The making of political careers: evaluating the role of trade unions in the pathway of workers to elected office in Switzerland (Funded by Ellen Rifkin Hill Fund at the Swiss Social Archives)


Réquérants : Adrian Zimmermann, Line Rennwald, André Mach

Using a historical lens, our project aims to analyse the political careers of union officials since the 1930s in Switzerland. The ambition is to shed new light on the underrepresentation of the working class in parliaments and its causes. The core of the project consists in the identification of "traditional" pathways of trade union officials to elected office and the support provided by trade unions. The project makes use of the unique documentation on the biographies of trade union officials compiled by the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (SGB), which includes information about their political mandates, educational and occupational background. One important output is the creation of a new database on Swiss trade union elites that complements the collection efforts undertaken by the Swiss Elite Observatory (OBELIS) at the University of Lausanne.

The goal of the project is threefold: 1) document the presence of trade union officials in cantonal and national parliaments and establish whether significant changes have occurred since the 1930s ; 2) analyse their career trajectories in relation to their former working-class occupations; 3) evaluate the role of trade unions in the construction of political careers. Our project expands significantly existing research, for the time dimension covered (1930-2000), the spatial dimension (cantonal and federal) and the number of unions (all unions affiliated to the SGB).

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