Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Kate Bronfenbrenner, Ed., Global Unions: Challenging Transnational Capital through Cross-Border Campaigns

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Kate Bronfenbrenner, Ed., Global Unions: Challenging Transnational Capital through Cross-Border Campaigns

Article excerpt

Kate Bronfenbrenner, ed., Global Unions: Challenging Transnational Capital through Cross-Border Campaigns (Ithaca and London: ILR Press 2007)

ON FEBRUARY 9, 2006, this reviewer flew from Toronto to New York to attend, along with 560 others, a conference entitled "Global Companies--Global Unions --Global Research--Global Campaigns." Representatives from trade unions and non-government organizations (NGOS) as well as academics from around the world gathered to explore how to build labour's capacity to initiate more effective strategic corporate research and comprehensive cross-border campaigns.

Globally, unions operate in the context of a continuously changing and often hostile neo-liberal environment, dominated by transnational corporations. The result has been global problems that demand global solutions. These, in turn, necessitate cross-border cooperation and common action by a world-wide labour movement. Based on the New York conference, this book builds on a developing consensus that transnational corporate power over working people and their organizations can only be successfully confronted if it is examined and understood in far more detail.

As the research director of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) for the past 16 years my attraction to the book's first chapter, which outlines a model for strategic corporate research, is understandable. Tom Juravich argues that unions today need to acquire a comprehensive understanding of a company, an industrial sector, and the broader social-economic and political context in which it is embedded. "Only as a product of this kind of research analysis," he writes, "can unions design the appropriate strategies and tactics to be successful, taking into account both how power flows through the firm and how vulnerabilities can be exploited."(16) The potential strategic campaigns would go far beyond traditional organizing and bargaining. Juravich demonstrates such innovations historically, referencing key industrial confrontations, beginning with the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, strike against the American Woolen Company. This famous, but decidedly local, strike by immigrant women workers, known as the "Bread and Roses" strike, brought the company to its knees via innovative local actions. At the time, though, a company had limited ability to move production, and the state had no institutional role in labour relations, although police violence in defence of capital was common.

By the 1930s, however, more unions were confronting large corporations like General Motors with multiple plants and new corporate structures, as well as new forms of state involvement. The auto workers adopted tactically selective strikes, in which the famous sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan, was central. Then, in the 1960s, as reflected in battles with United States Steel, workers contended with continued corporate evolution, a post-war accord between labour and management, and the development of pattern bargaining. Juravich's fourth and final stage focuses on the Japanese-owned tire giant Bridgestone/Firestone (BSFS) in 1996. Here one finds a fully international corporation with plants located world-wide, capital mobility, a deliberate undermining of the post-World War II industrial relations system, and the necessity of innovative and comprehensive campaigns to stave off membership defeat. In this new context, experience suggests that there is no one easy solution. Rather, multifaceted campaigns involving numerous players such as stockholders and lenders, broad alliances with community and religious groups, consumers and the central involvement of rank-and-file workers themselves are necessary.

After tracing tactical changes over time, Juravich outlines a strategic corporate map specifying four areas that need attention: the basics of a firm; their profit centre and growth plan; the company's decision makers; and key relationships such as main suppliers, customers, lenders, board members and regulatory institutions. …

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