Trade Unions in Transformation 4.0

All over the world, technology is changing the world of work. In industry, new manufacturing technologies are driving more automation and pushing rationalisation. Service sectors are being transformed through the use of apps, digital platforms, Big Data and artificial intelligence.

Powerful new transnational digital companies have emerged and are beginning to shape the global economy with their strategies of "creative destruction" often undermining established labour rights.

The new world of digital work is restructuring power relations between capital and labour.

It is having a clear impact on the power of workers to negotiate decent working conditions. Organised labour is put on the defensive, as the trend towards informal, precarious and outsourced work has been intensifying. This would appear to suggest that workers' power is in decline.


Mirko Herberg
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Blanka Balfer
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The FES is interested in the strategic responses of organised labour, however. For this reason, we have undertaken to explore how trade unions and new organisations of workers are building power to confront the new world of work.

These new approaches and strategies have been elaborated in 12 case studies. The outcome of it all are a Conclusion Paper and a Short Stories-Bookletin four languages, with the most important results for readers who are in a hurry, plus the case studies and video recordings of the digital events.

All the contributions demonstrate vividly that organised labour is very much alive, using established arenas to negotiate new issues, and seeking new areas of struggle to defend or reclaim the dignity of work in an economy that is confronting them with new challenges day in, day out.

Innovation, communication and smart strategies - all based on the value of solidarity - are the critical building blocks for workers and unions to confront powerful employers and platforms and to secure wins for working people.

Our role as FES is to highlight innovations, provide inspiration, create space for dialogue and to jointly develop new strategies in our national, regional and global trade union cooperation.

Conclusion Paper

Building workers' power in digital capitalism

Old and new labour struggles
Bonn, 2021

Download publication (280 KB, PDF-File)

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 in digital capitalism.

Authors: Victoria Basualdo Hugo Dias, Mirko Herberg, Stefan Schmalz, Melisa Serrano und Kurt Vandaele

Short Stories-Booklet

Trade unions in transformation 4.0

Stories of unions confronting the new world of work
Berlin, 2021

Download publication (2,6 MB PDF-File)

If you don't have time to read all the publications but still want to find out about the keyresults, we recommend the Short Stories Booklet: in it you will find the essence of the results presented in short articles.

¿No tienes tiempo para leer todo el estudio? Ahorra tiempo y mantente informado con este resumen. Pas le temps de lire toute l'étude? Prenez ensuite le temps de lire le résumé. Não há tempo para ler todos os estudos? Então, reserve um tempo para ler a versão curta.

In industry, existing bargaining arenas are being used to help shape structural change. IG Metall has initiated company transformation processes that have strengthened workers' voices and produced innovative solutions. more

In the banking sector, trade unions are countering dramatic restructuring processes by means of collective bargaining, in which binding agreements on training and further education are agreed upon and innovative financing models for social security are being introduced. more

The tech sector is experiencing a union awakening: Workers at well established IT companies and digital corporations such as YouTube are organising and forging alliances with traditional unions to make collective bargaining possible. more

In the platform-based transport industry, a variety of forms of organisations are emerging at the grassroots level. The struggle for better pay, safety and drivers' rights is being waged in hybrid organisations, new unions and increasingly in cooperation or through mergers with "door-opening" unions. more

About the project

The "Trade Unions in Transformation 4.0" project was initiated by FES with the aim of better understanding the representation of workers' interests in digital capitalism. The project sheds light on how trade unions and new organisations of workers are mobilising their power resources to face and shape the emerging new world of work. FES wants to contribute to the strategy-building among workers and trade unions and is offering its cooperation.

The project highlights how workers and unions are shaping change in the industrial sectors, how tech workers are becoming part of the workers' movement, how transport workers are opposing the restructuring of their sector through platforms, and what digital tools and apps unions are developing to expand their power in the digital economy.

Trade Unions in Transformation

Our previous project shifts the narrative about trade unions. Moving away from the standard depiction of unions as victims of globalization, we highlight that unions do have agency and power - even as the labour movement is under attack all around the world. More information

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