Optimum Organization of the Labor Market in a Small Open Economy

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In most countries labor is organzed in cooperating skill-speci c unions rather than in industrial unions or separately bargaining skill-speci c unions. Within an extremely simple model of a small open economy facing imperfect competition we show that this way of organizing labor can be explained as the outcome of rational (optimizing) behavior on the part of the unions and the employers. Organizing labor in local industrial cartels (regardless of skill) or a single economy wide cartel results in a real wage level that is inappropriately low both from the point of view of labor and the society as a whole unless labor has close to monopoly power in the wage setting process. Organizing labor in local or economy wide skill-speci c unions may result in a wage level that is too high. In addition, a labor market organized in non-cooperating unions is likely to be unstable. This dilemma calls for a compromise: A cartel of cooperating, independent skill-speci c unions. The degree and the form of the cooperation depend inter alia on the bargaining power of the employer, the number of skills and competing rms and the rigidity with which the unions enforce lines of demarcations.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherDepartment of Economics. Copenhagen Business School
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 2008
SeriesWorking Paper / Department of Economics. Copenhagen Business School


  • Labor market organization
  • Unions
  • Industrial cartels
  • Demarcations

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