This article explains why the power of organised labour in the reform of Swiss and German pension regimes has faded over the last three decades. Postindustrialisation has brought two different sets of reform issues onto the pension policy agendas of Continental European welfare states: retrenchment of existing benefit levels, and the pension coverage of new, postindustrial social risk groups. Recent pension reforms increasingly combine these two types of measures in encompassing policy packages –‘modernising compromises’– in order to compensate for retrenchment with selective expansive reform elements. Continental trade unions attach a lower importance to postindustrial modernisation than do the left-wing parties – notably the Social Democrats and the Green parties. Consequently, the distance between the labour movement and the left-wing parties, as well as intra-labour heterogeneity, increase and ‘modernising compromises’ tend to divide the left and to marginalise trade unions. The empirical analysis relies on coded actor positions from eight major pension reforms between 1972 and 2003.