The German model of labor relations is once again attracting significant attention, even if assessments of its health and economic consequences diverge. This review article clarifies debates about German labor relations and illuminates their significance for theorizing the political economy of wealthy democracies. It demonstrates how four different narratives about German practices from the late twentieth century continue to shape contemporary disagreements. While these older interpretations of the German model have been updated, their original assumptions about particular structural effects remain at the heart of current disputes, sometimes hiding as much as they reveal. This article argues that it is time to move beyond inherited abstractions and focus more on the contemporary agency of labor relations actors.
A Model Reconsidered
Séamus Ó Cinnéide, Jean Cushen and Fearghas Ó Gabhan
The 2005 Human Development Report recently found Ireland to be the second wealthiest country in the world (UN Development Programme). However, the same report also highlighted that Ireland was one of the countries with the greatest social inequality and with the third highest level of poverty out of the eighteen countries surveyed. The Celtic Tiger period may also be characterised in terms of the widening gap between rich and poor (Nolan, et al. 2000; UNDP 2005). Even ‘social partnership’, Ireland’s corporatist national planning arrangements, including triennial national pay agreements, is criticized for concentrating political power in the hands of small elites and organised interests (Ó Cinnéide 1998; Kirby 2002).