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- PublicationDirect democracy and trade union actionThroughout much of the 20th century, the political influence of unions relied on strong ties to labour-friendly sister parties. Since the 1990s, however, the coalitions between centre-left parties and unions have deteriorated, forcing unions to consider complementary strategies in order to make their voices heard in politics. This article reviews European trade unions' use of different direct democratic channels to influence policy-making at local, national and EU levels. We distinguish direct democratic consultations initiated by the government from above (mandatory referenda and plebiscites) from direct democratic initiatives initiated by citizens from below (initiatives and facultative referenda) and discuss corresponding trade union experiences at local and national levels, namely in Germany, Italy, Ireland, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Furthermore, we are also analysing the successful right2water European Citizens Initiative (ECI) of the European Federation of Public Service Unions and the failed fair transport ECI of the European Transport Workers' Federation at EU level. Whereas unions successfully used direct democratic instruments to (1) defend social achievements or (2) as a lever to extract concessions from policy-makers, direct democracy is also challenging. Successful direct democratic campaigns require unions that are able to mobilise their own rank-and-file and to inspire larger sections of society.
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