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Role of Trade Unions in Japan, United States and Sweden:
Comparative Analysis


Executive Summary

USA, Japan and Sweden (as an active member of EU) are major economic agents in the epoch of globalisation. Ever-expanding mutual integration between countries results in diffusion of ideas, practices and techniques in a great variety of things including business and society, culture and politics. Industrial relations generally and trade unions in particular are also subject to transformation as a consequence of cross-border influences.
Unions in Japan, USA and Sweden albeit having some traits in common differ notably in their nature, structure, origin, roles, levels of unionisation, bargaining practices, degree of politicisation and government interference.
Japanese unions are enterprise-based and thus represent firms to which they relate. In the US unions at large are of industrial nature hence reflect relevant industry. In Sweden, unions are organised into three federations which distinguish between white-collar, blue-collar and professional workers.
Unions in the US and (to some extent) in Japan are mostly involved in business unionism: wage negotiations and other workplace matters are their main concerns. Swedish unions are contrasting in a sense that they are also mindful of improving general working environment and promoting industrial and economic democracy. Their activities are described as political unionism.
Comparative analysis of unions reveals that the role of unions in Swedish employment relations is still pre-eminent. In Japan unions are reasonably important whilst in America unions are of secondary significance in determining industrial relations.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction
1.0 UNIONS AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS IN JAPAN
1.1 Japan’s Industrial Relations: Overview
1.2 Nature and Role of Unions
1.3 Unionisation
1.4 Activities and Functions of Unions
Effect of Unionisation
Collective Bargaining and Wage Determination
1.5 Japanese Model
1.6 Recent Trends
2.0 UNIONS AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS IN THE USA
2.1 US Industrial Relations: Overview
2.2 Nature and Role of Unions
2.3 Unionisation
2.4 Activities and Functions of Unions
Collective Bargaining and Wage Determination
Non-Wage Effects of Unionisation
2.5 Government and Political Involvement of Unions
2.6 Recent Trends
3.0 UNIONS AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS IN SWEDEN
3.1 Sweden’s Industrial Relations: Overview
3.2 Nature and Role of Unions
LO (Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions)
TCO (Central Organisation of Salaried Employees)
SACO (Confederation of Professional Associations)
3.3 Political Unionism
3.4 Activities and Functions of Unions
Effect of Unionisation
Collective Bargaining and Wage Determination
3.5 Industrial Democracy
3.6 Recent Trends
4.0 ROLE OF UNIONS: COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
4.1 Nature and Role
4.2 Origin and Structure
4.3 Centralisation
4.4 Unionisation
4.5 Union Activities
4.6 Recent Developments
Conclusion
Bibliography

INTRODUCTION
This paper examines industrial relations in Japan, the United States and Sweden. These countries were chosen to reflect enormous diversity of management cultures and practices, labour movements and government activities in the area of industrial relations in different parts of the world. The United States and Japan are the two biggest world economies, and Sweden is a participant of another world’s major economic cluster, the European Union.
Since the US, Japan and the EU are major agents of globalisation, their activities often influence each other and the rest of the world through intensifying flows of capital and labour. Employment relations too turn globally mobile; work practices and industrial arrangements become transformed as a result of such transnational co-operation.
The purpose of this paper is to explore nature, roles, structure, political involvement and recent trends associated with unions in three countries as well as endeavour to juxtapose in a comparative analysis principal unions’ characteristics.

1.0 UNIONS AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS IN JAPAN

1.1 Japan’s Industrial Relations: Overview

Just as United States and Sweden, Japan is an advanced industrialised nation. Despite recessions for most of the 90s, Japan still is the second largest economic power in the world with population of 125 million people.
Industrial relations in Japan can be typified as relatively co-operative. The IR system is founded on three tiers: enterprise unionism, lifetime employment and seniority-based wages. It is also distinguished by the widespread bonus arrangements and promotion almost exclusively from within. Job security is very high, workers in a firm are guaranteed albeit informally lifelong employment in exchange for commitment to the company. Even during adverse business conditions and mounting unemployment, under Japanese law, sacking people is complex and uneconomical which is seen in Japan very poor for public relations (Economist: 1998a).

