A Global New Deal: Making Globalization Work for Labor

By Trumka, Richard L. | Harvard International Review, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

A Global New Deal: Making Globalization Work for Labor


Trumka, Richard L., Harvard International Review


We live, breathe, work, eat, sleep, shop, and raise our children in a global economy - for better or for worse - and it influences our lives in profound and complex ways. Globalization is about the extraordinarily cheap costs of moving data around the world, about the merging of financial markets and accounting systems, and about the creation of global labor markets by means of both high and low technology.

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Labor markets have been transformed in every part of the world. Today, because of the Internet, services as disparate as financial journalism and accounting work can be practiced anywhere people know how to communicate in English. At the same time, the market for unskilled construction labor in the United States is now dramatically different than in 1990, largely because people traveled here from other countries, often fleeing countries with no economic opportunity.

While the economics of the corporate-dominated global economy act to disempower workers, the very communications technology that feeds economic globalization gives workers unprecedented organizing tools. And workers around the world--in Chinese auto plants, in Wisconsin schools, and on Bahraini construction sites--are showing that they will make their voices heard in the decisions that shape people's lives together on this planet.

In the process, politics, too, has gone global. Ask Hosni Mubarak in Cairo or Scott Walker in Wisconsin-- both of whom found it is much harder to deny people the right to a voice in the decisions that shape their lives in a Facebook and YouTube world. Protestors in Cairo send pizza to protestors in Madison, and protestors in Madison take their lessons in nonviolent protest from streaming video from Cairo.

Although globalization has revolutionized every aspect of modern life, very few who are experiencing its effects have the power to influence it--but that does not have to be the case.

A Global Society Requires Global Rules

No decisions are more critical than those regarding the rules that govern the global economy whether they regulate trade, finance, labor, or human rights. The terms of globalization affect the quality and quantity of jobs, the stability of the economy, the safety of consumer products, relations with other countries, the moral quality of people's lives, and the future of this planet.

But some of the issues associated with globalization are willfully ignored by policy makers. Imagine a country where over the last 25 years nearly 3,000 CEOs, professors, law firm partners, and prominent journalists had been murdered by armed gangs with ties to influential politicians, and few perpetrators had been arrested, let alone sent to prison. What would it mean to seek to integrate our economy with the economy of that country? Would such a program of economic integration not implicate the United States in those murders, in that culture of lawlessness and impunity? What would being a party to this kind of violence in exchange for some sort of economic or political advantage mean to the moral quality of our lives?

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Yet that is exactly what the United States is doing at this moment by moving toward implementing a free trade agreement with Colombia--the only difference being that the dead were not the wealthy and the privileged, but leaders of workers and the rural poor who were attempting to give working people a path to improve their lives and living standards.

Is it any wonder, then, that "globalization" is controversial? It will remain controversial until there is a consensus that the rules of the global economy must honor the value of workers' lives, workers' voices, and workers' rights. And that consensus must shape policy makers' decisions.

Failure of Global Rules to Protect Working People

What is generally meant in America by the term "globalization" is the development of global markets through trade agreements. …

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A Global New Deal: Making Globalization Work for Labor
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