The purpose of this paper is to explore comparatively the relationship between the employment relations contexts and trends in collective conflicts based at the workplace and conflicts handled individually in employment tribunals outside the workplace.
The paper employs an international comparative approach comparing conflict data and employment relations models in Britain, France, Italy, Portugal and Poland.
Collective disputes are at lower levels in the 2000s than in earlier periods in each of the countries studied, while accessing employment courts appears to be as or more frequent than in the past. In France and Italy, conflict appears to be more systematically legitimated in defence of citizenship rights than elsewhere. Both individual and collective conflicts are more common than in Poland and Portugal where labour regulation and employee rights appear either less effectively enforced or, as in Britain, only weakly embedded.
Unions in France and Italy appear more successful in focusing media attention on their collective conflicts, and in securing somewhat more positive state intervention than in the other countries, while at the same time supporting individuals taking cases to the courts. In Poland and Portugal, there are very high levels of individual employment complaints taken to the courts, and little collective strike action, while in Britain unions find it difficult to mobilise action at both collective and individual levels.
Unions will have to become more aware of the need to win public legitimacy for resistance if they are to continue to be able to defend workers' interests both collectively and individually.
The paper considers whether different national institutional frameworks are presenting similar shifts from collective‐based to individual‐based resistance in workplace disputes.
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