What Does the Minimum Wage Do?, by Dale Belman and Paul Wolfson. W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Kalamazoo, MI, 2014, 471 pp., ISBN: 9780880994569, $35.00, paperback.

AuthorDamian Grimshaw
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/bjir.12168
Publication Date01 Mar 2016
British Journal of Industrial Relations doi: 10.1111/bjir.12177
54:1 March 2016 0007-1080 pp. 237–253
BOOK REVIEWS
Young Workers and Trade Unions: A Global View, edited by Andy Hodder and
Lefteris Kretsos. Palgrave Macmillan, London, UK, 2015, 224 pp., ISBN: 978
1 13742 951 3, £67.00, hardback.
This edited collection aims to give insight into the challenges trade unions around the
world face when they attempt to involve young people. This is a centrally important
objective. In many countries, unions and young workers have largely failed to engage
eectively with each other and the eects of this are being felt not only in declining
union membership, but also as a failureof union and state policy to reflect the interests
of young people.
The book is collection of chapters that, respectively, take as their focus the EU,
Argentina, Australia,Denmark, France, Greece, Poland,Spain, the UK and the USA.
This eclectic mix gives a verygood overview of the internal and external tensions unions
face and there are some detailed case studies of how some unions have attempted to
address these. One of the weaknesses of the collection is that a justification for this
focus is not given either in the introductory chapter, or in the concluding comments.
As a result, the rationale for identifying particular cases is not as strongas it might be
and the reader is left to do some of the work to identify common themes and issues.
Nonetheless, each chapter can be read independentlyand they are, without exception,
strong contributions to our understanding of the topic. Most chapters are empirically
based which lends the book a degree of authority and authors of individual chapters
have clearly been given some flexibility to present their analysis in ways that suit the
data.
What is perhaps most striking is the commonality of the themes, challenges
and responses in these very dierent institutional settings. The changing structure
of the labour market is a common subject in all of these countries although,
unsurprisingly, the scale of the consequences for young people’s employment varies
considerably.
Rising youth unemployment in many of the countries is a focus of considerable
concern and the chapters on Greece (Kretsos) and Spain (Fern´
andez et al.) emphasize
the democratic dangers of having such constrained labour market opportunities
for young workers. Both chapters stress that high youth unemployment is a direct
consequence of policy choices and that there are profound consequences, including
the risk of a widespread disillusionment and disengagement with civic society. In
Poland (Mrozowicki et al.), legal changes introduced to allow flexible contracts
have had dramatic and negative consequences for young people’s labour market
status and has left large numbers of them without the protections of standard
labour law. Changes to Danish pensions arrangements (Geelan) have also given
C
2016 John Wiley& Sons Ltd/London School of Economics. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd,
9600 Garsington Road,Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
238 British Journal of Industrial Relations
fewer incentives to join unions there. Across all of the national settings, the
growth of jobs in smaller, service sector workplaces is highlighted as a major
concern because of the diculties most union movements face in unionizing these
workplaces.
Taken together, then, there are profound structural problems facing unions around
the world. What is perhaps most interesting about the book is the examples given of
how unions and young people are trying to address some of these problems. However,
several of the chapters emphasize the diculties unions face in engaging with the
protest movements that have mobilized around these issues. France (Contrepois) is
a good example where young people are ‘mobilised but not unionised’ (p. 90) and in
Spain, Fern´
andez et al. argue that there has been a failure of the two movements to
eectively engage with each other.
Other analyses show the power unions have to be agents of change within
this dicult context. The UK example of the public sector union, PCS (Hodder),
and the US example of a similar union for state employees, AFSCME (Boris),
show how unions have developed structures to target and engage young people
both to develop membership, and also to develop future leaders and activists.
Both have faced considerable constraints, but they illustrate the way in which
unions are not simply passive recipients of these developments. Rather, they are,
if willing, able to develop responses that engage with the fact that many young
people are ‘blank slates’ with regard to trade unionism. Vandaele’s chapter takes
this as a starting point but establishes that — in the EU, at least — structures
to represent young membership within unions are patchy. He argues that unions
need to be more proactive in engaging and representing young people and, to
achieve that, young people need to be eectively represented within the unions
themselves.
Several chapters also highlight that even where unions try to achieve this, young
people can bring with them new interests, issues and constituencies. Chapters on the
USA (Boris) and Argentina (Soul) are particularly engaginghere, and stress that there
are dicult processes of integration and adaptation on both sides. It is important in
many of the chapters here that the politics of mobilizing and representingnew, young
workers are central to the analysesbeing presented. Overall, there is a rejection of the
idea that unions simply need to target these workers more eectively, in favour of an
analysis that emphasizes that these workers can have dierent interests thathave been
created by changes in economies and labourmarkets and which have hit young people
particularly harshly. Overall, the combination of the ten empirical chapters strongly
suggests that unions need not just to investmore, but to change if they are to represent
those interests eectively, and to achieve that a strong basis of intergenerational
solidarity needs to be built.
This is undoubtedly an important contribution to our understanding of the dicult
contexts in which unions are trying to organize and represent youngpeople. Although
the book would havebenefited from a thorough edit for the use of English, the quality
of the research on which the contributions are based is excellent. Anyone reading
the book as a whole will be left with a very clear view of the political and practical
challenges ahead.
MELANIE SIMMS
University of Leicester
C
2016 John Wiley& Sons Ltd/London School of Economics.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT