Scaling Up? Transnational Labour Organising in Globalised Production
Volume XXXVIII • Issue 2/3 • 2022

Globalisation has led to globally interconnected production structures and the spread of global value chains and production networks. Globalised production not only influences economic development prospects, but also working conditions and wages as well as workers’ power and struggles. This special issue is dedicated to labour organising in the context of globalised production. Based on case studies from different sectors and world regions, the authors advance conceptual debates and provide empirical insights into the complexity of the politics of scale in organising efforts. The contributions go beyond trade unions, looking at different union and non-union actors and how they work together at the transnational level. They analyse power relations, structures and practices that enable or hinder (transnational) labour organising.

 

Schwerpunktredaktion: Fischer, Karin; Moe, Signe; Staritz, Cornelia

 

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Inhalt dieser Ausgabe
Hofmann, Julia

Introductory Commentary

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 5-7https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-5
  • Literatur

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Fischer,Karin; Staritz, Cornelia; Moe, Signe

Scaling Up? On the Possibilities and Limits of Transnational Labour Organising in Globalised Production

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 8-37https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-8
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

This article provides an overview of theoretical and empirical efforts to understand the multiple dimensions enabling and hindering (transnational) labour organising in the context of globalised production. It situates the contributions to this special issue in the broader debate on the role of labour and workers’ agency in global value chains and production networks. For this, it brings together chain and network approaches with labour studies in a highly productive dialogue. Focusing on labour as a transnational actor, the article further identifies different approaches of and actors within transnational organising and provides empirical insights on the complexity of the politics of scale in organising efforts. Four key issues are identified as complicating labour organising along global value chains: (i) asymmetrical power relations within organising, particularly between the global North and South, (ii) the continued importance of the local and national scale, (iii) difference and dividing lines between workers, and (iv) the red-green divide. The article argues for the importance of a multi-scalar and intersectional perspective on transnational organising beyond binaries. Such an approach recognises the key role of local alliances as well as the possibilities and limits arising from transnational organising initiatives to confront globalised capital.

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labour, transnational organising, activism, global value chains, global production networks, politics of scale

Brookes, Marissa

The Transnational Labor Alliances Database Project: Methods, Problems, and Progress

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 38-61https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-38
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

Transnational labour alliance (TLA) campaigns have been the subject of sustained scholarly inquiry for more than two decades. Nevertheless, little is known about the overall characteristics of TLA campaigns in general, in part because the full population of cases remains unknown. This article begins to fill this lacuna by introducing the Transnational Labor Alliances Database Project, an archive of primary and secondary documents and researcher-assembled case summaries created by the author over six years, with the help of over 100 undergraduate research assistants. This article explains the methodology of the project as well as several important limitations of the database in its current state. Additionally, this article provides a theoretical overview of key themes relevant to the analysis of TLAs and an empirical overview of broad trends in TLA campaigns. It makes a first step towards developing a typology of TLAs and argues that TLAs vary across at least five key dimensions: (1) who the main actors are; (2) what workers want; (3) where the campaign occurs; (4) why the TLA forms in the first place; and (5) how tactics are deployed.

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activism, database, labour, transnational, unions

Bauer, Jona; Holl, Anna

Workers’ Power through Transnational Industrial Relations Agreements? A Global Framework Agreement and the ACT Initiative in the Garment Sector

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 62-83https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-62
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

This article analyses the impact on workers’ power of two Transnational Industrial Relations Agreements (TIRAs) in the garment industry. A company-based Global Framework Agreement (GFA) is contrasted with the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) Initiative, which includes more than one lead firm and more extensive commitments. By applying a Power Resource perspective, we explore how vertical and horizontal power relations shape the implementation of both agreements, and how the agreements in turn affect those power relations. The research focuses on the implementation of the GFA and ACT in Bangladesh and Cambodia, respectively, drawing on document analysis and interviews with key stakeholders. We conclude that the GFA allows workers to pressure employers to comply with basic labour standards but also helps lead firms to better contain labour struggles and monitor their supply chain. ACT, in its design, gives unions the power to negotiate structural issues and therefore increases workers’ power to a greater extent. However, ACT has so far lacked successful implementation. While both institutional approaches have the potential to influence asymmetric power relations in the garment sector, they have not, so far, substantially changed them.

