• Bernhard Ebbinghaus
  • Steen Scheuer
Part of the The Societies of Europe book series (SOEU)


Denmark’s union movement was marked by the legacy of local craft traditions and a small-scale economy. Although Danish workers became highly unionized, the union movement remained fragmented into many craft and few general and industrial unions. In addition, white-collar associations for supervisors, for banking and public employees, and for professionals formed separate peak associations. Despite this organizational fragmentation, the main union confederation (LO) occupies a leading role in Danish labour relations, organizing not only the majority of manual, but also of white-collar and public sector employees. Early on, the employers’ peak association (DA) began to co-ordinate lockouts in response to local strikes. From the turn of the century onwards, voluntary basic agreements between LO and DA set the consensual rules for Danish labour relations: mutual recognition, rules for internal approval of agreements, peace obligation until due renegotiation, statutory mediation procedures, and union workplace representation. Both organizations seek self-regulation, while the state provides mainly legal backing, though governments have intervened in some instances. Since the main union movement (LO) maintained formal ties with the Social Democratic party until recently, it profited from the long period of Left-Liberal governments since the late 1920s, especially during the expansion of the welfare state since the 1930s. Union-administered, state-subsidized unemployment insurance provides an incentive for union membership, and partly explains Denmark’s remarkable level of union density as well as its increase over the 1970s, when unemployment rose. Nevertheless, the ‘Danish model’ of relatively consensual self-regulation and centralized bargaining came under increasing pressure: the failure of income policies due to inflation in the 1970s, the shift towards a Centre-Right government committed to deregulation (1982–93), and the decentralization efforts of employers.


Collective Bargaining Unemployment Insurance Union Membership Metal Metal Union Density 
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© Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Jelle Visser 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernhard Ebbinghaus
  • Steen Scheuer

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