Bianca Föhrer

Bianca Föhrer

PhD Thesis Title: Collaboration through Education? Transnational Competence and Trade Unions’ Cross-Border Commitment.

Supervisor: Dr. Roland Erne

External Examiner: Professor Andreas Bieler, University of Nottingham


A lot has been written about cross-border labour action, and trade union education has been

acknowledged several times as an important factor to improving it. However, neither has been researched much about trade union education, nor its potentials and suitability for enhancing sustainable transborder collective action. Therefore, the thesis investigates the extent to which trade union education in Ireland, Germany and at European level fosters labour representatives’ abilities to teamwork across borders. The concept of Transnational

Competence (TC) serves as a means to assess how far workers and their representatives are facilitated to act beyond national borders. Since the original framework is insufficient for critical-emancipatory trade union education, TC is extended by a sixth competence, called

  1. Overall, the thesis aims to make a contribution to the labour revitalisation
  2. The holistic approach is applied through a three-dimensional comparative analysis

literature in particular and the general debate about the future of Social Europe.

The study builds on a ‘most different’ case design and strives for a holistic approach to which takes a cross-national, multi-level and multi-sectoral view and includes the human elements of mind, body, heart and soul. The findings of the thesis are the result of an extensive literature review and extended fieldwork. During 6 months at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) in Brussels, 3 months in Germany and the remaining time in Dublin, 47 interviews were conducted. Additional data was collected through document analysis, (non)- participant observations as well as two non-representative surveys. Innovative is the attempt to connect the structural, organisational and individual level of analysis with the view to transformative changes at all three levels. The particular focus lies on the individual since this level of analysis has been underexplored.

The thesis shows that trade union education at European level as well as in Germany and in Ireland is hardly designed to facilitate workers and their agents in transforming themselves, their organisations and the wider economic, political and social structures. Transnational educational activities at EU level and in Germany address all six transnational competences, albeit to varying degrees and qualities. With the exception of one union, educational programmes in Ireland do not have any real transnational intent.

Thus, despite their embeddedness in different national institutions and sectoral conditions, trade unions in Germany and Ireland are ‘united in diversity’ concerning their low engagement in transnational trade union education – even though German trade unions are a little further than their Irish comrades. The thesis identifies opportunities how trade union education at European and national level can be improved.




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