Employee Collective Action in a Global Economy
Jeffrey M. Hirsch
University of North Carolina School of Law
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT LAW AND ECONOMICS, Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, S. Harris, and O. Lobel, eds., Elgar Publishing Company, 2008
University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 42
The world economy is truly an international one. Technological advances in transportation and communications have eliminated many of the geographic barriers to trade and systems of production. Accompanying this change in product markets has been the globalization of labor markets, which means that many workers throughout the world must compete not locally or nationally, but internationally.
The growth in labor globalization has presented unions and other employee-side groups with both challenges and opportunities. By providing new alternatives to union labor, globalization weakens what is an already declining influence of unions on industry-wide labor markets. The lack of control over labor markets, as well as the increased competition that businesses face in a global economy, have given unions fewer opportunities to achieve gains for workers. Despite these challenges, globalization provides unions with opportunities. Technological advances in communications provide a much broader audience for publicity campaigns, which often pressure the company to adopt a code of conduct. Moreover, as the global labor market expands so does the pool of potential allies. The rise of multinational companies that can draw workers from a wide variety of labor markets means that unions in each of those markets have an incentive to work together and bring a level of pressure beyond the capabilities of any single union. Additionally, existing international frameworks such as treaties and trade agreements provide opportunities to add new labor commitments or to enforce already existing labor standards.
This chapter argues that the extent to which these various forms of global collective action are able to produce real benefits for workers is questionable. At a minimum, it appears difficult for any one strategy to achieve meaningful gains on its own. Instead, collective action in the global economy must reflect the complex and multifaceted nature of that economy. Businesses deal with a wide variety of competitive and product market pressures and unions, in turn, must recognize those various issues and engage in strategies that are equally as comprehensive.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 24
Keywords: unions, globalization, economics, collective action, international, treaties, codes of conduct
JEL Classification: F00, F01, J00, J50, J51, K00, K31Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: June 9, 2008 ; Last revised: May 4, 2009
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