1.2 Nature and Role of Unions
Japan’s union organisation is nearly unique in the world. Unlike in most other countries it is pivotal around enterprises not industries or crafts. Unions are ordinarily formed within limits of one firm and called enterprise (company) unions. On the upper level enterprise unions join industry federations which in turn are constituents of nation-wide political bodies such as Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).
Thus Japanese unionism can be described as a three-tier system. At the bottom employees organised into enterprise unions which are in charge of negotiating factory floor issues such as wage rates, promotion, redundancies, workplace safety, transfers and retirement. Although enterprise unions differ in some aspects, they have in common such attributes as: i) membership restricted only to regular workers, ii) both blue and white collar employees belong to the same union, iii) union officers are regular employees of the particular firm (Blanpain et al: 1983).
Industrial federations, which comprised of enterprise unions represent a corresponding industry. They above all focus on such issues as increasing wages across-the-board. Federations play a key role in determining agenda and decision making in industry speaking via enterprise unions. In other words the process of negotiating depends on federations rather than on company unions. It is mainly due to the competitive nature of enterprise unions since they represent fiercely competing firms of the same industry. Federations serve as a kind of informal industrial self-regulating body which creates a similarity of level playing fields. For instance, after informal negotiations with management and unions across firms in the industry, the federation makes decision of an average pay increase (Koike: 1988).
Nation-wide organisations e.g. Rengo, Domei (Japanese Confederation of Labour), Zenmin Rokyo (Japanese Private Sector Trade Union Council), are responsible for negotiations with government officials and pursue their own political objectives.

1.3 Unionisation
The level of unionisation is still relatively high despite continuous decline in membership (largely an international phenomenon). In absolute terms Japan’s union membership is second in the non-communist world: 12.5 million in 1996 with total number of unions at 70 700 (Kuwahara: 1998).
In 1995 75.5% of large firms in manufacturing and 41.5% of medium firms were unionised against 89.3% and 44.9% in 1991 respectively. However, the union density is more or less stable: in the manufacturing sector 75% in 1995 and 72.8% in 1991 for large firms, the figures for medium companies are 68.3% and 67.3% respectively (Benson: 1998). Drop in unionisation is largely attributable to the failure of unions to attract members from new firms (rather than because of decline in the existing ones) due to employees’ low expectations of unions. Workers seem not motivated by the ‘voice’ effect alone (Benson: 1998).
The issue is also exacerbated by the fact that a large and increasing number of part-time and temporary workers do not belong to company unions making it hard for unions to grow in the era of ‘casualisation’ of labour markets (Marshall, Briggs: 1989).

1.4 Activities and Functions of Unions

Effect of Unionisation
Unlike in the US, in Japan there is practically no wage differential associated with membership in unions. Unions have to adopt other strategies in order to attract new recruits such as claiming to be the ‘voice’ of workers. However, belonging to the ‘voice’ per se does not bring serious tangible benefits for workers, as unions are less likely to defend interests of most workers. Today, unions are less pro-worker but more a political force on a federations level. According to Wever (1997), thanks to the fact that unions are enterprise based, any rise in membership brings little salience for an individual union compared with other developed nations (Wever: 1997). Ordinary union members do not have significant involvement in an organisation or influence on senior members of the union who are motivated by political considerations.

Collective Bargaining and Wage Determination
Since mid 50s the wage has been usually determined during spring months in the process known Shunto (‘springtime offensive’) when unions lobby pay increases. However, on a single firm level any argument over wage rise is restricted, since membership in enterprise unions assumes commitment to the firm. Under stiff competition such a clash is constrained because unilateral rise in the wage bill would undermine financial standing of a firm and therefore its competitiveness. This forced unions to join in supra-enterprise organisations which capable of meeting demands of pay rise across the industry. (Sumiya: 1981). However, in 90s the relative importance of Shunto has diminished, the bargaining process became more confined to the enterprise level thanks to widening heterogeneity of companies (varying profitability, turnovers etc.) within industry (Kuwahara: 1998).