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transnational industrial relations, trade union power, global production networks, garment, social upgrading

Merk, Jeroen

Global Production Networks, Latent Power Resources and (Constrained) Collective Worker Agency: Findings from a Nike Mega-Supplier in Indonesia

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 84-107https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-84
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

This paper looks at the processes that constrain worker organising at Indonesia’s largest manufacturer, PT Nikomas-Gemilang, where 68,000 workers produce athletic footwear for brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Puma. The paper critically applies the power resource approach to understand labour relations and (barriers to) transnational worker contestation at this mega-supplier. The paper gives special attention to the power dynamics that surround the factory, including the role local elites play in undermining trade union rights. This case study casts significant doubt upon the degree of freedom of association workers enjoy at Nikomas. It argues that traditional power structures in the region where the factory is located in combination with a long history of union-busting and the existence of a legacy union has constrained the organising possibilities of the Nikomas workers. However, it also highlights a case of a successful campaign against forced overtime. This way, the article shows that even in highly globalised sectors, local context enables and limits organising possibilities.

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Wright, Erik (2000): Working-class power, capitalist-class interests, and class compromise. In: American Journal of Sociology 105 (4), 957-1002. https://doi.org/10.1086/210397


Zajak, Sabrina/Egels-Zandén, Niklas/Piper, Nicola (2017): Networks of Labour Activism: Collective Action across Asia and Beyond: An Introduction to the Debate. In: Development and Change 48 (5), 899–921. https://doi.org/10.1111/dech.12336

 

power resource approach, global production networks, Nike, mega-suppliers, trade unions, freedom of association

Engels, Bettina

The Scale to be? Strategic Alliances in Cotton Production in Burkina Faso

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 108-129https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-108
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

This paper explores the factors that impact what scales are useful for labour organising and struggle. It argues that besides transnational networking and campaigns, intra- and inter-class solidarity and collaboration at the local and national scale are central to claim workers’ rights and needs, even in highly transnationalised sectors. In a case study on the cotton sector in Burkina Faso, it is analysed how various groups along the chain of production organise and mobilise to raise their claims. Collaboration between the various groups on the local and national scale turns out to be more important than transnational campaigning. However, in the light of the embeddedness of the sector in global production networks, transnational networking might still be a promising strategy but comes along with substantial challenges that are distinct for various actors. The paper discusses possible obstacles for transnational networking for the smallholders and informal and casual workers, and shows how local and national cooperation may be a prerequisite for such approaches.

Armano, Emiliana/Bove, Arianna/Murgia, Annalisa (eds., 2017): Mapping Precariousness, Labour Insecurity and Uncertain Livelihoods: Subjectivities and Resistance. London/New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315593838


Arnold, Dennis/Bongiovi, Joseph R. (2012): Precarious, Informalizing, and Flexible Work: Transforming Concepts and Understandings. In: American Behavioral Scientist 57(3), 289-308. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764212466239


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Bassett, Thomas J. (2001): The Peasant Cotton Revolution in West Africa: Cote d’lvoire, 1880-1995. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.


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Bernstein, Henry (2008): Who are the ‘People of the Land’? Some Provocative Thoughts on Globalization and Development, with Reference to Sub-Saharan Africa. Conference paper, “Environments Undone: The Political Ecology of Globalization and Development”, University of North Carolina, 29.2.-1.3.2008.


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Dowd-Uribe, Brian (2014a): Engineering yields and inequality? How institutions and agro-ecology shape Bt cotton outcomes in Burkina Faso. In: Geoforum 53, 161-171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.02.010


Dowd-Uribe, Brian (2014b): Liberalisation Failed: Understanding Persistent State Power in the Burkinabè Cotton Sector from 1990 to 2004. In: Development Policy Review 32(5), 545-566. https://doi.org/10.1111/dpr.12072


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cotton, labour, networking, scale, Burkina Faso, Africa

Sinwell, Luke

Workers’ Power in Marikana: Building Bridges of Solidarity in South Africa’s Platinum Mines (2012-2014)

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 130-150https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-130
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

Between 2012 and 2014, South Africa witnessed an unprecedented labour movement culminating in a five-month strike at what were then the three largest platinum mining companies in the world. Drawing from ethnographic research and in-depth interviews, this article traces the multiple scales within which mineworkers organised collectively, forging unity outside of traditional trade union affiliations. What began as a ‘living wage’ demand amongst a small number of a specific category of workers at one shaft, in one company, soon spread across the entire industry capturing the hearts and minds of 80,000 platinum mineworkers. Mineworkers’ ability to exercise power was intensified by their decision to jump scale and build bridges across companies and regions and to a lesser extent transnationally. The article also describes forms of solidarity in communities, especially by women, and the broader trade union movement and concludes by focusing on the fragmented nature of the working class in South Africa more generally. With few important exceptions, the extent to which mineworkers were able to exercise power beyond a relatively local or narrow scale is quite limited, despite this large-scale mobilisation.

