Mirko Herberg

Trade Unions in Transformation 4.0 - How trade unions worldwide are confronting the new world of work

Our project "Trade Unions in Transformation 4.0" has investigated how trade unions worldwide are confronting the new digital world of work. The final report shows that unions and grassroots initiatives need to pool their power resources to negotiate decent working conditions.

All over the world, technology is changing the world of work. In the new world of digital work, powerful transnational (digital) corporations are restructuring the power relationship between capital and labour - often to the disadvantage of workers. The trend towards informal, precarious and outsourced work is increasing, challenging the power of workers to negotiate decent working conditions.

FES is interested in the strategic responses of organised labour to these challenges. The project "Trade Unions in Transformation 4.0" has investigated how trade unions and new organisations of workers mobilise their power resources to confront the new world of work.

12 case studies from the platform economy and the "conventional" economy (automotive industry, banking sector, tech industry) from 12 countries in the Global North and South enable us to present a number of central arguments in the final report now available.

Our hypothesis that workers and their unions do have agency and use it is confirmed. In established sectors and companies where trade unions traditionally organise workers, this collective strength (organisational power) is used to negotiate the introduction of new technologies and their impacts. To this end, existing bargaining arenas and co-determination rights are combined with innovative approaches (e.g. learning factory in Bochum, robot tax in Uruguay, retraining in Romania) to negotiate solutions at company and sector level.

In information and communication technology (ICT) sector, it has been recognised that tech workers also need collective representation and, supported by smart trade union approaches, are ready to organise. YouTube, for example, has felt this. Self-organisation of YouTubers plus cooperation with IG Metall has made it possible to expand the labour dispute and enter into negotiations.

Similarly, collective protests and new types of grassroots organisations have emerged in the platform-mediated transport and delivery sector, such as Uber or Deliveroo. Grassroots initiatives enter into different kinds of cooperation with traditional trade unions to fight for recognition, better regulation and labour, health and social protection. The innovative potential of these new alliances becomes apparent when traditional unions expand their repertoire of action to include the representation of informal, bogus self-employed or precarious workers in their agenda. By doing so, the gap between the formal and informal economy can be overcome.

The project "Trade Unions in Transformation 4.0" shows impressively that organised labour is very much alive. Trade unions use established arenas to negotiate new issues. New forms of collective interest representation are emerging in the often unregulated platform economy.  When new and established organisations combine their respective power resources, workers can win decent working conditions in the new world of work.

Building workers' power in digital capitalism

Old and new labour struggles
Bonn, 2021

Download publication (280 KB, PDF-File)

Head of Project

Mirko Herberg


Blanka Balfer

+49 (0)30 26935-7493

Contact persons for specific requests


Contact Person

Mirko Herberg
Mirko Herberg
+49 30 26935-7458
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