Global Restructuring, Labour and the challenges for Transnational Solidarity (ed. Bieler, Lindberg, Routhledge 2011)
Autoworkers from factories in different countries in the same company create a solidarity pact to avoid being played out against each other. Textile industry workers in Asia start fighting for a common floor wage. Women workers in South Asia’s garment industry support each other against employers but also against patriarchal practices. Workers, peasants, street traders and small entrepreneurs in the city of Cali, Columbia join hands in fighting for water as a public good. Truck drivers from neighbouring countries in Europe, driving through each other’s countries, exchange membership leaflets and telephone numbers. In these, and hundreds of other cases, we witness today a broad range of organising initiatives develop, as workers (understood in a broad sense) engage with an increasingly globalised capitalist economy.
The focus of this volume is on a number of concrete cases of transnational solidarity. It provides an analysis of successful as well as failed instances of joint action across national borders by unions as well as other social movements. By focusing not on general overviews but on cases from different sectors and different parts of the world, it illustrates the diversity of challenges and the necessary variation of responses.
The study indicates that what is needed today is not simply the establishment of a union structure and a negotiation system on a level above the local and national levels. In manufacturing such a structure may certainly be helpful, but in other sectors, such as construction, transport, retail trade and other private services different types of solidarity networks may be more useful. New structures can only develop bottom-up from the local level and they will differ a lot depending on the specific context. Overall, a more fundamental rethinking of the role and functions of unions is needed. They will have to include the most exploited and underprivileged groups, such as migrants and workers in the informal sector, who often do not even have a wage contract. They need to include groups, like street traders, who do not have an employer counterpart.
Globalisation has not only led to an intensification of exploitation at the work place. Capitalist exploitation has also increasingly been extended into the sphere of social reproduction. This includes financial cut-backs, the introduction of competition principles as well as outright privatisation of traditional public sectors such as education, health services, etc. There is a strong potential for unions to develop cooperation with other social movements, most particularly but not exclusively in the sector of social reproduction.
Furthermore, unions in the North must understand and question the prevailing world order and its links to global union hierarchies. Just as unions have at national levels combined workplace based ‘pure’ union action with political struggle to transform a class society, so unions at this stage of globalisation must challenge a global class society with world-wide structures of exploitation. National trade unions will retain and develop their strength only if they are also able to develop their strategies versus capital at the global level (Ingemar Lindberg, September 2010).