The Role of Trade Unions and of Employees' Interests in the Shaping of a Socio-Ecological Society

Ecological problems, above all climate change, represent a central field of sociopolitical debate. The focus on technological solutions often obscures the fact that ecological issues cannot be discussed independently of social issues, as ecological issues are always also social issues, such as the distribution of income, wealth, power and life chances. However, trade unions, as key actors in the field of "social issues", play a rather minor role in the current political as well as scientific debates on socio-ecological transformation scenarios. In addition, the particular interests of workers are often not sufficiently taken into account in socio-ecological or climate policy strategies, since policies often address the societal or individual level and thus neglect the potential effectiveness of collective interest structures such as those of employees. Based on this basic assumption, the research project asks how it can be made possible to strengthen the role of trade unions in the elaboration of socio-ecological strategies and thus also incorporate the interests of workers in the actual shaping of environmental policy in general and climate policymaking in particular.

The research project aims to identify potentials for a stronger linkage of social, economic and environmental policy matters on the part of trade unions and not to persist in the frequently voiced criticism that trade unions are not active enough in environmental and climate policy. It is rather about identifying contradictions as well as institutional and political impediments that hinder the engagement of trade unions in social-ecological policy-making and, in a further step, to make visible pre-existing and possible solution strategies.

The transdisciplinary orientation of the project should enable an open exchange between trade union and scientific actors, their specific experiences and their knowledge. Thus, it was important to us that trade unions and the Chamber of Labor were already involved in the application process. This approach as a basic principle of the research project should ensure that systematic knowledge is created which can be made useful for both trade union and academia in their practice.

Project duration: 2014–2016
Project management: Univ-Prof. Dr. Ulrich Brand, Institute for Political Science, University of Vienna
Collaborators: Hubert Eichmann, Research and Consulting Center Working Environment, Beate Littig, Institute for Advanced Studies, Kathrin Niedermoser, Institute for Political Science, University of Vienna, Astrid Segert, Institute for Advanced Studies, Michael Soder, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Sigrid Stagl, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
Cooperations: Vienna Chamber of Labor, Labor Promotion Institute - Public Corporation for Research, Education and Information (AFI-IPL), Trade Union Construction-Timber, Trade Union PRO-GE, Trade Union vida, Austrian Research Foundation for International Development
Funding: The research project was funded by the Climate and Energy Fund (KLIEN).