1.5 Japanese Model
Although Japan has its share of conflicts between management and labour, strikes occurrence has been very little in recent years. Unions interact with employees on a joint consultation basis seeking for a consensus rather than pressing on with each other’s goals (Florida, Kenney: 1991). It along with other factors is referred to the Japanese Model of industrial relations. The model assumes that a single trade union is recognised as a party with exclusive bargaining power, negotiations are focused on eliminating strikes (‘no-strike deal’), all workers have rights to participate in arbitration while management reserves rights of work organisation (Burchill: 1997).
This model is widely practised in subsidiaries of Japanese companies all over the world, including US and Europe.

1.6 Recent Trends
As union membership has been steadily declining in the past decades some changes have occurred in roles and activities of unions. The number of meetings between employers and union members has plunged especially in medium size companies, though trend was observed in large firms too. However, bargaining over management issues, personnel grievances and job assignments is on the rise suggesting that despite relative job security, grievances of employees increased. In large firms, managers report worsening relationships with unions. The number of managers who regard unions as counter-productive has soared fourfold from 1991 to 1995 (Benson: 1998). The primary cause of that is general deterioration of economic conditions in 1990s. Currently, Japan is in recession, the GDP is expected to shrink in 1999 by 2.2%. Unemployment is at 4.4% and rising, a huge figure for Japan which used to have jobless rate of average 2.5% in 1980s and below 2% in 1970s (Ross et al: 1998).
Union federations are lobbying government for creating more jobs and developing more efficient schemes for post-retrenchment adjustment. For instance, Rengo alongside with Nikkeiren (Japan Federation of Employers’ Association) came out with such initiatives as using shed labour in municipal cleaning services and working as instructors and ‘life’ counsellors at schools (Economist: 1999a).

2.0 UNIONS AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES

2.1 US Industrial Relations: Overview

The United States is one of the most developed industrialised nations in the world with population of 260 million. The US capitalist, competitive market economy is the main force affecting the country’s system of employment relations. The relationship between unions and companies is described as adversarial (Miller: 1997) and anti-unionism is said to be profoundly intrinsic in the culture of American business (Grosby: 1992). Unions’ goals are primarily economic in nature, exemplifying ‘bread and butter unionism’. Employer organisations are not very active and never engage in all manifestations of employment relations (Wheeler: 1998). Currently, the American labour movement is rapidly changing, and academics forecast various outcomes.

2.2 Nature and Role of Unions
The American labour movement is organised rather liberally in contrast with union systems in other developed countries, for example Sweden or Japan. The American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) is a central federation that consists of national unions and unites between 85 and 90 per cent of union members in the country. ‘The AFL-CIO serves as the chief political and public relations voice for the American labour movement, settles jurisdictional disputes among its members, enforces practices and policies against racial and sex discrimination, and is American labour’s main link to the international labour movement’ 1. Yet national unions are the most influential players in the country’s labour movement. They have control over strike funds and the fundamental right of collective bargaining (Wheeler: 1998). Local unions are in charge of the routine work: they negotiate and bargain terms of new agreements, carry out strikes and manage social activities between union members.
Similar to other countries, the place where collective bargaining takes place is increasingly moving from nation- or industry-wide level to workplace level (Katz: 1993).
Nowadays, most of collective bargaining is conducted at the firm level which now became an ordinariness in manufacturing sector. Despite presence of national agreements (e.g. in the automotive industry) there could be still large space for divergence on a local level (Wheeler: 1998).

2.3 Unionisation
US union membership is declining, and experts make contradicting forecasts and find various explanations for such a dramatic change. Presently, total union membership is only about 15 per cent of the country’s workforce. This constitutes just around 20 per cent of the union membership figure for 1983. In the private sector, only 11 per cent of employees are organised in unions and the figure is similar to that of the 1920s (US BLS: 1997).
According to Voos (1994) there are two basic reasons for the union density decrease.
First reason is the competitive economic environment that emphasises importance of labour costs reduction. And the second, American labour laws (unlike in other countries, say Japan or Sweden) give employers full rights to resist unionisation.
Therefore, faced with rapidly changing markets, technological developments and increasing interconnectedness of the global economy, unions leaders have to deal with numerous issues of company competitiveness, job security, adequate wages to provide maximum benefits for their members (Miller: 1997).

