Get access

Trade unions, collective bargaining and macroeconomic performance: a review


Dr Toke S. Aidt, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 9DD, UK; email:


Coordination through collective bargaining is recognised as an influential determinant of labour market outcomes and macroeconomic performance. This article provides a systematic review of the empirical literature on the subject. What emerges from the review is that it is different types and coverage of bargaining coordination, rather than cross-country variation in trade union density, that matter for economic performance. High levels of bargaining coverage tend to be associated with relatively poor economic performance, but this adverse relationship can be at least mitigated by high levels of bargaining coordination. In the absence of formal bargaining arrangements, economies often develop informal bargaining mechanisms whose effects are similar to those arising from formal bargaining provided they both operate at similar levels of coordination. The consequences of labour market coordination or absence thereof depend on the monetary policy regime as non-accommodating monetary policy can eliminate some of the adverse unemployment consequences otherwise associated with industry-level collective bargaining. Finally, bargaining coordination seems to matter most in times of rapid economic change rather than under more stable conditions. Overall, we conclude that it is the total ‘package’ of (formal and informal) labour market institutions that matters for the performance of the economy rather than unionisation as such or individual aspects of unionism.