The European Social Dialogue in Perspective : Its future potential as an autopoietic system and lessons from the global maritime system of industrial relations

Abstract: There are three starting points for this thesis. First, there is the system of ESD, which is criticised for lacking capacity to improve the working conditions within the EU. Secondly, there is the system developed through the global ITF FOC campaign, which is considered to have capacity to improve working conditions for seafarers at a global level. Thirdly, there is the theory on self-referential autopoietic systems, which is a useful tool for analysing systems of industrial relations and their functions. The purpose of this thesis is to deepen the understanding of the function of the ESD in relation to the development of EU legislation and policy with the aim of trying to find a model for providing a holistic analysis of regulatory systems for the labour market. The research questions are: ‘How can the significant differences and similarities between the ESD and the global ITF FOC campaign be understood?’ and ‘Why is the ESD generally regarded as lacking the capacity needed for producing results that improve working conditions, while the ITF FOC is considered to have such capacity?’ The theoretical framework used for the analysis is Luhmann’s theory on autopoietic systems. Since the thesis has a normative core I have applied a methodological model that consists of a two-layer analysis at both the empirical and theoretical level. Firstly an analysis of positivistic values has been carried out and secondly an analysis of hermeneutic values. The empirical material consists of documents and texts that can be considered part of or reflecting the communication of the studied systems. The main conclusion is that whereas the ITF FOC system is a traditional system of industrial relations based on the binary code of negotiable or non-negotiable between collective actors the ESD is a system of industrial relations based on a less clear binary code of discussable or non-discussable. The ESD is also subject to less developed communicative structures that negatively affect the system’s capacity both to produce results and to secure the efficient implementation and application of these results. This makes the ESD as a system more sensitive to hermeneutic values framing the programming of structurally coupled systems causing difficulties for the ESD to challenge such hermeneutic values.