2.4 Activities and Functions of Unions
The goals of American unions are said to be ‘pure and simple’, that is most commonly they debate with employers over higher pays and better hours and conditions of work. They are not interested in company management. In this regard, ‘treaties with the boss’ are common when unions negotiate and bargain over the issues that are most important to their members and, in exchange for employer concessions, they promise not to strike (Wheeler: 1998).
According to a recent survey, when asked about top priorities of unions’ activity 41% of employees in the sample have chosen pay rise, 22% reported winning greater respect and fair treatment and 14% favoured gaining more influence on decisions in workplaces (Voos: 1997).

Collective Bargaining and Wage Determination
Wage determination, improvements in hours and work conditions have always been and still are the primary activities of American unions. Also, there is a growing interest of unions to cooperate with management in order to increase ‘worker feelings of self-worth’ (Perlman: 1970).
One study has found that in US wages are influenced by unions greater than in other developed countries. In other words, US unionism produces greater union vs. non-union wage differentials than unionism in other countries especially Japan, where such a gap is almost non-existent. The large union wage effect in the country gives a very good reason for employers to resist unionisation. It also is one of possible explanations of why union membership falls more in the United States than in some nations, notably Sweden (Blanchflower: 1992).

Non-Wage Effects of Unionisation
Congruous with the large union wage differential in the US, there are some data available which suggests that unionisation causes a decline in the private sector. This may be explained by unions playing a great role in raising demand for public services (Blanchflower: 1992). However, there are several counter-arguments in relation to the above. Besides, there is evidence to suggest that fringe benefits, especially pension benefits increase dramatically in unionised settings (Blanchflower: 1992).

2.5 Government and Political Involvement of Unions
American government’s three main functions include regulating terms and conditions of employment, provision of regulations for organised labour-management relations, and operating as employer (Wheeler: 1998).
Along with the function of collective bargaining, American unions join the country’s political arena as well. The AFL-CIO and other similar organisations often participate actively in political campaigns by providing substantial financial funds. The purpose of this political involvement is allied with unions’ economic goals, and attempts to boost efficacy of collective bargaining by electing officials that favour organised labour movement. In Japan, and eminently in Sweden, political interests of unions are far more extensive.
For the past ten years, the AFL-CIO has tended to identify itself with the Democrats political party. However, the union movement has not gone far enough to create a labour party (Wheeler: 1998).
Additionally, legislation projects on issues like civil rights, minimum wages, plant-closing notice generally gain support of the labour movement.

2.6 Recent Trends
According to some, current decrease in unions’ ability to raise competition will detract members because, in fact, there is no demand in today’s labour society for organising. However, a counter-argument is that the labour movement has yet a lot to offer not just in the sense of employee economic representation, but also by providing other traditional representation services (Voos: 1997).
Another sign of future unions survival and development is that the labour market has been relatively tight in the decade, and this is expected to continue (Grosby: 1992). Miller (1997) predicts that ‘the blending of traditional, adversarial collective bargaining with participative activities would produce a significantly different industrial relations system, a system of co-management. The resulting system , confrontation surrounded by co-operation, would be far more appealing to the bulk of moderate, white-collar workers than is the current industrial relations system’ 1. Increased global competition makes the economic health of the firm of the highest importance to all employees. Maintaining co-operative environment brings greater job security and more long-term benefits for workers. This is a momentous transformation in attitude of the US labour movement (Miller: 1997).

3.0 UNIONS AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS IN SWEDEN

3.1 Sweden’s Industrial Relations: Overview

Sweden is an advanced industrialised country, a member of the European Union and the largest of Scandinavian nations (8.8 million people). Swedish model of industrial relations belongs to the Scandinavian model which like the Japanese system can be described co-operative as opposed to the US one.
This country is identified as the one with extraordinarily strong power of unions which play dominant role as economic institutions (Marshall, Briggs: 1989). Sweden has developed what is called industrial democracy and a very profound social welfare state.
Industrial relations in Sweden have three most distinct traits: the strength and high influence of trade unions, serious industrial disputes almost non-existent, industrial relations are carried with little or no participation from government i.e. by means of negotiations rather than legislation.
Although some analysts regard this system as a model one, other argue that it hinders economic growth. Today Sweden is the fifteenth richest country whereas 20 years ago it was fifth. Unemployment now is much higher (6.9% in 1998, 10% in 1996) than was in 1980s (in 1989 jobless rate was at 1.6%). In contrast with other developed nations (including US and Japan), where union membership and importance fade, Sweden still has 90% of all workers in unions, the highest ratio in the developed world (Economist: 1999b).

