Research Handbook on Transnational Labour Law
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Research Handbook on Transnational Labour Law

Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock

The editors’ substantive introduction and the specially commissioned chapters in the Handbook explore the emergence of transnational labour law as a field, along with its contested contours. The expansion of traditional legal methods, such as treaties, is juxtaposed with the proliferation of contemporary alternatives such as indicators, framework agreements and consumer-led initiatives. Key international and regional institutions are studied for their coverage of such classic topics as freedom of association, equality, and sectoral labour standard-setting, as well as for the space they provide for dialogue. The volume underscores transnational labour law’s capacity to build bridges, including on migration, climate change and development.
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Chapter 2: Global organizing and domestic constraints

Ashwini Sukthankar


Despite the long history of trade unions operating across borders, unions’ global engagement reached a peak between about 2004 and 2008, only to be scaled back dramatically after companies and states mobilized to contain them. The demise of these global initiatives, launched precisely because state protections for workers were eroding, was perhaps surprisingly brought about at the level of national laws and national legal institutions and took place outside the framework of labour law. A piece published by Atleson in 2004 captures the spirit at the beginning of the age: unionists expressed tremendous optimism about the potential for global labour organizing. But US unions faced a volley of civil litigation, brought under racketeering legislation enacted in 1970, as their global campaigns were still being conceptualized. Aspirations toward building a global union were interrupted when efforts to begin building a transatlantic union, beginning in 2008, failed to materialize in a full merger. Global agreements, such as the global framework agreement, have still not produced noticeable traction on key international labour issues. Nor has mobilization and resistance in the Global South paved the way for international worker engagement. In the years since 2008, union strategies have changed sharply, becoming more attentive to domestic legal frameworks. Unions have not eschewed global engagement, but rather their approaches and claims have become more modest, and – like the companies and states that acted to contain the earlier experiments in global labour strategy – have looked beyond the realm of labour law.

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