Handbook of Employment and Society
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Handbook of Employment and Society

Working Space

Edited by Susan McGrath-Champ, Andrew Herod and Al Rainnie

This Handbook deepens and extends the engagement between research concerned with work and employment and labour geography. It links fundamental concepts concerning the politics of place that human geographers have developed in recent years with the world of work.
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Chapter 15: Global Unions versus Global Capital: Or, the Complexity of Transnational Labour Relations

Ronaldo Munck and Peter Waterman


Ronaldo Munck and Peter Waterman Introduction The international trade union movement is now confronting the challenges that globalisation poses to workers across the world. Has labour thus ‘gone global’ to confront the new model of (global) capitalism? Should workers simply move beyond the local, regional and national scales of social contestation to take on global capitalism? To answer these fundamental questions, we need to delve into the historical and structural context of transnational labour practices before examining current dilemmas and strategic responses. Whilst the symmetry and apparently inexorable logic of global unions defending labour against global capital seems appealing, we argue instead for an approach focused on the spatial complexity of transnational labour relations. A crucial element in any understanding of this complex domain must be a sustained focus on the geographical moment of labour organising and contestation of the rule of capital. We argue for a multiscalar labour politics that struggles at all levels simultaneously and is capable of ‘jumping scales’ where necessary. In addressing these issues we initially set out a possible conceptual framework and consider, in turn, histories, structures, divisions, dilemmas and strategies in the realm of international labour relations. Frameworks A decade ago, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) declared that globalisation posed ‘the greatest challenge for unions in the 21st Century’ (ICFTU, 1997). Since then, there has been a growing mood that labour needs to ‘go global’ to confront the new more internationalised capitalist order we live under. If the global economy is...

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