Forschungsgruppe Altern und Lebenslauf (FALL)

Veröffentlichungen: ?Kohli et al. 1997


Kohli, Martin, Harald Künemund & Jürgen Wolf (1997): Trade unions and the elderly population: Is retirement still linked to the sphere of work? In: Scandinavian Journal of Social Welfare, 6, 180-188.

Although trade unions focus on the labor force, they are important for the retirees as well. In the German case there are three main reasons for this importance: (1) Quite unintentionally, the unions - with 1.7 million retired members - have become one of the largest old-age organizations. (2) In a corporatist work and welfare regime such as Germany, the unions are one of the key actors not only of labor market policy but also of social policy including the "generational contract" of old age security. (3) The unions potentially link the retirees to the work sphere, and thus to the concerns and conflicts of the "work society".

In an aging society the saliency of such a link between work and retirement is increasing. On the one hand, with their active membership decreasing, unions are compelled to turn also to those who have retired from work in order to maintain their organizational strength. On the other hand, the retirees have a greater interest in union activity. By calling for a larger share in union affairs, they present the unions with an organizational dilemma.

In this paper, we discuss the practice and potential of the link between unions and their older members from both perspectives: from that of the unions and their interest in the retirees, and from that of the retirees and their interest in maintaining membership. Our empirical basis is a multi-level study of unions and old age politics in Germany, including some steps towards comparison with other European countries. The study focuses on the German Metal Workers' Union - with its 3 million members the biggest single trade union not only in Germany but in all the Western world.

After introducing our approach, we follow the three points outlined above. We begin by examining the evolution of the membership share of the elderly in the unions. Secondly, we discuss the role of the unions in the corporatist system, especially with respect to policies concerning the elderly. The third point, the link between retirement and the work sphere, is treated by first looking at the organizational supply of union activities for the elderly, and then at the latters' demand. Finally, we briefly address the possible directions for the future, especially with regard to models of organizational representation.

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