Unions & the Great Recession: Is Transnationalism the Answer?
Michael J. Zimmer
Loyola University Chicago School of Law
October 5, 2010
Loyola University Chicago School of Law Research Paper No. 2010-011
For at least 30 years, the union movement at a worldwide level has been generally downward. That trend has accelerated during the Great Recession. During that same period, economic inequality has grown significantly. The question this paper raises is whether the union movement can be proactively involved helping the recovery from the Great Recession with a stronger, more equal economic order. The public policy basis for unionism – that labor is not a commodity and that economic inequality is best redressed through freedom of association and collective bargaining – is well established in U.S. and international labor law. That public policy, however, is juxtaposed with the prevailing social, political and economic policy – neoliberalism favoring free markets including labor markets. As economic activity has become increasingly globalized, enterprise has been able to jump the barriers that had been set by national laws and national economies to organize operations around the world to take advantage of local conditions, including labor costs and standards. Thus, more and more employers can take advantage of a global labor market to find conditions most favorable to their businesses. An increasingly global labor market has significant impact on national and local labor markets. Labor unions are generally still trapped within the nations of their organization. Limited to operating in national labor markets, unions have lost the strength and breadth necessary to establish labor monopolies that operate to take labor costs out of price competition. The answer to the question this article poses is that the future of the labor movement may depend on the ability of unionism to reach across borders and operate transnationally. Some unions have taken some steps to go transnational, but a fundamental redirection toward transnationalism may be necessary if the union movement is to have a positive impact as the global economy recovers from the Great Recession.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: Labor unions, transnational labor unions, Great Recession, international labor law
JEL Classification: J51, J58, K31, K33
Date posted: October 8, 2010 ; Last revised: November 24, 2010
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