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  • The Social Question in Western Europe: Past and Present

    Marcel van der Linden

    Chapter from the book: Breman, J et al. 2019. The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: A Global View.


    The Social Question is a West-European nineteenth-century “discovery.” The more general proletarianization became, the larger the number of households without forms of social security. The larger the number of unprotected proletarians, the less effective traditional methods of charitable social assistance proved to be. Two kinds of responses emerged. Firstly, self-organization of workers in mutual-aid societies. Secondly, responses from the elites, who became aware of the so-called “social question.” From the final decades of the nineteenth century until the 1950s or ‘60s an often cumulative, but unplanned process of reforms and changes resulted in a relatively wide spreading of the so-called standard employment relationship, with protective labor legislation, legalized workers’ coalitions, regulations of labor time, obligatory insurances, institutionalized collective bargaining, labor contracts with unlimited duration, full employment and high wages. From the late 1960s this development came to an end. An offensive of state and capital against the attainments and securities of the working population resulted in weakened trade unions, a declining wage share, casualization, outsourcing, subcontracting, an increase of self-employment and hidden wage labor, and cutbacks on social security. These tendencies were strengthened and accelerated by the global economic crisis since 2007-2008. The Social Question seems now on its way back.

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    van der Linden, M. 2019. The Social Question in Western Europe: Past and Present. In: Breman, J et al (eds.), The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.74.c

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    Published on July 30, 2019