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Diverging Solidarity: Labor Strategies in the New Knowledge Economy

  • Christian Lyhne Ibsen and Kathleen Thelen


The transition from Fordist manufacturing to the so-called knowledge economy confronts organized labor across the advanced market economies with a new and more difficult landscape. Many scholars have suggested that the future of egalitarian capitalism depends on forging new political coalitions that bridge the interests of workers in the “new” and “old” economies. This article explores current trajectories of change in Denmark and Sweden, two countries that are still seen as embodying a more egalitarian model of capitalism. The authors show that labor unions in these countries are pursuing two quite different strategies for achieving social solidarity—the Danish aimed at equality of opportunity and the Swedish aimed at equality of outcomes. The article examines the origins of these different strategic paths and explores the distinctive distributional outcomes they have produced. The conclusion draws out the broad lessons these cases hold for the choices currently confronting labor movements throughout the advanced industrial world.



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* The authors extend special thanks to Marius Busemeyer, Axel Cronert, Jane Gingrich, Paul Marx, Georg Picot, and three anonymous reviewers for extensive and insightful commentary on previous versions of this article. In addition, they benefited tremendously from input by participants in seminars at the University of Copenhagen and Michigan State University. The authors also wish to thank the editorial team at World Politics for excellent support throughout the publication process. Christian Ibsen thanks the Danish Social Science Research Council for research funding.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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