Ordinary Workers and Industrial Relations in a New World Order

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Taking its point of departure from a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) conference held in Copenhagen in 1953, this paper1 begins by tracing the foundation of the powerful political role that labor organizations held during a significant part of the twentieth century. At the conference, “labor” was emphasized as occupying a “key role” in the struggle of Western societies to withstand the challenge of communism—military alone could not achieve this objective. Since around 1990, this has fundamentally changed and the paper explores the contemporary situation through an ethnographic study—involving fieldwork at both workplaces and private homes—of Polish migrant laborers participating in the Danish labor market. Firstly, it is shown how the Polish laborers, due to the lower costs they represent, benefit from the new opportunities. Secondly, the paper illustrates how the trade union, though uneasy with the downward pressure on wage and working conditions that the Polish represent, prioritizes the organization of workers in order to maintain some degree of control over the labor market. Finally, the question is raised how the EU (European Union) is able to navigate two contrasting concerns: the urge both to create more cross‐border competition and to uphold an image of a “social Europe” which might be key to maintain cohesion and legitimacy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology Study
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)728-737
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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