Global Labor Unions
Labor unions are significant in advocating for the interests of employees in both the private and public sector. Primarily, the unions have enabled many workers to get better pay packages, work in conducive environments, and enjoy employer-provided benefits such as pension and medical covers. According to Rose et al. (2015), unions offer many benefits to people as compared to the limitation they present to the government and business. However, the growth of unions is not uniform across all nations. For instance, unions in the Global north experience some weakening that lower their effectiveness. Moreover, the use of austerity measures by some regimes curtails the work of labor unions. Based on these concerns, the development of a global labor union could be vital in managing these concerns, as it will be immune to the domestic policies of one nation. However, for such a union to exist, various considerations including the modalities of harnessing the needs of all workers across the globe have to be achieved. Therefore, this essay answers the question of ‘Is it possible to build a global labor movement? As such, it will also seek answers to why labor unions in the Global North are weakening, how the development of new industrial working class occurred in the south and challenges of workers in the global south.
Currently, the potential for developing a global labor movement exists. Ideally, the possibility is enhanced by the concept of globalization where communication across nations and movement has been eased due to advanced development in transport and technology. Consequently, it is possible for domestic trade unionist from countries around the globe to interact and come up with a structure to unite their efforts into a single movement. However, achieving this feat of coming up with a global labor movement requires various specific factors to be successful. Primarily, the domestic unions and workers from each nation need to be willing to form this movement. The strong will from individual domestic organizations will push for a unified global agenda using one movement. Another factor to consider will be harnessing the interests and demands of all workers across the globe. Ideally, this may present a significant challenge as workers’ interests and demands vary from country to country. For instance, the threshold remuneration levels demanded by workers in developing nations may be below that advocated for by employees in nations like Canada. Lastly, breaching the various political boundaries existing around the globe will also be a challenge for a single global movement.
The weakening of unions in the Global North is caused by various factors. Primarily, the shifting of industrial production from the global north to the south is one of the causing factors. For instance, many industries, since the 1980s have been closing shop in the Global North and opened it in the south. Many of them cite high production cost in the north as compared to the south (Belanger, Ainsborough, & Blackadder, 2019). According to Ness (2016), the shift in global industrial production has also caused a significant shift in foreign direct investment (FDI) to the south. The movement weakens the bargaining power of unions in the north because they have few employment opportunities, which they aspire to keep. Moreover, putting more demands on industries still in the north is feared as it could push them into moving to the Global South. Consequently, unions remain passive as a means of protecting the employment status of their members. Moreover, for private unions whose industries migrate to the south, they end up closing.
The increasing role of the finical investment in national economic development through a process called financialization has also contributed to the weakening of labor unions in the global north. Primarily, financialization reduces dependency by national governments on activities if labor to achieve economic progress. Consequently, there is less focus on ensuring that labor activities are carried out smoothly. As a result, it becomes difficult for unions to realize their objectives as governments focus on financialization through deregulation of financial markets. The concepts have been significant in the Global North due to the advances in these regions. Coupled with the expanding neoliberal model, which led to the increase in the number of banks, institutional investors, and growth of markets, regimes in the Global North have managed to shift focus from labor activities to financialization (Vachon, Wallace, & Hyde, 2016). Principally, financialization has curtailed the development of labor unions in the North as it reduces their efficiency and relevancy to workers thereby leading to declining union membership.
Free trade agreements and enhanced information communication and technology also contribute to the weakening of labor unions in the Global North. Ideally, free trade agreements eliminate barriers to business practice at the international level. Consequently, products from other nations especially the south are acquired at lower prices limiting the sale of those produced the north. The drop-down effect of this is that employees have to cope with these effects, as their unions cannot cushion them against undesired occurrences in the business environment. On the other hand, advancements in IT mean that workers can be replaced by technology. Therefore, they have to work within the provided structures to avoid losing their positions to technology. The phenomenon has occurred in the Global North, and this has left many people jobless hence reducing union membership.
The new industrial working class in the south emerged and developed due to the deindustrialization of the north leading to urbanization in the Global South. The concept occurred through a shift of various industries from the Global North to the south. For instance, traditional European and American industries such as electronics, garment, and automobiles have been relocated to the south, and they now operate from areas such as Asia, Latin American, and Africa. The movement has led to the urbanization of these southern regions due to flourishing production and export business (Ness, 2016). The increase in the industrial working class was also facilitated by rural-urban migration in the global southern regions as people from rural areas moved to urban centers to work in the growing industries. The effect of industrialization in the south due to the emergence of the new industrial working class is replicated in the statistics indicating that employment in the Global South has moved up from 50% to 80% since 1980.
