The Influence of the Discursive Power of Unions in the Swift Re-regulation of Slaughterhouse Labour during the COVID-19 Crisis in Germany


  • Martin Seeliger University of Bremen
  • Marcel Sebastian Technical University of Dortmund



The article analyses the re-regulation of labour in the German meat industry during the COVID-19 crisis. While working and employment conditions have long been criticised with only minor results, the massive coronavirus outbreaks in German slaughterhouses led to a rapid reform of work in the meat industry. We argue that unions were able to exert influence on policy-makers based on the discursive power that they accumulated prior to COVID-19, but that they needed to adapt their framing strategies by including public health concerns to their criticism. That was possible because the outbreaks endangered local residents as well as the slaughterhouse workers, which decisively increased the pressure on policy-makers. The article contributes to the approach of discursive power resources and strategic framing by unions, and elaborates the relevance of the process of gaining discursive power over time as well as the unforeseeable changes that can dramatically increase a union’s chances of political influence.

KEYWORDS: coronavirus; COVID-19; power resources; unions; meat industry

Author Biographies

Martin Seeliger, University of Bremen

Martin Seeliger is head of the research group on “Institutional Change and Labor” and co-director of the Institute for Labour and the Economy at the University of Bremen. He is interested in European integration, the politics of international trade unionism and cultural studies. He is also one of the founding editors of the Journal of Political Sociology, which took great inspiration from the Global Labour Journal. [Email:]

Marcel Sebastian, Technical University of Dortmund

Marcel Sebastian is a postdoctoral researcher at the Chair for Environmental Sociology at the Technical University of Dortmund. His research interests include the sociology of human-animal relations, social movement studies, political sociology, historical institutionalism and environmental sociology. He is co-founder of the Group for Society and Animals Studies. [Email:]