Trade Unions in the Nordic Labor Market Models – Signs of Erosion? Introduction to the Special Issue




The Nordic countries are known for being small open economies with large public sectors due to universal welfare states and high living standards across occupations and education levels. This combination has recently been characterized as a balanced growth model in which both exports and internal demand (private and public) contributes to economic growth. In contrast to export-led growth models – as seen in Germany – which have starved wages and thus internal demand to increase the cost competitiveness of the export sector (Baccaro & Pontusson 2016), the Nordic countries seem to be able to do both (Alsos et al. 2019). In 2013, The Economist proclaimed Nordic countries as the world’s next ‘supermodel’ due to the emphasis on market dynamics and income security rather than job tenure – a useful blueprint for labor market policy configured for the rapid technological changes foreshadowed in the twenty-first century (Wooldridge 2013).
In more recent years, the OECD has linked the flexibility, high economic performance, and high living standards with independent collective bargaining conducted by strong social partners (OECD 2018, 2019). In all the Nordic countries, the industrial or employment relations systems are based on collective pattern bargaining involving strong trade unions and multi-employer organizations with a minimum of state intervention (Andersen et al. 2015). This system of collective bargaining is underpinned by strong local cooperation between employers and employees (Rasmussen & Høgedahl 2021).
Hence, it is evident that the performance and success of the Nordic labor market models rely on strong collective representation through trade unions and employer organizations (Høgedahl 2020). However, although employer density levels seem stable, Nordic trade unions have all to some degree seen a membership decline since the mid- 1990s. This trend begs the question: Do trade unions within the Nordic labor market models showing signs of erosion? If so – why is the union density dropping and what are the implications for the Nordic labor market models?

Author Biographies

Laust Høgedahl, Aalborg University

Associate Professor, Department of Politics & Society

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

Researcher. E-mail:

Kristin Alsos, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

Research director


Alsos, K., Nergaard K. & Van Den Heuvel, A. (2019). Collective bargaining as a tool to en- sure a living wage. Experiences from the Nordic countries. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, 25(3): 351–365. doi:

Andersen, S. K., Ibsen, C. L., Alsos, K., Nergaard, K., & Sauramo, P. (2015). Changes in wage policy and collective bargaining in the Nordic countries–comparison of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. In Van Guys, G. & Schulten, T. (eds.): Wage Bargaining under the New European Economic Governance. ETUI.

Baccaro, L., & Pontusson, J. (2016). Rethinking Comparative Political Economy: The Growth Model Perspective. Politics & Society, 44(2): 175–207. doi: 0032329216638053.

Galenson, W. (1949). Labor in Norway. Harvard University Press.

Galenson, W. (1952). The Danish System of Labor Relations. Harvard University Press. Høgedahl, L. (2020). The Danish Labour Market Model: Is the Bumblebee Still Flying? In

P. M. Christiansen, J. Elklit, & P. Nedergaard (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Danish

Politics, pp. 559–576. Oxford University Press. Oxford Handbooks.

Høgedahl, L. (2014). The Ghent effect for whom? Mapping the variations of the Ghent effect across different trade unions in Denmark. Industrial Relations Journal 45(6): 469–485.


Ibsen, F., Høgedahl, L., & Scheuer, S. (2013). Free riders: the rise of alternative unionism in

Denmark. Industrial Relations Journal, 44(5–6): 444–461. doi:


Kjellberg, A. & Ibsen, C. L. (2016). Attacks on union organizing: Reversible and irreversible

changes to the Ghent-systems in Sweden and Denmark. In Larsen, T. P. & Ilsøe, A. (eds.)

Den danske model set udefra [The Danish model – Inside Out], Copenhagen: Jurist- og

Økonomforbundets Forlag, 279–302.

Lind, J. (2004). The Restructuring of the Ghent Model in Denmark and Consequences for the

Trade Unions. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, 10(4): 621–625. doi:

Nordic journal of working life studies Volume 12 ❚ Number S8 ❚ February 2022 5

Lind, J. (2009). The end of the Ghent System as Trade Union Recruitment Machinery? Industrial Relations Journal, 40(6): 510–523. doi: 2338.2009.00543.x.

OECD (2018), OECD Employment Outlook 2018, Paris: OECD Publishing.

OECD (2019), OECD Employment Outlook 2019, Paris: OECD Publishing.

Rasmussen, E., & Høgedahl, L. (2021). Collectivism and employment relations in Denmark:

underpinning economic and social success, Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work 320–334. [31:3]. doi: 2020.1856619.

Schnabel, C. (2020), Union Membership and Collective Bargaining: Trends and Determi- nants. IZA Discussion Papers 13465, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

Shin, Y.-K. & Bockerman, P. (2019). Precarious workers’ choices about unemployment insur- ance membership after the Ghent system reform: The Finnish experience. Social Policy and Administration, 53(7): 921–938. doi:

Woolridge, Adrian (2013). ‘Northern lights: special report on the Nordic countries’, The Economist. 2/2.

Visser, J. (2019). Trade Unions in the Balance. ILO ACTRAV Working Paper. Geneva.




How to Cite

Høgedahl, L., Nergaard, K., & Alsos, K. (2022). Trade Unions in the Nordic Labor Market Models – Signs of Erosion? Introduction to the Special Issue. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 12(S8).