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ISEK - Institut für Sozialanthropologie und Empirische Kulturwissenschaft Ethnologie

Building Power. Trade Union Renewal in the Changing Swiss Construction Industry

Christopher Kelley


In the Swiss main construction trades, union organization is high and worker-employer interactions are embedded in an elaborate institutional arrangement of what is known as social partnership. Yet, despite high union membership and frequent industrial action, this collective strength has come under pressure from structural changes simultaneously threatening the working conditions of the industry. Reflecting greater processes unfolding in labor settings throughout the Western world, new forms of flexible labor are finding their way into the Swiss construction industry. Whether legal varieties such as temporary employment and subcontracting or illegal varieties such as wage-dumping or black labor, the inner-functioning of the construction economy itself is undergoing significant change. This research project explores how a Swiss trade union navigates through the often blurry institutions of social partnership and seeks to shift power relations in favor of labor in a threatening context of labor precarization.