Social democracy, unions, and pension politics in Germany and Sweden

Anderson, Karen M. and Meyer, Traute (2003) Social democracy, unions, and pension politics in Germany and Sweden. Journal of Public Policy, 23, (1), 23-54. (doi:10.1017/S0143814X03003027).


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This article investigates the politics of reforming mature, PAYG public pensions in the context of austerity. In both Sweden and Germany, the Social Democratic party leadership advocated reform in response to similar financial and demographic pressures, but the Swedish reform was more successful in correcting perceived program weaknesses and in defending social democratic values. To explain this difference in outcomes, we focus on policy legacies and the organizational and political capacities of labor movements. We argue that existing pension policies in Germany were more constraining in Germany than in Sweden, narrowing the range of politically feasible strategies. In contrast, existing pension policy in Sweden provided opportunities for 'turning vices into virtues' and for financing the transition to a new system. In addition, the narrow interests of German unions and the absence of institutionalized cooperation with the Social Democratic Party hindered reform. In contrast, the Swedish Social Democrats' bargaining position in the pension reform negotiations with the non-socialist parties was formulated with blue collar union interests in mind. The encompassing interests of Swedish unions and their close links with the Social Democrats facilitated a reform compromise.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1017/S0143814X03003027
ISSNs: 0143-814X (print)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Social Sciences > Sociology and Social Policy
ePrint ID: 33893
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 16 May 2006
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:00

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