3.2 Nature and Role of Unions
Unlike in US where unions are organised on industrial basis and Japan where they are enterprise based, Swedish unions are divided into three federations: LO (Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions) a union of blue-collar and clerical workers in both public and private sectors; TCO (Central Organisation of Salaried Employees) which unites white-collar employees; and the professionals’ league SACO (Confederation of Professional Associations). Inside federations, unions are formed along industrial and occupational lines. Swedish unionism to the contrary of American’s is highly centralised: collective bargaining over such issues as wages is conducted on a federation level. However, since recent years there is a trend of decentralisation and toward greater independence of an individual union (Kuruvilla et al: 1993). This tendency is a part of a more complex process of unions restructuring caused by technological change, altering organisational structure of enterprises and growing dissatisfaction of members over unions activities (Abrahamsson: 1993).

LO (Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions)
LO, a major union conglomerate, encompasses 20 industrial unions and has membership of over 2 million people (about a quarter of the entire Sweden’s population). The federation is highly centralised and possesses significant power over individual unions. It has authority to ensure that a willing worker can join a union, prescribes structural organisation and boundaries within and between unions. It is also responsible for dealings with Swedish Employers’ Confederation (SAF) on broad economic issues (Kennedy: 1980).

TCO (Central Organisation of Salaried Employees)
This organisation represents salaried (white-collar) employees in both private and public sectors. It consists of 19 unions with membership of 1.3 million people. Organisation is substantially less centralised than LO. Its main activities are centred on training and discussions with government over a broad socio-economic agenda. Unions within TCO are organised predominantly (75% of members) on industrial basis (i.e. they comprise all white-collar employers of a firm). The remainder is organised according to occupational lines. Collective bargaining on behalf of TCO member unions is conducted separately for private and public sectors through two specially designed associations: PTK and TCO-OF respectively (Hammarstrom, Nilsson: 1998).

SACO (Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations)
SACO represents those professionals with academic degrees according to which they are split into unions (e.g. doctors, teachers, pharmacists). It consists of 25 unions and accounts 385,000 members. Like in TCO, collective bargaining is done via cartels, separately for state and municipal government sectors (Hammarstrom, Nilsson: 1998).
Since 1973, employees who are members of SACO in private sector combine their collective bargaining efforts together with TCO private sector workers in PTK (Private Salaried Employees’ Association) (Kennedy: 1980).

3. 3 Political Unionism
Swedish unions exert substantial political power. Apart from usual topics of wage determination, work safety regulations and the like, Swedish unions also participate in activities of a wider social and political character. For instance, they take responsibility for unemployment insurance. That partly explains Sweden’s high unionisation figures: both employed and unemployed are connected to unions (Sussens-Messerer: 1998).
This is a contrast to unions in US and Japan, which primarily lay stress on business topics, i.e. exemplify the branch of business unionism, whilst Scandinavian unions often referred to political unionism. A prominent example of political unionism is Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, an affiliate of LO which has over 600,000 members. Along with involvement in debating issues of income distribution and work practices, it is vigorously engaged in promoting a ‘life reform’, stressing the importance of entrenching gender equality not only in workplace, but in all spheres of life. Swedish unions also fiercely defend welfare state by resisting dissemination of economic liberalism (Higgins: 1996).

3.4 Activities of Unions

Effect of Unionisation
Known as Clubs, workplace organisations have a responsibility to ensure operation of national contracts at the local level. They also deal with disagreements between employers and employees. Clubs act as agents of workers, they have an exclusive access to company information and power to delay work if they consider certain practices unsafe (Berggren: 1995). Since 1970s, unions are increasingly concerned with problems like quality of work and work environment. They, aided by professionals frequently conduct various surveys and studies aimed at measuring levels of exhaustion at work and experiences of strain. Unions, also, initiate different pay systems such as piece-rate and fixed wages (Korpi: 1981).
Among other union activities, in Sweden the main labour confederation controls a substantial share of union strike funds. Additionally, unions play an important role at facilitating plant closures and dealing with redundant members.

