chapter  5
24 Pages

The impact of political parties on labour relations: European post- communist democracies in comparative perspective


Parties matter. They make a difference for the performance of democracies. The structural characteristics of party systems – whether they are fragmented or concentrated, shaped by one or many societal conflicts – and the power of parties in parliaments and governments are reflected in regulative and distributive policies. Politicians usually support this claim on obvious reasons. They try to convince voters that politicians and their parties have significant impact. Most voters tend to believe this. Political scientists, however, are more reluctant to subscribe. For example they point to institutional contexts and path dependency, which define the feasibility of certain policy options. They also demonstrate that resources and functional requirements define a rather narrow corridor for the political impact of parties. Furthermore, they emphasise the importance of external variables such as world markets, regional integration, international organisations or supranational rules. Finally, they argue that politics matter differently, depending on policy field and closeness of policy decisions to the major conflicts that underlie the party system (Schmidt 1996; Pierson 2000; Huber and Stephens 2001; Korpi and Palme 2003; Castles 2004). Whilst there is little disagreement in principle that parties make a difference for the performance of democratic nations, there is substantial disagreement as to the extent to which parties matter, as well as to the time period and to the policy field. Given these qualifications, do theories about the impact of parties ‘travel’ to the new democracies in Eastern and Central European countries? Do they also have explanatory power in these

nations with their quite different contexts of party politics? This is the guiding question of this chapter. More specifically, I will provide an answer to this broad question for a policy field, for which many authors have gathered empirical support for the ‘parties matter’-hypothesis: labour relations. I will show that the causal relation between power of political parties and indicators of labour relations is not substantially different in the established and new democracies. The underlying causal argument is that left parties work by various means and mechanisms to improve the position of the lower classes and trade unions as representatives of workers’ interests. My empirical argument builds on one important aspect of causation: necessary conditions. ‘A cause is defined as necessary if it must be present for a certain outcome to occur’ (Ragin 1987: 99). For example, all democracies have more than one political party. A two-or multi-party system is a necessary condition for democracy. However, this does not imply that all nations with more than one party are always democratic. Likewise one could argue that there are no labour-friendly industrial relations without a strong left party. But this does not mean that all cases with strong left parties lead to labour-friendly industrial relations. There are many good reasons why this is so: for example, in one nation a strong and united bourgeois party is able to block reforms in favour of labour. In another nation, the pro-union policies of governing left party run aground at the constitutional court. Thinking in terms of necessary conditions might be more appropriate in comparative politics as compared to rather heroic assumptions of additive and linear effects, which underlies regression analysis as the working horse of comparative policy analysis.2