chapter  9
19 Pages

Why do Social Democratic parties change employment policy positions?

A comparison of Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom
ByMonika Feigl-Heihs

As unemployment became a mass phenomenon one can be interested in the question of how Social Democratic parties in various countries have dealt with that problem since the late 1970s. The chapter examines the period of the 1980s and 1990s when the employment positions of three Social Democratic parties, the Social Democrats in Germany (SPD), the British Labour Party and the Austrian Social Democrats (SPÖ) changed decisively. In the first part programmatic positions rather than actual policies are analysed as the SPD and the Labour Party were not in office until the late 1990s. In contrast, the SPÖ was the leading party in government from 1970 to 2000, building a coalition government in the mid 1980s with the FPÖ and later with the ÖVP. Therefore I refer to the party manifestos representing the policy premises of the party as a whole. Although party manifestos are often estimated as being without relevance for the political behaviour of parties, several studies have demonstrated that they are strongly related (Ginsberg 1982; Rallings 1987). The analysis of the

changing employment policy concepts of the SPÖ, the SPD, and the Labour Party will show that all three parties replaced the Keynesian macro-economic approach by supply-side policy and at the same time strengthening the importance of active labour market measures. This major change breaking with traditional Social Democratic tradition took place at different points in time in the three parties.