Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Globalization and International Labor Solidarity-Introduction to a Theme

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Globalization and International Labor Solidarity-Introduction to a Theme

Article excerpt

The never ending story of international labor solidarity-and the lack of it

Is cross-national trade union cooperation and labor solidarity a forgotten item on Nordic working life researchers' agenda? And if so, why? Is not the matter more crucial today than ever, considering the challenges from globalization? True, there have not been too many studies in the field by Nordic scholars, and also true, the field is in great need of research considering the great labor market changes both nationally and globally over the last few decades. In order to find a remedy for this lack, a special workshop was dedicated to the subject at the Nordic Working Life Conference in Elsinore, April 2012. The response among the Nordic academics was not exactly overwhelming, but there were several highly interesting papers, bringing up new aspects or shedding new light on old ones. Some of the papers are now compiled in this special issue of Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies. All of them are individual texts and can be read separately. This introduction is just an attempt to put the articles into their common context, that is, to outline the framework within which they belong by highlighting some items they share.

The long-term perspective

The point of departure is deeply historical; after all, the urge for cross-national labor solidarity is 150 years old. Exactly 150 years old this year, if we view the founding of the International Workingmen's Association, later also known as the First International, in 1864 as the start. The major direct incentive for cross-national collaboration between trade unions and workers' parties was the importation of strikebreakers from continental Europe to the UK in the early 1860s (Lorwin 1929). Yet there is no straight line from the International Workingmen's Association onward. The frictions between Marx and Bakunin and their followers is well known, but when it comes to trade unions and internationalism, the ideological and strategic differences between Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle was more crucial. The strongest national labor movement at the time for the First International was the German one, and as one of the founders of what would come to be the German Social Democratic Party, Lassalle made a great impact, also after his untimely death in the notorious duel in 1864. In practice his influence was stronger than Marx's in Germany. Consequently, Lassalle's theories about das eherne Lohngesetz, in English the "Iron Law of Wages," strongly impacted on the labor movement both in Germany and in other continental European countries. Trade union struggle within the capitalist system, Lassalle argued, was more or less futile, since capitalists could always outplay workers against each other to take any job for minimum remuneration just to stay alive. Therefore, the only way for real improvement was to fight for all-encompassing suffrage and win power over the national political system. In other words, already from the start, the international labor movement was divided between Marxist internationalists, stressing cross-national trade unionism, and Lassallean "nationalists" emphasizing the political parties' national role (Moses 1982).1

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was a decisive blow against what was left of European labor internationalism. Despite the promises made to the Second International, labor parties and trade unions dropped their internationalist ideals that no working men should fight each other and rallied around their national governments (Abendroth 1966, chapter 4). International trade unionism no doubt both recovered and stayed healthy, and survived challenges from the communist split following the Russian revolution and the frictions during the Cold War, when especially American trade unions threatened the ideological content of the movement. Still the frictions between national and international, as well as between political approaches and trade unionist activities, have remained. …

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