Watch Mark Bergfeld's webinar presentation
Organizing, Capital Strategies & Global Agreements: The Corporatisation of Care and Trade Union Responses
On 6 October 2022 Mark Bergfeld, Director of UNICARE, provided insight into the strategic options of trade unions to confront the care crisis.
In this talk, trade unionist and labour scholar Mark Bergfeld provided a unique insight into the strategic options of trade unions to confront the care crisis. Based on his own experiences as a trade unionist at UNI Global Union – Europa, he outlined some of the ways in which trade unions have sought to renew themselves through organizing in the care sector; how trade unions have used capital strategies to leverage employers and concluded global agreements for trade union rights with multinational care companies.
The care crisis has facilitated the emergence of for-profit companies moving into the nursing home and homecare sector, aptly labelled “the corporatization of care” (Farris and Marchetti 2017). This corporatization of care throws up new opportunities and challenges for trade unions to organize new groups of workers, engage in coalition-building and establish new agreements at the national and transnational levels.
In the early 2000s, the trade union revitalization literature evidenced that worker organizing can be one strategic option for trade union renewal. In Central Eastern Europe and Southeast Europe, new trade unions have been founded or old post-communist trade unions have sought to renew themselves by focusing on the emerging private care sector. At the same time, an Americanization of industrial relations – union-busting; low union density; lack of collective bargaining - has led to an emergence of worker organizing approaches. Drawing on his experiences, Bergfeld outlined some of the challenges in taking on the corporatization of care through worker organizing on its own.
This corporatization of care also encompasses a “financialization” (Horton, 2017) and a separation between ownership and management. For the most part, scholars have responded by engaging in developing unions’ associational power through community organizing or social justice unionism. This however doesn’t acknowledge another strand of literature that deals with how trade unions in other sectors have engaged with institutional investors, such as asset management companies and pension funds to advance their goals (Bronfenbrenner & Juravich, 2000; Jacoby 2021). The corporatization of care and trade unions’ recent practices offer new insights into how unions can develop leverage in a financialized environment.
While the majority of care provision remains in the hand of local or regional authorities, non-profit providers or small and medium-sized enterprises, some multinational companies have emerged. Despite low union density and lack of collective bargaining, these highly-financialised companies become are at risk in various ways, unlike traditional care providers. How have trade unions engaged with these companies and to what extent can this engagement facilitate worker organizing as well as overcoming the care crisis?
Mark Bergfeld is the Director of UNICARE at UNI Global Union – Europa. In his role, he develops and coordinates trade union activities in the care sector at the EU level; oversees several organizing campaigns in Central Eastern and Southeastern Europe and engages with institutional investors in the nursing home sector. He has been part of organizing new unions and negotiating the global agreement on trade union rights with the multinational care company Orpea. He previously worked as a trade union organizer on various union organizing drives and campaigns in Germany, the UK and the USA. He holds a PhD in Business and Management from Queen Mary University of London, UK. He has written on precarious work, trade union organizing and migrant labour for academic publications and popular media outlets. He tweets @mdbergfeld.