Collective Bargaining and Wage Determination
Wage negotiations often take place between unions and employer organisations. Unions then attempt to turn negotiated wage settlements into national economic policies by making arrangements with government and employer confederations (Blanchflower: 1992).
Wages may be negotiated on any of three levels of the country’s bargaining system (the confederation level being the most common). In the wage setting discussion, a substantial amount of attention is given to the very common in Sweden issue of the wage drift (i.e. the gap between centrally negotiated wage increases and actual changes in earnings). Several causes of the wage drift include structural changes occurring in the workplace, rationalisation and increased productivity (Korpi: 1981). Typically wage drift varied from 25% to 50% of the pay rise which had been centrally established (Hammarstrom, Nilssen: 1998). Unions adopt a strategy aimed at reducing wage disparity known as ‘solidaristic bargaining’ (Wallerstein: 1997).

3.5 Industrial Democracy
Sweden has long been renowned as the country among the first to raise the issue of industrial democracy. In relation to the issue, there are two main points of discussion: firstly, work organisation and the power workers have over their jobs. Secondly, the degree to which unions influence top management through the mechanism of collective bargaining and representation on company boards (Schmidt: 1976; Brulin: 1995). Furthermore, union strategy of industrial democracy stresses such problems as health and safety at work.
The government responded to union demands by passing Act On Co-Determination At Work, 1976. The legislation states that management should be a joint effort by capital and labour, that is managers and union representatives (Hammarstrom: 1998).

3.6 Recent Trends
In discussing recent tendencies in the Swedish IR system, the main point of the argument is decentralisation of the wage setting and the collective bargaining in general. According to Wallerstein (1997) important changes in the workplace are those of occupational structure, production and increased economic integration. Also, it is suggested that decision on levels of bargaining is influenced by the rise of ‘diversified quality production’ and ‘flexible specialisation’. Most academics agree that although the level of wage setting differs in every round of bargaining (increasingly decentralised as strength of worker confederations weakens), issues like advancement of new technology, health, safety and working time arrangements, are with growing incidence determined inside firms or factories (Wallerstein: 1997).

4.0 ROLE OF UNIONS: COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
4.1 Nature and Role


The nature, structure and role of unions in the US, Sweden and Japan differ quite remarkably. In United States, with its most liberal approach of three examined nations toward economic management and industrial relations unions have relatively little importance and are not highly regarded. Management is the primary agent of employment relations with unions and government occupying secondary positions.
To the contrary, unions in Sweden are immensely important and have strong popular support, not only in employment relations, but also in other aspects of life. The sophisticated labour political movement is a distinct feature in Sweden. Unions are also influential in Japan, though not as much as in Sweden. In Japan unions engage in politics but the process is centred on objectives of unions’ top officials who use unions as a powerbase of political parties whereas in Sweden unions are more representative of ordinary members. In the United States, unions retain relatively low socio-political importance focusing primarily on practical workplace objectives such as wage determination, amount of working hours etc. Their domain is business unionism as opposed to Sweden’s political unionism. There are also some traits of political unionism in Japan, trade unions shift their focus from narrow traditional questions of workplace organisation (wages, hours) to more general economic and social issues ranging from influence on financial decisions to strive towards stronger solidarity amongst unions (Marshall, Briggs: 1989). They also try to solve problems of unemployment, ageing population and overall economic stagnation (Economist: 1999a).

4.2 Origin and Structure
In terms of structure and origin too, unions do not greatly resemble. Japanese employees organisations are enterprise-based, i.e. represent specific firm within the industry. Company unions form industry federations which in turn join in nation-wide political formations. In the United States unions are chiefly industry based (e.g. United Automotive Workers). Most US unions belong to AFL-CIO and other co-ordinating associations, which take part in collective bargaining concerning workplace practices. In Sweden, unions are organised in three federations: LO, TCO and SACO according whether union encompasses blue-collar (LO), white-collar (TCO) or professional workers with academic education (SACO). Within each federation unions are organised either on industrial basis or according to occupational lines.

