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Miguel Martínez Lucio and Stephen Mustchin

This chapter outlines a variety of debates on the nature of worker representation, especially with regard to unions. The issues of the purpose, nature, operation and changes in worker representation are an important dimension of the study of industrial relations. The chapter starts with a basic outline of competing views of labour unionism concerning whether its role within capitalist industrial relations is influential or tangential, and how. It then focuses on issues related to levels of worker representation and how it is essential to comprehend the different levels at which unions operate.

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Stephen Mustchin, Miguel Martínez Lucio, Michael Whittall, Fernando Rocha and Volker Telljohann

How trade unions and workers respond to the growing pressures they face in terms of globalization and rising levels of power among multinational corporations, firms who are increasingly producing and organising across a range of countries, has become a significant challenge. The fact remains that trade unions’ role in representing workers, regulating their terms and conditions within specific national contexts, may be undermined by the scope of multinational corporations to relocate production and services to other countries where labour costs are lower. This obviously presents a challenge to trade unions and workers more generally, whose influence has historically been bounded and constrained within and by national contexts. Nevertheless, there is an emerging system of worker representation and forms of collective agreement that are steadily organising across boundaries and engaging with multinationals on (at or on) a transnational level; their aim, to create common standards and principles across counties regarding workers’ rights (Hammer, 2005).