The Loyality of Union Members:

An Empirical Analysis of Organizational Stability in the IG Metall in the German Automotive and Machine-construction Industries

"Gewerkschaftliche Mitgliedschaftsloyalität - Eine empirische Analyse der IG Metall-Mitgliederbindung in der Fahrzeugindustrie und im Maschinenbau" was published in 2008 by Kassel University Press.


(completed 2006)

German unions must deal with the problem that all employees profit from the main achievement of union activities, namely, the collective labor agreements that result from their negotiations with employers in a specific sector. Consequently, they lack a key economic argument for convincing individuals that union membership is advantageous. Nonetheless, experience has shown that the country’s unions have successfully maintained a rather stable membership base. This observation leads to the question that is at the center of this study: how do unions stabilize their memberships when economic incentives do not play a significant role? In seeking answers to this question, this research incorporated an extended perspective and explored members’ value-rational motives and inter-subjective expectations with respect to the workplace as well as economic motives. This tree-dimensional model was applied to a systematic investigation of loyalty among members of the IG Metall, one of the largest German unions.

Empirical analysis utilized representative data from a survey of 1240 members of the IG Metall who worked at the time in the German automotive and machine-construction industries. Comprehensive descriptive analysis was then used as a basis for investigating the effects of the three motives mentioned above on individuals’ tendency to become union members and on the extent of their union activities.

Results show that value-rational loyalty is of outstanding importance for the union and can thus be viewed as its main resource. The study’s main focus was ultimately to identify the factors that are relevant for the development of member loyalty. Here, one finding is especially interesting: the analysis revealed that the activities of the IG Metall’s union representatives who have been elected to works councils have considerable influence in strengthening members’ ties to their union. Moreover, the public reputation of these union functionaries also plays a significant role. A number of factors traditionally perceived as of major importance by social science research proved, in contrast, to be rather inconsequential, among them the traditional distinction between white and blue collar workers, employees’ strike experience, and family background and socialization.

For the IG Metall, the results of the study offer grounds for optimism; they demonstrate that at least this union is capable of actively reinforcing member loyalty. Pessimistic views about union membership fueled by exaggerated reports of alleged shifts in the zeitgeist must now be subject ed to critical scrutiny.