4.3 Centralisation
Swedish and Japanese unionism is more centralised compared to American’s. In Japan bargaining is done through industry-wide federations of unions and in Sweden in specially designed bargaining cartels. In USA, national unions conduct collective bargaining on major issues whereas day-to-day management over signing and monitoring agreements with employers is responsibility of local unions (in some cases national unions).

4.4 Unionisation
In regard to unionisation, Japan and US have relatively similar trends. In both countries, membership is declining. In the US, membership dropped from half of the workforce in 1970s to about a third in mid 1990s (Van Der Veen: 1995); density dropped by 12% in ten years to 1995. In Japan density dipped by even mightier 18 per cent : from 29 in 1985 to 24 in 1995 (Ross et al: 1998).
The decline is widely perceived as a global phenomenon. There are different reasons for that. One of them is the demise of radical left-wing labour movement in the western world associated with the fall of communism in Europe and introduction of more liberal economic policies which regard unionism detrimental to the economic growth and the main cause of high unemployment (Economist: 1997). Other reasons include falling share of manufacturing in the employment in wealthier nations, application of new technology, growing ‘casualisation’ of the labour force and diminishing rates of approval by employees of unions’ work (Worklife Report: 1997).
However, in Scandinavia, unionism is still the main force. Membership and density are more or less static: decline is marginal. It is especially true for Sweden where even nowadays 9 out of 10 workers are unionised. From 1985 to 1995 union density slipped by just 2% from 86 to 83 per cent (Ross et al: 1998).
It is largely due to the fact that unions there adopt a broader agenda and enjoy tradition of popular support. The sphere of influence is extended to promotion of egalitarianism of all sorts, from income smoothing to gender equality. Unions administer unemployment insurance, monitor health and safety issues (ILO: 1998).

4.5 Union Activities
Unions in the US and (to some extent) in Japan are of business nature and wage negotiations and other workplace- related issues are their main concerns. In contrast, Swedish unions are also mindful of making general working environment better and strengthening industrial and economic democracy.
Labour movement in the United States is characterised by frequent strikes as a major means of attaining goals by unions. Swedish organised workers practically do not resort to strikes. In Japan, negotiations between management and industrial federations after consultations with firms across the industry is a prevailing method of resolving problem of controversies.
Thus it is consequential to note that the very nature of relations between labour and management in three countries contrast; in Sweden and Japan they are co-operative whereas in America they are more adversarial.
Moreover, settlements made in the course of collective bargaining receive dissimilar reactions. In Sweden and Japan, industrial peace is valued by all parties and therefore open disrupting conflicts are shunned. As a result, hours lost to strikes are amid lowest in the world. In the US, an outcome which falls short of unions’ expectations is exuberantly contested. Last year’s dragging strikes of GM’s workers led by UAW and postal workers at UPS are evidence of that.

4.6 Recent Developments
For various reasons, in the United States and Japan rates of unions approval by workers are bending (albeit with uneven pace) downwards. Contrariwise, in Sweden unions are still in a more or less robust shape where they remain essential stakeholders in employment relations.
Notwithstanding dissimilarities, in all presented nations there’s a drift toward decentralisation of bargaining activities.
Finally, despite overall slide in union density and membership, there observed an upward inclination for union membership of employees in the public sector, one of the reasons being the universal contraction of the public sector in the capitalist world accompanied with mounting sense of job insecurity, although Sweden (and other Scandinavia) stand at large as an exception.

Conclusion
In this paper, the peculiarities of unions’ position in employment relations across Sweden, the United States and Japan were discussed. Particular emphasis was placed on examination of activities, roles and structures of unions and their role in collective bargaining in those nations. The comparative analysis shows that although there are similarities, unions in places examined differ remarkably and so do the industrial relations. Particular dissimilarities are found in nature of unions in three countries, their origin and structure, place in the national society and economy as well as in tasks and objectives of their work. Levels of union membership also vary as do methods of organisation and techniques of bargaining.
However, in the era of globalisation, when industrial relations, along with capital and labour easily cross national borders, differences become not that intense.
Collation of unions indicates that the role of unions in Swedish employment relations is still paramount. In Japan unions are reasonably important whilst in America unions are of secondary significance in shaping industrial relations.

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(C) 1999 Andrei Sidorenko, Alla Sklyarenko, University of Technology, Sydney