The role of trade unions in promoting social justice has been challenged by rising social and economic inequality in several European countries. Angie Gago writes that while levels of inequality vary from country to country, the general rise in inequality experienced across Europe is associated with a change in the redistributive character of trade unions’ collective bargaining. She argues that trade unions must participate in salary negotiations and legitimise their institutional role, while at the same time using collective bargaining to push for social justice.
Trade unions are crucial to achieving equal societies due to their involvement in social justice. During the last few decades, however, this function has been questioned because of the increase in inequality in rich and developed societies where trade unions still retain part of their influence.
Although the increase in salary disparity is usually associated with changes in economic factors, such as technological change, globalisation and capital mobility, there exists an open debate about the influence of national politics and the institutional context of each country on halting rising inequality. Comparing liberal countries to corporatist countries, we can see whether labour institutions have influenced the increase in inequality.
Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, are liberal market economies where labour rights are deregulated and trade unions play a residual role. However, countries like Denmark and Sweden are social market economies with solid corporatist institutions in which trade unions have bigger memberships and where we can find higher union density. Inequality hits all of them, but with a different intensity.