Alexander, Peter (2013): Marikana: Turning Point in South African History. In: Review of African Political Economy 40 (138), 605-619. https://doi.org/10.1080/03056244.2013.860893


Antonsich, Marco (2010): Grounding Theories of Place and Globalisation. In: Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 102 (3), 331-345. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9663.2010.00614.x


Benya, Asanda (2016): The Invisible Hands: Women in Marikana. In: Review of African Political Economy 42 (146), 545-560. https://doi.org/10.1080/03056244.2015.1087394


Bond, Patrick (2019): Lessons Unlearned as Lonmin Expires and Sibanye Rises Amid Ongoing Labour-Community-Feminist Revolts. In: Swart, Mia/Rodny-Gumede, Ylva (eds.): Marikana Unresolved: The Massacre, Culpability and Consequences. Cape Town: UTC Press, 222-240.


Castree, Noel/Coe, Neil M./Ward, Kevin/Samers, Michael (2004): Spaces of Work: Global Capitalism and the Geographies of Labour. London: Sage. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446221044


Chinguno, Crispen (2015a): The Shifting Dynamics of the Relations between Institutionalisation and Strike Violence: A Case Study of Impala Platinum, Rustenburg (1982-2012). PhD thesis, University of Witwatersrand. https://doi.org/10.1080/03056244.2015.1087396


Chinguno, Crispen (2015b): The Unmaking of Industrial Relations: The Case of Impala Platinum and the 2012-2013 Platinum Strike Wave. In: Review of African Political Economy 42 (146), 577-590.


Chinguno Crispen (2019): The Marikana Paradox: “Gaining the Remuneration but Losing the Union”. In: Swart, Mia/Rodny-Gumede, Ylva (eds.): Marikana Unresolved: The Massacre, Culpability and Consequences. Cape Town: UTC Press, 67-86.


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Sinwell, Luke/Mbatha, Siphiwe (2016): The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa. London: Pluto Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1ddr6gs


Wilderman, Jesse (2015): From Flexible Work to Mass Uprising: The Western Cape Farm Workers’ Struggle. SWOP Working Paper 4, Witwatersrand University.

 

Interviews, Speeches and Legal Documents
Da Costa, Michael (n. d.): Supplementary Statement to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the events at Marikana Mine in Rustenburg. Vice-President of Karee Mine, Lonmin. Unpublished and undated.


Da Costa, Michael (2012): Witness Statement to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry (chaired by Justice Farlam), 23 November 2012. Unpublished.


Makhanya, Siphamandla (2013): Speech: “South Africa after Marikana”, at Marxism 2013, Hosted by the Socialist Workers Party, London, 22 August 2013.


Makhanya, Siphamandla (2014): Personal communication with author. Rustenburg, 19 January 2014.


Mathunjwa, Joseph (2014): Speech at Olympia Stadium, Rustenburg, 19 January 2014. I personally recorded this public speech at the stadium.


Molapo (pseudonym). Interview on 28 September 2013 (in Marikana). Mineworker leader at Karee Shaft, Lonmon.


Mbatha, Siphiwe (2013): Interview on 23 October 2013 (in Johannesburg). Community-based leader who joined the struggle in Marikana.


Mbulelo (Pseudonym). Interview on 15 August 2013 (in Marikana). Mineworker leader of Karee Shaft, Lonmin.


Zakhele (Pseudonym). Interview on 3 November 2013 (in Marikana). Mineworker leader at Lonmin.

mineworkers, Marikana, trade unions, jumping scale

Flavell, Karinda; Gunawardana, Samanthi J.

“Nothing about us without us” or “The most effective way to get it implemented”? Global South Workers’ Power in Australian Civil Society Initiatives in the Garment Sector

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 151-170https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-151
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

Australian NGO and trade union initiatives seek to improve conditions for women garment workers in the global South. This small-scale study sought perceptions of Australian-based civil society staff about the power of garment workers within such initiatives. Deploying a feminist political economy perspective, the study draws on feminist notions of power and the power resources approach. It looks beyond long-established sources of power (structural, associational, and institutional) to explore coalitional and discursive power. The theoretical framework emphasises the importance of discursive power, including social norms that impact power. The study highlights the potential for Australian civil society groups to perpetuate the dominant discourse of women worker’s ‘docility’ or to challenge it, including through amplifying worker voice. The findings indicate that obtaining coalitional power (power workers gain by joining with allies other than workers) requires workers to have some associational (collective) power among themselves, highlighting the interrelations of power resources and the limitations of substituting associational with coalitional power. These findings have implications for global North groups seeking to prevent garment worker exploitation.

