Solidarity Action in Global Labor Networks. Four Cases of Workplace Organizing at Foreign Affiliates in the Global South

By Wad, Peter | Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Solidarity Action in Global Labor Networks. Four Cases of Workplace Organizing at Foreign Affiliates in the Global South


Wad, Peter, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies


Introduction

With increasing internationalization and globalization of production, trade, financing, and information flows, corporations and workplaces are becoming more and more complex and 'denationalized.' The workforce of the most internationalized transnational corporations (TNCs) is overwhelmingly 'foreign' relative to the home of the headquarters and its traditional domestic base. The most internationalized multinational companies employed more people abroad than at home in the 2000s compared with 1995 (UNCTAD various years). According to industry, the vast oil TNCs seemed to have reached the foreign employment ceiling in the 2000s while most giant motor vehicle TNCs have steadily increased their offshore employment base over time. Toyota Motor Corp. reached a global workforce with nearly 50 percent foreign employees in 2000 (calculated from Shimizu 2003, 135, 142). Countrywise, the same trend is observed. For example, Danish firms with subsidiaries abroad employ nearly 1.27 million offshore in 2011 and foreign TNC subsidiaries employed more than 270,000 employees in Denmark (2010). With a total Danish private labor force of around 1.3 million employees in 2011, Danish firms employ nearly the same amount of people abroad as at home. In addition, 20% of Danish private sector employees are employed by foreign companies (Denmark's Statistics 2013).

The trend of transnationalized corporate workforces challenges once again the nationally constituted trade unions, whether they are craft-, industry-, or occupation-based organizations. These unions cannot operate effectively and efficiently within national borders when their counterpart of employers and corporate managers operate cross-border businesses. Management reconfigures their global value chains in line with perceived comparative and competitive advantages and captures surplus value wherever they prefer, e.g., in tax havens. Thus, contemporary corporate offshoring and outsourcing of production and service activities question the bargaining power of nationally constituted unions. This transformation of corporate employment adds to the ongoing weakening of organized labor in terms of declining union density, erosion of unions' power at the labor market and workplaces, and their political salience. No wonder that the wage share of functional income distribution has declined in advanced countries as well as developing countries in recent years (Stockhammer 2012).

We assume that economic globalization is characterized by expanding global corporate network of vertically and horizontally integrated (equity-based) and disintegrated (nonequity-based) value chains (Dicken 2011; UNCTAD 2013). We also assume that globalization can both impede and enable labor empowerment (Wills 1998). The key question is the following: How can labor leverage effective power against management in global corporate networks? This question is split into two subquestions: a) How can labor theoretically reorganize from national unions and industrial relations institutions into global labor networks that allow prolabor improvement in global workplaces? b) How and why has labor in a globalized economy secured the core international labor right to organize companies and conduct collective bargaining?

Regarding the first subquestion, our claim is that in a context of expanding global corporate networks governed by TNCs, enterprise-based labor networking across borders is vital to effectuate labor improvements in global industries. The reason is that TNCs govern their global reach, mobility and value creation, distribution and capture both in equity-based business networks and in nonequity-based transactions. Labor must therefore be able to organize intra-corporate as well as inter- and extra-corporate cross-border networks that can reregulate the flow of values in order to obtain an acceptable social share of collectively generated value added. Such global labor networks can potentially identify and pressure TNCs on their weak positions in order to engage decision-makers in collective negotiations and problem solving. …

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