Handbook of Employment and Society
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Handbook of Employment and Society

Working Space

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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 21: The Multi-scalarity of Trade Union Practice

Jeremy Anderson, Paula Hamilton and Jane Wills

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21 The multi-scalarity of trade union practice Jeremy Anderson, Paula Hamilton and Jane Wills Introduction Globalisation has dramatically altered the scalar architecture of capitalism, with widereaching implications for trade unions. This chapter highlights elements of this changed architecture, such as the emergence of transnational corporations (TNCs), global cities, and new transportation nodes, which, together with the increasing fragmentation of employment relationships, present distinct geographical challenges to efforts of trade unions to organise workers. The chapter begins by exploring the limitations of contemporary forms of trade union organisation in countries like the UK, where the primary focus is on workplace organisation backed up by national union structures. We argue that although the workplace remains critical to the labour movement and its future, in itself it is an insufficient basis for trade union power. Rather, the growth of TNCs and other transnational economic practices demands that we locate the workplace in this wider spatial architecture of capital. In this context, a key imperative is developing new spatial relationships amongst unions themselves. Hence, whereas traditionally the principal focus of the trade union movement has been the relationship of workplace and national union structures, trade unions now need to develop deeper and qualitatively different relationships across national borders that boomerang (reverse) attempts by capital to gain spatial leverage over workers. In addition, the expansion of subcontracting highlights the importance of locating the ‘real’ employers at the centres of corporate power. With both of these developments, unions need to develop the capacity to affect employer...

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