United against precarious working conditions? Explaining the role of trade unions in improving migrants’ working conditions in the British and German meat-processing industries
The literature has described trade unions’ positions towards both precarious workers and migrant workers as ambivalent. By studying an extreme case, the meat-processing industries in the United Kingdom and in Germany, we show how trade unions were decisive in both countries in bringing exploitative working conditions on the political agenda and in advancing policy change. However, the strategies through which trade unions contributed to this differed remarkably, highlighting different causal pathways in both countries. The British case can clearly be seen as an example of successful union revitalisation by relying on innovative strategies. In contrast, the German story exhibits a strong reliance on a more traditional approach to improving workers’ rights, which was only successful after employers were willing to improve working conditions in the sector as well. Our analysis shows that policy change can happen despite unfavourable conditions and weak actors, especially if these actors make strategic use of situational conditions.