Global Unions, Local Power: The New Spirit of Transnational Labor Organizing
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McCallum, Jamie K.
[Excerpt] This book is about two parallel stories. First, it relates the account of the most aggressive campaign ever waged by a global union federation (GUF), a years-long effort of private security guard unions to organize against Group4 Securicor (G4S), the world's largest private employer after Walmart. What began as an isolated battle in the United States blossomed into a worldwide struggle for global unionism impacting hundreds of thou sands of workers from over twenty countries. But the global effort also gave rise to deep local struggles. Consequently, the narrative moves among dif ferent scales of action, from the global arena, to the national-level context, to the local union office. Throughout the campaign, workers in different places won wage increases, union recognition, benefits, an end to abusive workplace discrimination, and, most importantly, a greater degree of control over their employer's business model. In the United States, security guard union density (8 percent as of late 2012) is now slightly higher than the national private-sector average, and the campaign settlement provides the union with a dearer path to bring more workers into the fold. Rarely have global campaigns meant more than superficial changes in workers' lives-this struggle set a new standard. The second story describes a transition to a new spirit of transnational labor activism. The word "spirit" implies a shifting idea about how labor should best confront the problems posed by global capital. In a context of rising corporate power and declining or unenforceable worker rights (publicly enforceable claims), many of labor's tried and true strategies have proven wholly ineffective. In response, since the early 1970s unions have engaged in what I call "governance struggles," a panoply of strategies to subordinate the rules-based logic of private companies to democratic oversight by workers and their unions. The significance of the fight against G4S is the complex and contradictory ways in which those gains at the global level were articulated onto the local context, enhancing worker mobilization and transforming local union movements. Most global union campaigns seek to assert universal labor standards and core values within a given company. But the inability to transfer any gains to the local context has often meant that workers' lives remain unchanged. Rather than insist on the incompatibility of global and local levels of activism, the findings in this book suggest a paradox—effective global unionism requires reciprocity with local actors. The conclusions also permit cautious optimism about the prospects for authentic labor internationalism where others have asserted an overriding pessimism (see Burawoy 2010). The question therefore posed here is simple: How can global unions build local power?
The abstract, table of contents, and first twenty-five pages are published with permission from the Cornell University Press. For ordering information, please visit the Cornell University Press at http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/.
labor movement; organizing; unions; activism