Doctoral studies

Doctoral thesis outlines how trade unions can reinvent themselves

Kairit Kall, a doctoral candidate at Tallinn University’s School of Governance, Law and Society, has defended her dissertation, which investigates how radical changes take place within trade unions and the factors favouring and hindering such changes.


The dissertation was designed to determine what led to the creation and development of the radically innovative, project-based, long-term initiative known as the Baltic Organisation Academy (BOA), which was born from collaboration between Estonian and Nordic trade unions and which is centred on customer service and partnerships. The purpose of BOA is to implement campaigns in Estonian (and later also Latvian and Lithuanian) workplaces that are based on an organisational model, supported by financial and strategical resources from the Nordic countries.

Kall explained that BOA is a rare case of radical innovation within trade unions (in particular as it represents long-term cooperation between trade unions in several different countries) and that the trade unions are having to surmount a great many barriers in order to achieve it. In her dissertation, she created an analytical model capable of describing and explaining the processes via which trade unions can achieve directional change and then applied this model to BOA Estonia.

Kall argues in her dissertation that innovation, especially of the radical kind, cannot be viewed as simply a reaction to changes in the environment, where traditional functions are no longer seen as effective and lead to trying out something new. If that were the case, Estonian trade unions should have reinvented themselves a long time ago, the author says.

“Those involved have to frame innovation in a convincing way and consistently promote it for it to gain ground and take hold,” Kall explained.

The example of BOA’s transnational organisation shows that in the Estonian context, where the resources available to trade unions are very limited, it is the meaningful processes created by skilled and motivated activists that allow for radical changes in direction. In our modern, global economy, Kall says, trade unions can overcome country-centric problems, the tendency to maintain organisations and diminishing resources.

BOA and its organisational campaigns have brought about both strategic and to some extent also identity-related changes in Estonia’s trade union movements. “The multi-national organisational project of BOA does have its limitations, especially in its project-based nature, small scale and how company-centric it is,” Kall admits.

Kall’s dissertation is the first academic study to focus on the Baltic Organisation Academy and to look at Estonia’s collective employment relationships from a multi-national perspective.

The title of Kall’s dissertation is ‘Fighting marginalization with innovation: turn to transnational organizing by private sector trade unions in post-2008 Estonia’. The public defence of the dissertation took place on Tuesday 25 August simultaneously in Tallinn and at Jyväskyla University.

Supervising the dissertation were Triin Roosalu, an associate professor in sociology and senior research fellow at Tallinn University, and Professor Nathan Lillie from Jyväskyla University. Its opponents were Professor Marco Hauptmeier from Cardiff University and Jan Czarzasty, an assistant professor from the University of Warsaw. The dissertation can be accessed in TLU’s Academic Library environment ETERA.