State - Labour Relations under Authoritarian Rule: Co-optation, Cooperation, Coexistence, Contestation

How can we understand expansion and contraction of spaces where organization of labour is tolerated under authoritarian rule? Research on state-labour relations has yet to develop a theory that can account for the complexity and variations of their relations and interactions in authoritarian settings. While authoritarian regimes often meet strikes and other forms of organized labour activism with repression, on an every-day basis contestation and control take more diverse forms.

To capture how trade unions bargain with and contest state power, as well as how states ensure every-day policing of trade unions, this project analyses different types of interactions between trade unions and state actors. Breaking down the analysis of state - labour relations to individual interactions, this project disaggregates the spheres of state and labour and captures their heterogenous character and relationships through an in-depth case study of thirty years of state – labour relations in Ethiopia.

Taking negotiations around minimum wages as an entry point, the project analyses when and how trade unions have been able to place labour demands on the political agenda and when and to what extend labour demands have been legislated on an adhered to, asking: When have trade unions been able to push the issue of minimum wages against the interest of the state (contestation)? When have they pursued the minimum wage agenda without putting direct pressure on the state and operated at its distance (coexistence)? When have they cooperated with state actors to pursue the minimum wage agenda (cooperation)? And when has their minimum wage agenda become controlled by state actors (co-optation)?

Drawing on archival data going back to 1991 and semi-structured interviews will allow Camille Pellerin to (1) compare state - labour relations under different periods and levels of authoritarian rule in Ethiopia and (2) shed light on how the reduction/enlargement of civic space shape possibilities for labour activism.


Principal Investigator: Camille Louise Pellerin (Department of Government)

Period: 03/2021–03/2023

Funding: SEK 2 300 000 from Forte