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Brooks, Ethel C. (2007): Unraveling the garment industry: Transnational organizing and women’s work. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Connor, Tim (2004): Time to scale up cooperation? Trade unions, NGOs, and the international anti-sweatshop movement. In: Development in Practice 14(1-2). 61-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/0961452032000170631


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Gunawardana, Samanthi J. (2018): Industrialization, Feminization and Mobilities. In: Elias, Juanita/ Roberts, Adrienne (eds.): Handbook on the international political economy of gender. Cheltenham, UK/Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 440-455. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781783478842.00040


Hertel, Shareen (2006): Unexpected power: Conflict and change among transnational activists. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.7591/9781501727290


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McGee, Rosie (2016): Power and empowerment meet resistance: A critical, action-orientated review of the literature. IDS Bulletin 47(5). https://doi.org/10.19088/1968-2016.170


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Patil, Vrushali (2013): From patriarchy to intersectionality: A transnational feminist assessment of how far we’ve really come. In: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 38(4), 847-867. https://doi.org/10.1086/669560


Reinecke, Juliane/Donaghey, Jimmy (2015): After Rana Plaza: Building coalitional power for labour rights between unions and (consumption-based) social movement organisations. In: Organization 22(5), 720-740. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508415585028


Rennie, Sarah/Connor, Tim/Delaney, Annie/Marshall, Shelley (2017): Orchestration from below: Trade unions in the global south, transnational business and efforts to orchestrate continuous improvement in non-state regulatory initiatives. In: UNSW Law Journal 40(3), 1275-1309. https://doi.org/10.53637/XUSU1796


Salamon, Lester M./Sokolowski, S. Wojciech/List, Regina (2004): Global Civil Society: An Overview. In: Salamon, Lester M./ Sokolowki, S.Wojciech (eds): Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector, Vol.2. Bloomfield: CT Kumarian Press.


Schmalz, Stefan/Ludwig, Carmen/Webster, Edward (2018): The Power Resources Approach: Developments and Challenges. In: Global Labour Journal 9(2), 113-134. https://doi.org/10.15173/glj.v9i2.3569


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Wells, Don (2009): Local worker struggles in the Global South: reconsidering


Northern impacts on international labour standards. In: Third World Quarterly 30(3), 567-579. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436590902742339


Webster, Edward (2015): Labour after Globalization: Old and New Sources of Power.In: Bieler, Andreas/Erne, Roland/Golden, Darragh/Helle, Idar/Kjeldstadli, Knut/Matos, Tiago/Stan, Sabina (eds.): Labour and Transnational Action in Times of Crisis. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.


Wright, Erik Olin (2000): Working-Class Power, Capitalist-Class Interests, and Class Compromise. In: American Journal of Sociology 105(4), 957-1002. https://doi.org/10.1086/210397


Wright, Melissa W. (2006): Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism. New York/London: Routledge.

 

feminist political economy, power resources, garment workers, global supply chains

Hidalgo Cordero, Kruskaya

Decolonial Readings of Platform Economies: The Organising of On-Demand Delivery Women Workers in Ecuador

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 171-192https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-171
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

The article provides a decolonial and feminist analysis of a particular kind of platform economies, namely those working on location-based applications called on-demand delivery apps. The focus is on the impact of this platform work on women on-demand delivery workers in Ecuador. Through this analysis, the author aims to enrich the study of transnational organisational processes of platform labour by arguing for the importance of intersectional approaches, where gender and migration are essential categories. By drawing on decolonial theoretical and methodological approaches, this paper makes reveals that women face more vulnerability working with on-demand delivery apps, such as sexual harassment and care work overload, but also, that they must make their way into leadership positions in a highly masculinised sector. The article shows that women on-demand delivery workers have the capacity to organise and resist bad working conditions and that they utilise transnational networks to do so.

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platform economies, women on-demand delivery workers, decolonial studies

Dutta, Madhumita

Kitchen, Farm, Room – Spaces of Transnational Feminist Theorising by Working Class Women in India

Sprache: EnglischSeiten: 193-213https://doi.org/10.20446/JEP-2414-3197-38-2-193
  • Abstract
  • Literatur
  • Keywords

The term “labour geography”, first coined by Andrew Herod (1997), sought to shift the capital-centric focus of economic geography to a more labour-centric focus. Feminist scholars have long argued for paying attention to the ways that labour’s social relations and lived experiences shape the politics of labour beyond wages or formal employment. However, labour geographers problematically continue to separate the larger questions of existence, analytically and ontologically, from the questions of work and everyday labour struggles. This article draws attention to the significance of quotidian processes of theorising by working class women in India as they labour and mobilise across disparate social, economic and cultural locations. The spaces of work discussed in this article are transnational, because, as spaces of knowledge production they are shaped by, and in turn shape, transnational narratives and strategies around global labour struggle. The article offers two key insights regarding a) the everyday kno ledge production of working-class women, forged through work and struggle; and b) the significance of paying attention to the political thoughts and acts of working-class women, which holds possibilities for new solidarities and political alliances. These points are made through three illustrations – women farmers at the farmers’ protest in the outskirts of Delhi, women singing ovi in rural Maharashtra, and women factory workers creating radio podcasts in Tamil Nadu.

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labour geography, transnational feminism, working-class women, knowledge production

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