How to sit on Two Sides of the Table? Swedish and Norwegian Unions’ Approaches to Representative Worker Participation during the 20th Century
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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- Department of Sociology 
To this day, participation rights in Sweden have been reserved for union members both on the company level and on the board level, while all employees in companies, which are covered by respective agreements and laws, have voting rights in Norway. The aim of this article is twofold: First of all, it traces this difference back in time, using historical evidence from relevant periods of the 20th century to illuminate how approaches of Swedish and Norwegian unions to representative worker participation evolved. Through the method of comparison, not only similarities and differences between the two countries but also continuities within the two union movements become apparent. It becomes clear that unions of both countries were worried about “double loyalties”, but participation was more closely and deliberately linked with membership in Sweden. This in turn points to the second aim of the article, namely to identify possible reasons for this particular difference. Why were Swedish unions apparently more worried about “free riders”? While a final explanation will not be attempted here, one possible explaining factor is that private capital concentration was higher in Sweden and that Swedish employer organizations were more powerful. Swedish unions thus might have used membership requirements with regard to participation to avoid internal splits and to protect their comparatively high unity and density. This might have helped them to confront their, in comparison with Norway, better organized adversaries. The main aim of the article, however, is the first one, namely to give a synthetical, comparative account of Swedish and Norwegian unions’ approaches to representative worker participation during the 20th century, with a main focus on voting rights.