “Humanisation of Work” (HoW), particularly in the automotive industrial system, has affected the democratic quality of work. At the time, HoW had been greeted as a promising advance in workplace democracy by employers’ associations, trade unions, and also academics. Particularly after the publication of Schuman & Kern 1984, a wide scientific and public debate on post-tayloristic-fordistic labour policy in the leading European production sectors begun. This debate transcended the confine of the academia to strongly influence trade union policy, giving rise to special working programmes on workplace democracy in West-German automotive industry for nearly 25 years (Muster & Wannöffel, 1989).
The main thesis advanced at the time was that after the tayloristic-fordistic era, the upcoming new production concepts (“lean production”) would offer fundamental new possibilities of workplace democracy through direct workers ́ participation, team work, new qualification possibilities, and self-management at the shop floor. Theoretical ideas about new interpretations of workplace democracy, combined with new ideas about work organization converged in challenging received views about workplace democracy as co-determination, to install a new paradigm, more focused on team-work and a different understanding of democracy as linked to autonomy and self-management at the level of team-work rather than of the enterprise. Tensions arose between competing views of democracy, but also between competing interests and social groups, particularly between management, workers ́ representatives, and trade unions at all (Schumann 2014).
In this research line we will reconstruct the history of these entangled perspectives on workplace democracy, the view carried on by the different actors, the mutual influences between academic discourses, trade-unions views, and the views of workers and managers who experimented with the different models at that time.
To reconstruct this complex history, we will take our starting point in Schumann’s later apology (Schumann 2014). Indeed, three decades after the seminal article that started the debate, and after a large number of research projects on workplace democracy and corresponding several trade union programmes in the context of new production concepts had been carried on, Schumann and others have recognized that contrary to expectations of improved democracy, the new production techniques had given rise to processes of de-democratisation at the workplace and deregulation of workers ́ rights at enterprise level and processes of de-unionisation by outsourcing of business units. Other scholars have contended that academic ideas about new organizational models have been instrumentalized in ways that have deeply perverted their original meaning (Womack & Jones 1990).
The German experience raises important questions concerning the feasibility of workplace democracy even in highly favourable contexts such as the German, where there has traditionally been high institutional support for co-determination. It points to a finer analysis of the structural circumstances of production systems, and to the necessity of understanding democracy as a multi-layered concept that takes the different institutional levels into account: from the workplace at enterprise level to the organisation of their interests in trade unions, appointed in collective agreements to political parties, and parliaments settled in labour laws on workplace democracy (Wannöffel 2019). If this structural development from below to the societal level is not achieved, so this debate seems to show, workplace democracy will not be achieved.

Objectives of this research line:
Against this background, this research line aims to analyse the contradiction between ideas and concepts on workplace democracy within the scientific discipline of industrial and labour sociology and their introduction into work organization by workers ́ representatives and employers in Germany between 1975 and 2000. The first objective consists in four in-depth case studies in the four leading automotive sector companies BMW, General Motors/Opel, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen. The working hypothesis is that the main academic debate on workplace democracy reflected the appearance level of de-hierarchisation of organisational structures but did not capture the hidden strengthening of organisational hierarchies in the process of deregulation and marketisation of labour. The research line intends to explore the process and the reasons for the divergent development and the structural misunderstanding between academics and practitioners. The second objective will consist in a desk analysis of whether similar gaps between academic talk on workplace democracy and social practise have arisen in the automotive sector of England, France, and Sweden during the proposed period. Finally, the third objective will consist in providing an answer to the more general question of the general lesson to be learnt from the study of these contradictions. In particular, what the history of the introduction of democratic forms of organization in the automotive sector can teach us concerning the institutional conditions which are required. This answer is particularly urgent in the context the actual process of digitalisation of work and the increasing importance of artificial intelligence in production structures within the European automotive industry; an industry which is facing huge challenges in the context of the ongoing global competition with the growing Chinese automotive companies and their authoritarian models of workplace composition which characterize it.

The research project is based on a mix of methodologies. It starts with a broad literature review from the German academic debate of industrial and labour sociology from 1975 to 2000, followed by an intensive archival work (DGB, Industrial Metal Union; Friedrich-Ebert- Foundation, and Hans-Böckler Foundation, WSI-archive) and 40 expert interviews with members of works ́ councils (10 by each company), who were actively involved in the introduction of workplace democracy during the proposed research period (oral history). The international comparison will be realized through an overview of secondary literature on industrial and labour sociology that we will use to create a more meaningful background context for the interpretation of the four case studies.

Research outputs and activities

1. Three to five research articles focusing on the transdisciplinary relationship between academics and practitioners as well as on the problem of knowledge transfer in the context of workplace democracy.
2. An edited book focusing on the problem of transdisciplinarity on how to include social practice into research processes in the context of the conceptualization of workplace democracy.
3. An international conference on the topic of transferscience/sciencetransfer. The conference will be organized with the aim of identifying potential contributions for the edited volume above mentioned.



Roberto Frega