Trade union responses to labour market activation policies are central to any assessment of their attitudes and strategies in the face of contemporary welfare state restructuring. Yet this issue has to date been the object of only limited theorization and minimal empirical investigation. We attempt to remedy this. Drawing on existing literatures in different disciplines, we first outline the theoretical grounds for predicting union opposition to or support for labour market activation measures. We then explore these competing arguments through a reconstruction and comparison of the development of union positions on labour market activation over time in two countries, France and the Netherlands. The case studies suggest that union stances on these policies are not straightforwardly determined by the structure of labour market institutions; considerations regarding the impact of activation initiatives on the role of unions in the institutions of the welfare state play a major role in mobilizing their consent or dissent
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