The International Handbook of Labour Unions

The International Handbook of Labour Unions

Responses to Neo-Liberalism

Elgar original reference

Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd

Since the 1970s, the spread of neo-liberalism across the world has radically reconfigured the relationship between unions, employers and the state. The contributors highlight that this is the major cause and effect of union decline and if there is to be any union revitalisation and return to former levels of influence, then unions need to respond in appropriate political and practical ways. Written in a clear and accessible style, the Handbook examines unions’ efforts to date in many of the major economies of the world, providing foundations for understanding each country.

Chapter 1: Labour Unionism and Neo-liberalism

Gregor Gall, Richard Hurd and Adrian Wilkinson

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, organisational behaviour, social policy and sociology, labour policy


Gregor Gall, Richard Hurd and Adrian Wilkinson INTRODUCTION The widely televised and subsequently reported upon ‘Battle of Seattle’, a large scale conflagration at the scene of the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999, has become known for the ‘unity of the Teamsters and the turtles’ in opposing neo-liberalism. This epithet signified the hitherto unknown alliance of organised labour – labour unions1 – with the environmental protection movement. To the wider public throughout the world, this must have seemed like the first major, visible act by organised labour against not just the effects (or symptoms) of neo-liberalism but also in a sense their cause too (in terms of the global institutions associated with neo-liberalism). However, there are a number of paradoxes involved here. First, while organised labour’s policy and ensuing behaviour towards neo-liberalism have developed and expanded since 1999, the ‘Battle of Seattle’ was not organised labour’s first foray into this arena. Rather, the ‘Battle of Seattle’ has a pre-history as well as a post-history and this is what we intend to explore and analyse in the chapters of this handbook. Second, and just as importantly, what is also vital to demonstrate and then explore is that such a high profile event as the ‘Battle of Seattle’ does not adequately portray the diversity of the range of labour union responses to neo-liberalism. For example, in the United States many major labour unions have willingly cooperated with the drive towards neo-liberalism, and within this context have sought to safeguard US workers’ interests to the...