With Workers´ Participation through the Crisis and beyond? Strategies of German Carmakers to cope with the impact of the financial crisis

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2011)


2008–2009 economic crisis, employment relationship


As indicated by the huge public attention in the media and underlined by recent scientific publications, between 2008 and 2010 the world financial crisis has undoubtedly been the central impact, shaping the social reality of business models and labour regulation all across the globe. Since the automotive industry does not stand out as an exception in this matter, different ways of ‘steering through the turbulences’ caused by the economic crisis have been established by the various car-manufacturers. 
In our presentation we would like to comparatively highlight the strategies of coping with the economic and social impact of the crisis, pursued by two major German carmakers – Volkswagen and BMW. By differentiating company policies into the four dimensions ‘company structure and profit strategy’ (1), the product structure and (international) market strategy (2), the production system (3), and the labour relations and work policy (4), we would like to give an overview about the initiatives taken by the companies to overcome the economic hardships induced by the crisis. Drawing on the analysis of extensive footage of recent developments in the two companies, a summary of the major trends will serve as the basis for the second goal of the presentation.
We will argue that the basis for this comparatively successful way to overcome the crisis, taken by the German automotive industry, can only be understood by drawing on a complex interplay between institutional factors and a dialogic constellation of labour regulation. Based on an understanding of companies as ‘natural systems’ subjected to permanent negotiation between the status groups involved (in our case these are: unions, management, works councils) this interplay constitutes the praxis of the typical German model of workers´ participation.

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