The emergence of the industrial working class in the Global South has not been favorable all through. Currently, workers in the global south are facing various challenges relating to their working conditions and income levels. Ideally, the increased FID in the region has also led to high levels of oppression and exploitation of many industrial workers (Ness, 2016). Moreover, foreign investors own many industries. Consequently, they significantly rely on migrant workers especially in nations where independent unions do not exist. Consequently, such workers rarely strike even if they are oppressed. Moreover, many southern workers are kept on temporary contracts, which attract low wages.
The primary challenge limiting the southern workers’ efforts to improve their income levels is the low bargaining power of workers as compared to the high bargaining power of employers. Primarily, many unemployed individuals in most southern nations make it possible to replace those in employment in case their employers cannot meet the demands. The approach allows employers to set all conditions for workers. On the other hand, achieving a conducive working environment remains a challenge because of the low efficiency of labor unions in the global south. Ideally, most southern nations compete for capital and in turn weaken their labor unions. Moreover, many workers feel that unions do not represent them effectively especially those that are not in urban centers (Ross et al., 2015). For instance, Vavi (2019) states that most South African workers despise their unions since they do not see feel their representation. A proper example used by many workers in the nation is the Gold Fields worker’s strike in 2018 in response to job cuts. Principally, any union or civil society did not support their efforts.
The conditions in the Global southern allows most employers to suppress workers’ unions. In this regard, they exploit the high focus on attracting capital by nations in the global south to limiting their worker’s involvement in unions. For instance, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (2019) explains that in early 2019, India used police to suppress the strike by employees of the Japanese organization at Rajasthan. As per Hui (2018), labor union suppression is also present in China where workers are not even allowed to labor unions.
Despite the challenges faced by workers in the Global South, they can inform their counterparts in the global north. Primarily, workers in the Global North need to realize that it is essential to play safe when dealing with employers. Using the approach will make the employers remain in operation instead of shifting. Currently, the continuous movement of production industries to the south is likely to lead to labor problems in the north, as most people may remain unemployed. Therefore, the workers in the north should be keen to adopt strategies that will not encourage the migration of industries to the south. Moreover, the weakening of labor unions in the south is contributing to exploitation by employers. Therefore, workers in the north should use this experience to strengthen their labor unions, which will help them fight incidences such as austerity measures.
In conclusion, it is apparent that the potential to establish a global labor movement exists. However, its formation will have to bypass the challenges of different political formation and workers’ needs across the globe. On the other hand, trade unions in the south have weakened mainly due to the relocation of most industries to the Global south thereby limiting the roles of unions. Similarly, the shift has led to the emergence of the industrial working class, as many companies exist in the south. Despite this, workers in the global south experience challenges related to low incomes and poor working conditions that have been created by the absence of active labor unions and competition for capital. However, workers in the Global North should adopt a safe strategy while dealing with employers as it is done in the global south.
Belanger, M., Ainsborough, C.M., & Blackadder, D. (2019). UNION’S fight against GM Oshawa closure continues to build – RadioLabour. Retrieved from, http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/radiolabour/2019/02/unifors-fight-against-gm-oshawa-closure-continues-build
Centre of Indian Trade Unions. (2019). CITU condemns police repression on the workers of Japanese companies at Neemrana, Rajasthan. Retrieved from, http://orders.superioressays.org/writer/earnings?tab=unpaid_orders&t_tab_optmized=1
Hui, E. (2018). Effort to form union in China meets ferocious repression. Retrieved from, https://labornotes.org/2018/09/effort-form-union-china-meets-ferocious-repression
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Ross, S., Savage, L., Black, E., & Silver, J. (2015). Building a better world: An introduction to the labor movement in Canada (3rd ed.). Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
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Vavi, Z. (2019). South Africa is facing a challenge of the legitimacy of its political and socio-economic system. A growing number of our citizens are being left behind. They are angry, and they feel they are not being represented by any political party, trade union or civil society formation. Retrieved from, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-02-21-south-africa-faces-a-crisis-of-representation-and-legitimacy/