Social Unionism in Europe

Toward a new form of organization and negotiation?

by Alberto de Nicola 











The issue that animates this article is the following: how far the practices of income re-appropriation, of self-management of the services, the experiments of mutualism and the new labour struggles that took place in Europe during the crisis, can be included in a new idea of unionism? The question will be addressed through the use of the notion of social unionism. At a first glance, with the term “social unionism” are meant those struggles that break the apparatus of confinement that govern the labour force. To be more precise, this notion tries to examine three different dimensions: the emerging of the new forms of organization, the definition of new practices of negotiation and, finally, the returning of conflicts for the distribution and redistribution of wealth, beyond the traditional salary-related issues.

The article will be divided in two parts. In the first it will be argued that the expressions of social unionism find their roots in the crisis of the “centre- periphery structure” that has regulated the segmentation of the labour market during the first phase of precarization and informalization of work. According to our hypothesis this crisis introduces not only a modification of the strategies of the traditional unions, but also the emerging of a new composition in the struggles.

In the second part it will be proposed to take the border between life and work, production and reproduction, as a key to read the claims of social unionism. The analytical and political relevance of this border has to be traced in the transformation of the salary-form and in the generalization of the systems of workfare. The article will be concluded suggesting that the experiences of social unionism push us to rethink the traditional relation between economic and political struggles.