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 16: Unions, Globalisation and Internationalism: Results and Prospects

Ronaldo Munck

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


Ronaldo Munck INTRODUCTION Unions and the workers they represent have always been part of a transnational system of labour relations. Capital has always been mobile and the capital/wage-labour relation has never been hermetically contained within national boundaries. However, until quite recently, the dominant system of industrial relations had been confined, almost exclusively within a national frame. In the 1970s, a ‘new’ international division of labour emerged as the ex-colonial countries began to industrialise and the multinational corporations became central players in the neo-colonial global system. This period saw a major flourishing of transnational labour activity and the hope, soon dashed, that union internationalism could act as a ‘countervailing power’ to that of the multinationals. Later, in the 1990s, the era of globalisation began, characterised by the hegemony of neo-liberal economics, the victory of the West in the Cold War and the rise of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization. The international union movement was unified during this phase and clearly recognised the major challenges posed by globalisation to a ‘business as usual’ approach. Today, with the unravelling of the neo-liberal consensus and its whole global development model in 2008, a new period of crisis and uncertainty opens up. Will a greater internationalism be part of this repertoire and will it be the turn of labour to be truly globalised? This chapter will explore the shifting relationship between unions, globalisation and internationalism through a structural historical approach, that is to say unions are seen to operate within a historically...

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