EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life


In the industrial relations field, articulation refers to the way in which different tiers in a multilevel governance system are linked. The term has also been used in relation to collective bargaining structures as well as social partners’ organisations.

An articulated collective bargaining structure, for example, is one in which there are vertical relations linking units in the bargaining system, with the aim of guaranteeing a degree of coordination and coherence between them. Articulation therefore implies that the different bargaining levels – and, in particular, the sector and company levels – each have some functional specialisation. Hence it is close to the notion of organised decentralisation, though in the case of articulation, it does not involve a top-down process. Moreover, articulation partly overlaps with the notion of collective bargaining coordination. However, the two differ in some important aspects. For example, while coordination has both a vertical (multilevel) and a horizontal dimension, articulation refers only to vertical relations. Equally, applied to the EU multilevel system, articulation is also used to describe the relationships between the national and EU-level social dialogue structures.

Articulated organisations

The term ‘articulation’ has also been used in relation to the internal characteristics of trade unions and employer organisations. In his 1994 book Industrial relations and European state traditions, Crouch defines an articulated organisation as ‘one in which strong relations of interdependence bind different vertical levels such that the actions of the centre are frequently predicated on securing the consent of lower levels’. According to this view, an articulated organisation is one in which the lower levels of an organisation comply with what has been negotiated at a higher level. However, articulation also refers to the existence of mechanisms whereby the views and opinions of lower levels in the organisation are taken into consideration by higher levels, which also gives it a democratic dimension. Articulated organisations would thus involve linkages between units, allowing for lower level compliance as well as guaranteeing their voice.

See also: collective bargaining; coordination of collective bargaining; EU system of industrial relations; social dialogue

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