|Abstract: A review of seven books, articles, briefings and email
documents suggests a revival both of labour internationalism and of left
reflection on such. The materials come from, or relate to, Japan, South
Africa, the North American Free Trade Area, to Europe, to our globalising
world and to the `real virtuality’ of cyberspace. Some of these items have
their feet (sometimes their heads also) in a past world of nation states
and of a nationally-based industrial and imperial capitalism. Others attempt
to confront the brave new globalised world of informatised and networked
capitalism. The answer to the title question is `no’. This is partly because
there was no first coming of this mythical creature. But labour internationalism
is reviving. And if, in the past, it was most effective when least
proletarian, its revival today can only be as part of a more general global
solidarity movement, to which it is necessary, and to the development of
which it can make its own distinct contribution.
Author: Peter Waterman (London, 1936) has recently retired after
26 years at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. In the mid-1960s
he worked for the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague. From 1978-90
he edited the Newsletter of International Labour Studies. Since
1984 he has concentrated on the study of labour and social movement internationalism
and communication. He has done research on Nigeria, India, Peru, Spain,
The Philippines and South Africa. He has two books appearing in 1998. On
retiring he set up a worldwide website on global solidarity.
A review of recent resources
Hugh Williamson, Coping With the Miracle: Japan’s Unions Explore
New International Relations; Pluto Press, London, 1994, 333pp; Roger
Southall, Imperialism or Solidarity? International Labour and South
African Trade Unions. University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 1995, 398pp.;
John D. French, Jefferson Cowie, and Scott Littlehale, Labor and NAFTA:
A Briefing Book, Center for Labor Research and Studies, Florida International
University, Miami, 1994, 272pp; Richard Hyman, `Imagined Solidarities:
Can Trade Unions Resist Globalisation?’, University of Warwick, 1997; Eric
Lee, Labour and the Internet: The New Internationalism, London,
Pluto. 1996, 212pp; SiD, `A New Global Agenda: Visions and Strategies for
the 21st Century’, SiD’s Global Labour Summit, Copenhagen, 31 May-1 June,
1997 <http://summit.sid.dk>; Kim Moody, Workers in a Lean World:
Unions in the International Economy. London: Verso. 1997, 342pp.
Whatever happened to the Revolutionary Internationalist Proletarian?
Was he (no need for an s/ here) buried by the last socialist? The announcement
of the death of the proletariat was made most emphatically and influentially
by Andre Gorz in his Farewell to the Proletariat (1982). And even
though the same writer announced a possible resurrection for the trade
union shortly after, in his conclusion to a later book (Gorz 1989, reproduced
in Munck and Waterman forthcoming), this was 1) little noticed and 2) said
nothing about a possibly resurrected internationalism. More recently Manuel
Castells has laid a heavy stone - or three - on the grave, with his monumental
work on our brave new capitalist world (Castells 1996, 1997, 1998). This
assures us that work is not disappearing, but that the workers are localised
and divided, and unions - still necessary for the defence of workers -
have no emancipatory vision or role. Whilst Castells certainly has some
ideas concerning the internationalism of the new social movements (NSMs),
no question of worker internationalism can arise here. Neither does it
for another prominent and creative socialist theorist, David Harvey. In
his latest major work (Harvey 1996), which starts with workers and addresses
itself in part to `militant particularism and global ambitions’, he seems
to transform his working class into local residents, transfer their problems
from the workplace to the community, and to switch their ideology (that
bridging the particular and the general?) from socialism to social-justice
Globalisation, neo-liberalism and informatisation have had a profoundly
disorienting effect on the labour movement internationally, as well as
on the international labour movement. The new world order - what I will
call a globalised networked capitalist or GNC - was neither predicted,
desired nor understood by those whose existence and identity has for many
decades depended on opposition to and/or support for identifiable corporations,
nations, states and a world of nation states or blocs. The traditional
self-image of labour as the international social movement has, moreover,
been seriously challenged by the rise of new ones that have profound ethical
appeals, offer alternative social models, `give good image’, and have mass
Yet I note a definite revival of interest in labour as an international
movement recently, not only amongst socialist labour specialists but even
in national and international trade unions. It is to recent left writings
and labour movement documents that I now turn. Some of this material comes
from faraway places with strange-sounding names, or to be about such (South
Africa? Japan? Cyberspace?). It may have escaped even the interested European
eye. Yet this eye, and ear, need to mark it if a new eurocentred internationalism
is to avoid reproducing another eurocentric internationalism.
2. JAPANESE TRADE-UNION FOREIGN POLICY
Riding the tsunami of globalisation
Hugh Williamson’s work is more a record of the past than the future
of labour internationalism. Although about a recent development, it takes
us forward to the past in two senses. One has to do with the subject of
the book, the other its implicit framework.
What the Japanese unions are apparently attempting to do is, in many
ways, what the Americans and British were trying to do over a 30-year period
after 1945. Yet the Japanese are doing it now, in the post-colonial,
post-Communist and post-Cold War era. There must be something beyond or
beneath imperialism and anti-communism that links the old westocentric
strategies with those of Japanese unions today. What it is, of course,
is a traditional labour sense of, and faith in, a national cross-class
identity, rather than a cross-national class or even humanitarian one.
The framework within which this book is placed takes us, likewise, back
a quarter century, to the classical study of `trade-union foreign policy'
by Jeffrey Harrod (1972). Harrod actually pioneered on the role of NGOs
in foreign policy more generally. Williamson's book, unlike that of Harrod
(of which it is unaware), is atheoretical. But like that one it places
its subject matter not so much within the framework of the labour movement
or labour history as within those of an inevitably state-framed and state-oriented
discourse of foreign policy and international relations. This is an odd
place for someone of the left to place himself in the 1990s, when so many
others are focusing on `cosmopolitan democracy' or `global civil society'
(Waterman 1996b). It cannot, moreover, move us toward any alternative international
Non-white men also have burdens
I am going to concentrate on the later chapters, particularly on Japan's
independent activities in Asia. Chapter 8, on the Japan International Labour
Foundation (JILAF), reveals the extent to which the Japanese now feel they
must emulate Euro-American paternalism with respect to unions elsewhere.
There is a lot of talk in this chapter about `international co-operation
at the grassroots level' (182), with the word `grassroots' frequently recurring.
Yet I found here neither grass nor roots. JILAF, whilst carrying out training
programmes in Asia, has been concentrating energetically on its invitation
programme for foreign union leaders. The nature of the programmes offered
makes it clear that these are exercises in statist propaganda and personal
corruption. Visits are made to the national confederation, Rengo, to the
Ministry of Labour, to the `participant's embassy' (190). (Workers have
their own embassies? Turn in your grave, Karl Marx!). Talks are provided
on Japanese labour history and labour relations. Guided tours are arranged.
Visitor initiative is limited to a presentation `of the labour situation
in the participants' countries' and the filling in of JILAF evaluation
questionnaires. Different groups of participants are apparently isolated
from each other and have difficulty seeing the smaller-scale enterprises
that employ the majority of Japanese workers. JILAF provides its visitors
with business-class return flights, expensive hotels, first-class rail
travel on the famous Bullet Train (appropriate transport for labour ambassadors).
Williamson himself calculates, for one case (191), that the expenses granted
by the Japanese were, at $720, equivalent to two-thirds of the participant's
gross monthly pay.
The general pattern here is that earlier laid down by the US unions
or, for that matter, by the World Federation of Trade Unions and the Czechs
when I was running union courses in Prague in the mid-1960s. The Communist
model, however, offered hostel accommodation, modest per diems, tourist-class
air-tickets, and internal travel by rattling Tatra bus. Yet, after quoting
a Japanese union official who also mentions the `weak and negative sides'
of Japanese labour relations, Williamson declares that this `challenges
the view that JILAF's programmes amount to little more than a blunt propaganda
exercise' (221). Are they then sharp propaganda exercises? They
come over as naive, or gross, and as more expressive of well-publicised
Japanese business sleaze than any meaningful solidarity ethic.
Avoiding the critical stance
Hugh Williamson apologises, in his Introduction, for neither having
lived in Japan nor knowing the language. No apology appears necessary.
He has written an original and highly informative book on Japan's unions
and their international relations. Where apology, or at least explanation,
is due is for the repeated refusal to take a critical position - in either
the political or the academic sense. The most convincing explanation I
can offer for this is the collapse of the hope in some kind of shopfloor-based
revival of union movements nationally and internationally. Williamson has
been associated with one or two such efforts. Within the extensive network
of international labour support groups (from Amsterdam to Hongkong and
Moscow to South Africa), this crisis has often meant difficulties in funding
and loss of direction. These tiny, often isolated, always underfunded,
groups of the 1970s-80s have thus often found it necessary to provide services
to, or seek funding from, the national and international unions they previously
scorned or criticised. And the latter have found in such groups the low-cost,
local or specialist knowledge and technical expertise (e.g. in computer-mediated
communication) they need. The present book, for example, was apparently
funded by the Olof Palme International Centre in Sweden. More classically
and centrally Social-Democratic than this it is difficult to get. But,
as we will see, Social-Democracy has also been disoriented by the
new world disorder.
Williamson gives but 11 of his 300 or more pages to the kind of Japanese
international solidarity groups, committees and alliances that he and his
friends customarily allied themselves with. These are bodies that often
do address themselves to some kind of grassroots, and are certainly
more concerned with international solidarity than `international relations'.
He quotes a staff member of one of these Japanese groups/bulletins, Rodo
Joho, to the effect that it deals with
shop floor disputes, privatisation, organising the unorganised, feminism,
immigrant workers, the peace movement, environmental issues and Asian workers'
However marginal such groups might be, this orientation surely points a
way forward offered neither by the dominant reformist national, nor the
international, unions. The marginalisation of this tendency within
the book is even stranger when one compares it with the author's own sympathetic
report on a number of such international groups (Williamson 1993).
3. SOLIDARITY WITH SOUTH AFRICAN LABOUR:
A FORGOTTEN PAST, A POSSIBLE FUTURE
Documenting and arguing the new labour solidarity
Roger Southall's book is a substantial piece of historical work. It
is researched and documented with admirable breadth and rigour. It is well-structured
and accessible. It also deals with an international relationship that was
central to Northern union internationalism over the a 30-year period. It
presents a cool and balanced account, allowing the reader to develop his/her
own interpretation. It provides a model for other such studies. It represents,
finally, an argument for a general transformation of union internationalism
from the traditional `imperialism' to a resurgent `solidarity'.
Southall’s is again an institutional study, devoted largely to the internal,
external and international relations of organisations. Fortunately, these
are not only union organisations, since they include, notably, the various
Anti-Apartheid movements internationally, and some socialist solidarity
movements or factions. But an excess of politics must be at the expense
of political economy (the changing nature of capitalism), sociology (the
changing structure, behaviour and values of workers and their allies),
or culture (international communication, media, banners, flags, posters
and songs). Perhaps this would not matter if Southall was not talking
about the present and future of internationalism as well as its past. But,
in so far as his story is one of how an institutionalised internationalism
was - and is - being undermined and transformed, then these other fields
of social practice (or disciplinary perspectives) become important.
From worker gifts to union finance
If there is not much economics in this work, there is plenty of money.
The dollar rolls around in text and table throughout. But Chapter 7, entitled
`The Content of Solidarity' is devoted entirely to finance: its flow, its
impact, its donors. Whilst Southall elsewhere deals at length with other
forms of solidarity - boycotts, sympathy strikes, visits and exchanges
- he does not compare or contrast these with the commodity form. He is
critical of the sources, handling and effects of financial aid, but he
does not contextualise what was probably the most important form of aid,
both for the international donors and for the South African recipients.
Southall himself points out that the total annual amount of union (actually
mostly state-provided) financial aid never exceeded what a British
football club might pay for the purchase of a single player (179). An odd
but striking comparison. A more appropriate one might be with what British
or Danish workers gave to Australian or Swedish strikers in the heyday
of union internationalism before World War I. I recall those figures: it
is clear that that money represented a large proportion of the donors'
weekly subsistence income. But such donations differed from recent Western
union aid also in other important particulars: 1) it came directly out
of their own pockets, 2) it came out of a sense of identity, 3) it created
a sense of community, 4) it was often reciprocated. Should we call this
`the worker gift' in order to distinguish it from `trade-union aid'? One
other point needs to be made about money, and I think this is quite crucial
to an understanding of the present limitations of institutionalised internationalism.
The traditional basis for membership fees of the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) is one percent of the income of those
member organisations that are willing and able to pay. We may contrast
this with Amnesty International, which receives from its Dutch affiliate
over thirty percent of the latter's national income (enough, surely, for
several football players). I think we here see the difference between an
international confederation of national and nationalist organisations and
a movement-oriented internationalist organisation. It is, of course, this
miserable financial commitment that has required the ICFTU to convert itself,
for almost half of its income and activity, into a state-subsidised development-funding
Nationalist, Communist and Trotskyist internationalism
The analyses of the role of local and foreign Communists, of the ANC-aligned
South African Congress of Trade Unions, the Anti-Apartheid Movements, and
of the South African Trotskyist groups in the UK, provide models of careful
presentation and judgement. It would have been easy to condemn these for
their errors, inconsistencies, or self-subordination to non-union forces.
These sometimes led to policies directly opposed to the development of
the new South African unionism of the 1970s. A South African supporter
of the new unionism in the 1970s stated to me, without bitterness, that
for the ANC and Anti-Apartheid movement in the UK, `the only good South
African is a dead, imprisoned or exiled one'. Southall permits us to see
how these bodies nonetheless responded to, or even stimulated, the growth
of grassroots, locality and shopfloor solidarity with South Africa.
It would be nice (and easy) if the new internationalisms were created
solely by new people with new understandings and new strategies. But new
social movements are often created or influenced by old political people
- people excluded or self-excluded from the dominant or traditional opposition
organisations, this giving them the possibility or necessity of mobilising
beyond or beneath. On the other hand, we need to recognise the limitations
of even the mobilising internationalisms. These are demonstrated by what
happened to the Anti-Apartheid movements (at least in the Netherlands and
UK) after the end of apartheid, when they converted themselves largely
into research, information and development-aid bodies, identified with
the new regime, and with only a few rhetorical gestures in the direction
of South African civil society or the self-organisation of the poor and
powerless. For the continuation or revival of a solidarity oriented toward
the latter, a new and broader understanding of international solidarity
is certainly necessary.
Limitations of a polemical opposition
Back to Southall's `imperialism or solidarity'. This is a polemical
title, of a kind much found in the traditional left pamphlet literature
on the subject, from the 1960s till the present day. It sets up another
of those binary oppositions that have dominated South African union debates,
with vice concentrated at the one pole and virtue at the other. Since Southall's
analysis is actually much more nuanced - is, indeed, concerned to subvert
such manichean oppositions - does the title have any more than an eye-catching
function or effect? Possibly no such intended function. But the effect
may be to keep discussion of labour internationalism at an ideological,
strategical or even moral level (good union internationalism and bad union
internationalism). It also tends to limit it to the North-South axis: `labour
imperialism' implies this.
`Trade union imperialism' is a potent slogan, marking those thus branded
as agents of capitalist (occasionally state or state-socialist) empires.
Certain international union actors, such as the USA's AFL-CIO and Japan's
Rengo, seem to have gone out of the way to cast themselves in this role.
This is amply documented for the USA by Southall. But, as a central organising
concept, `labour imperialism' does not in any way help us to understand
why Mexican unions and unionists were so self-isolated for 40-50 years.
Nor why Poland's Solidarnosc - object of as much international solidarity
as South Africa's unions? - was itself lacking in internationalism. Labour
internationalism has, over the last half-century or more, been as problematic
on the West-West, East-East and South-South axis as on the North-South
one. The death, consequently, of trade-union imperialism does not necessarily
imply the birth, or rebirth, of trade-union solidarity.
And what is `international labour solidarity' anyway, in either historical
or theoretical terms? Historically it has been a complex and contradictory
discourse and practice, requiring, for its comprehension, reference to
at least the development of capitalism and the nation-state, to the composition
(including its re- and de-) of working classes and their cultures. The
absence of any significant international solidarity activity by Mexican
unions, or by Solidarnosc, can be understood largely in terms of labour
self-identification with a nation or nation-state. Given that we are now
passing from a stage of nation-state-dependent industrial capitalism to
a GNC, a new kind of internationalism is increasingly both possible and
necessary. But it is in no sense inevitable. There is, thus, no political-economic
guarantee that South African labour won't go the same way - particularly
if it believes that it is or was primarily labour imperialism that obstructed
From social-democratic to social-movement internationalism
For Southall, `social-democratic' appears to be not simply a descriptive,
or analytical category, but loaded with positive value. He repeats a left-social-democratic
tendency (Wedin 1986) to set up the Americans at one pole and what I call
the Scanadalanders (Nordics+Canadians+Dutch) at the other. There are problems
here. One is that this procedure leaves the problematic, but surely
social-democratic, British and German unions out in the mid-Atlantic (between
the North Pole of imperialism and the South Pole of solidarity?). Secondly
it excludes full consideration of either the radical transformation of
existing international trade-union practices or alternatives to them. Yet
even the best Northern union solidarity efforts have reproduced many of
the features of the worst. These progressive unions exist, after all, largely
on the same model nationally, within the same structures internationally.
Yet they have always played the game according to some implicit social-democratic
ground rules. Notably, they have failed to bring out in public, before
their own members, or national and international civil society, the differences
they had with the ICFTU majority and the AFL-CIO. Southall recognises all
this. But he goes further than favouring the Scanadaland Connection. He
puts in a powerful plea for the ICFTU itself:
Whatever may have happened in the past, the ICFTU has now become a
broad-based and pluralist organisation which, whilst containing diverse
political currents, has provided the major framework whereby Northern unions
have provided material and moral solidarity to fraternal organisations
in the South (and East)...The point is, as Dan Gallin has put, there is
no other show in town. (363).
Ironically, the same Gallin, General Secretary of the International Trade
Secretariat (ITS) of food and allied workers, is now saying that since
the end of the Cold War, the ICFTU has become a `directionless giant' (Gallin
1994)! Vic Thorpe, General Secretary of the ITS of chemical workers is
hitting the same critical note (Munck and Waterman Forthcoming). Both of
these international union leaders are now arguing for new, revived and
consolidated ITSs as the cutting edge of a new international labour solidarity.
They have also come to terms with the previously despised NGO (`single
issue’, `non-representative’). And, in order to stimulate a new kind of
labour internationalism, they have even set up an international labour
NGO themselves! This is yet another option open to those within the social-democratic
But both South African experience and much of Southall's argument suggest
to me the necessity to go beyond this tradition: that the international
trade-union movement needs not so much to adapt to but learn from the new
cross-class, democratic and pluralistic internationalisms (peace, human-rights,
ecology, women's, indigenous peoples). These not only have a higher public
profile and approval than the almost invisible labour internationals, they
are also booking the kind of success that labour internationalism won around
the beginning of the century. Some parts of this `new' movement actually
pre-date the labour one, or were historically intertwined with it in the
19th century. The international union Anti-Apartheid movement was successful
because labour came to understand - or remember - this, at least implicitly.
International solidarity with South African labour thus reminds us of a
regrettably forgotten past and points toward an alternative possible future.
4. FIGHTING NAFTA `TRANSNATIONALLY’
Not yet `internationalism’ in the Americas?
I am not sure whether French, Cowie and Littlehale is a typescript conference
briefing disguised as a book, or a book disguised as a conference briefing.
I have a typescript version before me but will treat it as the published
book it ought to be. The work comes out of the same stable that produces
the remarkable Latin American Labor News, a unique combination of
quality research and labour politics. The item under review addresses
itself squarely to labour and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA),
in terms of `national labor union responses to a transnational world’.
Why it calls itself a briefing must be because it was prepared for a 1994
conference on NAFTA. It works chronologically and thematically through
the NAFTA process, union positions in the three countries, the legislative
processes, social charters and side agreements, and the efforts of other
allies of labour. We get a rounded and differentiated view of Mexican unionism,
and of labour responses to NAFTA . All this is done without the literature
discussion or conceptual apparatus one would expect in a traditionallly
The book does, nonetheless, have certain orientations and strategic
purposes. The orientations are to 1) what history tells us - negatively
and positively - about international labour activity in the Americas, 2)
the dominant contemporary labour organisations in the three
countries concerned, and 3) to `transnationalism’, offered as a meaningful
alternative to the romantic and rhetorical labour internationalism of socialist
tradition, and to an equally traditional binary opposition between the
national and international. The strategy offered is spelled out in the
Conclusions. Amongst these are recognition of: 1) differences in national
interest between workers in the three countries concerned - thus avoiding
either a rhetorical or a nationalist internationalism; 2) the unique nature
of NAFTA as a North-South free-trade area - thus requiring consideration
also of an internationally equitable economic order.
In so far as French and friends are recording the re-emergence of union
internationalism in a hemisphere that has lacked this for decades, a new
and robust conceptualisation is more than usually necessary. The concept
of `transnationalism’ evidently relates to discourse of the nation-state
and relations between such. It is too thin to carry out the tasks assigned.
What we need here is a theory (or at least a set of inter-related concepts)
which could link 1) a critical understanding of capitalist globalisation/informatisation
(the latter not even recognised in the book), with 2) a de- and re-construction
of `solidarity’ that allows for and builds on difference.
The subjects of the book - the dominant contemporary labour organisations
- were built in the period and in the image of national and industrial
capitalism. They are as much an obstacle as a solution to labour nationalism.
Even the Canadians, who have by far the most internationalist of the three
dominant union centrals, still tend to prioritise the national over the
international, or to present the movement from one to the other in terms
of stages. Once again, the marginal labour groups and external NGOs are
marginalised in this otherwise informative and well-structured work. It
may well be that such groups tend, as French et. al. suggest, to an a-critical
activism and self-exaggeration. But they also commonly have both the form
(the network) and the freedom (institutional autonomy) to respond rapidly,
flexibly and imaginatively to our new world disorder. The marginal support
groups and networks also tend to have much more of an understanding of
the world as a single place, of the relationship between class and democratic
- or life - issues, and of the significance for transformatory action of
culture and communication (neither of which is recognised by French and
Co). They are, moreover, being increasingly recognised as partners
by the major national(ist) union centres in the Americas. This is witnessed
by the Summit of the Peoples of the Americas, held to confront the neo-liberal
Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, April 1998.
Occasionally, a post-modern sensibility (or a sensitivity to post-modernism)
reveals itself within the body of the book. The work is, in large part,
a critique of dominant right and left discourses on the Other Worker (whether
this is Mexican, US or Canadian). In the North both of these tend to construct
a Mexican worker/unionism to be at worst feared, at best pitied and patronised.
At one point we are provided with a convincing semiological analysis of
the back cover photo and text of US Presidential candidate, Russ Perot’s,
nativist book attacking NAFTA. And John French appropriately closes his
work with reference to Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado’s monumental
book (1993) on manual workers around the world. Salgado’s work could be
seen as a memorial to a disappearing race. Except, of course, that manual
labour, often in peripherally waged forms, customarily consigned to women,
children and ethnic minorities, is not disappearing. Mention of this photo
book reminds us that what workers - and even non-workers - need to surpass
a resilient and sometimes resurgent nation-state identity is not simply
new transnational or internationalist discourses (rational, calculative)
but a new global solidarity culture (aesthetic, emotional).
5. RETHINKING LABOUR SOLIDARITY:
WITH UNIONS, WITHIN EUROPE, WITHOUT SOCIALISM
Forward with Durkheim
In our search for the promised land of a new labour internationalism,
we are, as I may have suggested, still wandering in something of a theoretical
desert. Richard Hyman provides us with an oasis here. Actually, he offers
us two overlapping oases (Hyman 1997a, 1997b), of which I will deal with
the first only. This not only reconsiders labour solidarity but even suggests
a content, a form and an ideological strategy for it. I may be wrong here,
but it is my impression that this is his strongest intervention into labour
politics since the Young Hyman was writing about Marxism and the unions,
Marxism and strikes, Marxism and industrial relations, one or two decades
Hyman’s argument falls into several distinct parts. The first deals
with the concept of solidarity and its historical expression within the
European trade union movement. A second deals with the implications of
European neoliberalism/globalisation for the undermining of traditional
forms and understandings of solidarity. The third, `Imagining Alternatives:
Towards Organic Solidarity’ suggests contents, forms and means for a renewed
European union solidarity ethic.
Hyman’s argument concerning solidarity in relation to a social movement
is one of the few available. I recall, some years ago, a couple of radical
Indian scholars calling solidarity the forgotten term in the secular European
trinity. My own ideas about the subject are largely dependent on those
of a little-known Dutch moral philosopher (Vos 1976)! More recently feminists
have felt the necessity to re-address this concept (Dean 1996). Hyman goes
back to, and then adapts, Durkheim for his own argument, which is that
any simple conception of solidarity (`mechanical solidarity’ of the
working class) is and was imaginary...; that mythic solidarity (`solidarity
forever’) may historically have provided inspiration and perhaps helped
generate a reality approximating to the idea, but probably can no longer
do so; and that collectivism, particularly of an encompassing character,
is therefore a project demanding new forms of strategic imagination. (1997a:1)
The crisis of mechanical (also mythic?) solidarity within Europe is due
to increased differentiation between, and increased individualism amongst,
workers, to the breakdown within Europe of the nation-state matrix of both
early and Keynesian industrialisation/conflict management, and to the eclipse
of labour egalitarianism consequent on the decline of both communism and
social-democracy as distinct labour traditions. This is all due, of course,
to the wave of neo-liberalism and globalisation that has flooded Europe
and swamped the institutions of subaltern self-organisation, defence and
assertion. So far, so bad.
Battles, intelligence, hegemony
Hyman’s alternative hits a high note: `solidarity...to survive...must
be re-invented’. We have to appeal to workers who are simultaneously more
differentiated and more interdependent. This requires finding an agenda
that could unite. This in turn implies that unions have to enter
`the battle of ideas’ (23) and recapture the ideological initiative. We
have to abandon the perspective of the `mass worker’ of the past (the Man
on the Ford Assembly Line?) and address those themes crucial to the workers
of the present day. These are summed up by Hyman as flexibility, security
and opportunity. Although these have been weapons of the employers and
right, they can be reclaimed by the unions, framed within a new discourse
of worker human rights and provide the basis of a `new hegemonic project’
(28). Such a programme cannot be thought out within and applied from the
union office. It requires attention to organisational capacity, to union
democracy, to `union intelligence’ (28) and to mass activity. Linking back
to his original theme, Hyman calls for
new models of transnational solidarity and for enhanced capacity for
transnational intervention...sustaining and enhancing the scope for initiative
and mobilisation at the base, to develop both stronger centralised
structures and the mechanisms for more vigorous grassroots participation
[...] To be effective at international level...trade unionism must...reconstitute
unions as discursive organisations which foster interactive international
relationships and serve more as networks than as hierarchies.
Finally, modern information technologies offer the potential for labour
movements to break out of the iron cage which for so long has trapped them
in organisational structures which mimic those of capital...Forward to
the `virtual trade union of the future’. (29-30. Original emphasis).
Solidarity as strategy and as ethic
In one fell swoop Hyman has taken us from the good old battle of ideas
to the networked unionism of the future. Whilst I am in entire sympathy
with both Hyman’s intentions and arguments, I feel his swoop is a little
too fell. His solidarity leaps, in seven-kilometer boots, across national
frontiers, languages, cultures, industrial relations patterns and labour
traditions. It is also confined to the European - actually, I think, West
European - mother of all fatherlands, as if this provided the external
limit of neo-liberal globalisation. I doubt, finally, whether `Flexibility,
Security, Opportunity’ are going to provide a basis for a new hegemonic
project, or even to move workers both 1) forward, beyond some neo-Keynesian
Eurolternative to neo-liberalism, and 2) outward to non-labour issues and
to the international and internationalist social movements that address
them. Nor do I really see this new trinity replacing the old on any union
banner. Solidarity, evidently, is not simply a smart strategy, it is also
an ethic and, to my mind, the crucial one for bridging those differences
in Liberty and Equality that we are going to have to both live with and
fight against for the foreseeable future. Understood as an ethic, solidarity
has to both recognise frontiers and surpass them, thus also moving out
from the working class (however broadly or narrowly conceived) to every
living being, thing - and even to those non-living things that sustain
these things. If my swoop sounds even feller than that of Hyman, then we
can move back in on `solidarity’ and specify it for our particular subject,
in terms that could sharpen analysis and guide strategy. Developing the
conceptualisation of my Dutch philosopher, I propose the specification
of international solidarity in terms of Identity, Substitution, Complementarity,
Reciprocity, Affinity and Restitution (Waterman Forthcoming). Whilst, for
example, we could accept Substitution (e.g. trade union development co-operation
on the North-South axis and the North-South direction) as part of
the meaning of international labour solidarity, any reduction of the latter
to the former results in a partial and impoverished understanding and practice
Finally, although Hyman seems quite prepared to ignore such meta-injunctions
of post-modernism as `Thou Shalt Not Universalise’ and `Thou Shalt Not
Commit Thyself to Any Thing Left of Centre’, he still seems a little shy
of using such terms as `internationalism’ and `socialism’. I sympathise
with his reserve here. And I do think one could free the ethical core of
these concepts from their historical barnacles by using synonyms. `Cosmopolitan
democracy’ and `radical democracy’ could serve quite well. But why bother?
There are countries, and labour movements (most, admittedly, outside any
Europe), where these terms have a positive resonance. They could also have
the effect of cultural shock on trade unionists and labour specialists
who have not heard them being used positively for quite some time. They
represent, moreover, the historical aspirations of this particular
movement. They are its contribution to the NSMs - who actually need
them for the realisation of their own projects. Internationalism and socialism,
also, could/should be re-invented. They could even be put on our new red,
green and purple banners along, preferably, with the necessary additions
6. FROM NATIONAL PLACE TO ELECTRONIC SPACE:
LABOUR’S NEW INTERNATIONAL ARENA
Virtuality welcomes real internationalists
Eric Lee’s little book on electronic labour internationalism is a remarkable
piece of work, showing that one of Hyman’s proposals is already a lively
and varied reality. The book includes a historical overview of labour internationalism,
an account of the rise of international labour communication by computer,
an overview of the technology, information on the best electronic sites
and experiences, and a conclusion on problems and prospects. It is also
the best technical handbook on any kind of `alternative’ international
computer networking I have read. Lee’s book, moreover, provides us with
a link between internationalism in the `real world’ and in `virtual reality’.
Manuel Castells (1996), some light years ahead of most of us, refers to
the second as `real virtuality’, and recognises it as an increasingly central
terrain of international democratic struggle. This is recognised by the
highly computer-conscious Korean labour movement, which is translating
Lee’s book for local use.
Eric Lee runs the most-sophisticated labour site on the Web - and one
that gives those with internet access further access, via the usual touch-and-go
linkages, to the wider world of electronic labour internationalism. At
the moment of writing I am consumer-testing his Labour Start feature for
use as my homepage (what first comes up on your screen when enter the worldwide
web). Lee is evidently the right person (a cosmopolitan), at the right
time (end of millennium) and right place (cyberspace). He has experience
in US socialist movements, in the International Federation of Worker Education
Associations, and as a self-educated computer professional (within an Israeli
kibbutz). He gives a lively and erudite account of the rise and fall of
the old labour and socialist internationalism. He stresses as major reasons
for its fall 1) world wars, 2) communism and 3) fascism. I find this explanation
over-political. I would rather stress, as already suggested, 1) the changing
nature of capitalism, 2) the equally changing structure of the working
class(es), and 3) the rise and rise, over two centuries, of state-nationalism.
Alternative histories with alternative implications
Lee’s useful account of the rise and rise of the labour nets is marred
marginally, for me, by his sanctification of Charles Levinson, one-time
General Secretary of the International Chemical Workers Federation. Levinson
may have been one pioneer of international labour communication by computer
(ILCC), but his role was quite literally unremarked by myself at the time
and, I am sure, unknown to many of the others involved in this effort.
There were such others, both at the core of the national and international
union organisations and on their periphery. It is, of course, to our discredit
that we did not know or take account of Levinson’s efforts, but this must
have been because of his institutionalised base and address. My own reading
of the short history of ILCC is as follows. There were some major initiatives
from within the international union organisations in the 1970s-80s. These
failed because the attitude of these organisations towards information
was that of bankers rather than broadcasters. The project took off at the
international labour and union periphery in the 1980s, at the instance
of those involved in `the new labour internationalism’. Neo-liberalisation
undermined this independent effort, and the two streams merged in the 1990s.
Lee’s work is an emblem of this coming together, but it does not identify
the tensions between the streams, which now flow through the project as
a whole. But, then, Lee is centrally concerned with union networking whilst
I am with 1) the necessary dialectic under globalisation between labour
and NSM networking, and 2) the new attitudes and messages necessary and
appropriate to the new networked medium.
Lee’s evident enthusiasm and enthusiasms do not lead him into any left
computer utopianism. His last chapter, The New Internationalisms,
deals with all the obstacles to effective labour presence on, and use of,
the net (money, equipment, language, training, etc.). He then considers
ideas and experiments being promoted by webmasters (no post-macho netweavers
here) within the most-advanced national and international union movements
(international councils of workers in specific TNCs, an International Labour
University). He continues with `three crazy ideas’ (178): an international
on-line labour press, an online archive, discussion group and journal,
and an early-warning network on union rights. These are not crazy ideas
at all: they are simply new to the international union organisations, since
these or similar facilities are well-established in or around the women’s/feminist,
ecological, human rights and other such movements. Lee does not end with
a revolutionary internationalist proletariat rising from the ashes. But
he certainly declares that `the international has been reborn’ (185). Lee’s
words, as this review may have already suggested, are still a considerable
way beyond a complex and contradictory labour reality.
Newer! Faster! Cheaper!...Different?
We might start by considering the judgement of Mark Poster (1995) on
cyberspace and the public sphere. Poster says of cyberspace that it is
less like a hammer (something for doing something to something) than like
Germany (a peopled, cultured community). I would argue that it is both
things - although I might have chosen a country with less blood and iron
in its history. But cyberspace is additionally a utopia, a non-existing
but desirable place and still to be created future. Within the institutional
core of the labour movement, email, the internet, the worldwide web, are
still primarily seen as Newer!, Faster!, Cheaper!, More-Effective! means
to old union ends. In the subaltern spirit of `countervailing power’ (Levinson
again) they customarily say, `if employers have them, we should have them’.
Even whilst engaged in a major labour conflict, receiving massive international
electronic coverage and political support, the Maritime Union of Australia
had little or no information about, or links to, such on its well-designed
website. Most national and international union websites continue to remind
me of those union journals guaranteed to bore the pants off anyone but
their editors. They are thinking in terms of one-way, top-down information
rather than those of a multi-directional, feedback culture. They still
have little idea of the new meanings, feelings and attitudes possible or
necessary if labour is to even defend itself against a GNC. If and
where they do provide support or links to other social movements or campaigns,
their sites can hardly be said to be spaces for broad, creative and open
consideration of an alternative global future.
Even if the alternative ILCC people of the 1970s-80s have merged
with the institutions they once criticised and challenged, I do not see
this as a major problem. We really should now, I think, dispense with the
left’s programmed responses to its repeated or permanent (self-)isolation:
`sell-out’, `betrayal’, `bourgeoisification’, `bureaucratisation’ and `social
democrat’ (as an epithet, of course, not as used by my good self). On the
one hand, there is always the possibility for the recreation of a periphery
- particularly in the infinitely expanding and flexible space offered by
the ether. Self-peripheralisation is, under the new networked capitalism,
different from self-marginalisation or self-isolation. It is a strategic
option, a privileged position from which one can both look out and be seen.
And, on the other hand, in a rapidly-changing world, that escapes the railway-line
and steam-train categories of the traditional left, there are those individuals,
groups or tendencies within the core of the old international labour organisations,
who are learning from the NSMs. In so far as the old institutions are increasingly
penetrated by or porous to the non-institutionalised, working from within
can be just as (or almost as?) subversive as working from without.
Lee’s own work is, as suggested above, a place where labour core and
periphery meet again - as they will whenever they recognise a community
of fate greater than the distance or attitudes that separate them. I am
talking here about both Lee’s book and his website. In so far as the new
internationalisms are communicational and cultural ones, Lee’s book actually
surpasses the masculine and labourist borders within which he has constructed
it. Utopians will feel quite comfortable here.
7. INTERNATIONAL LABOUR V. GLOBALISED CAPITAL:
THE CARTHORSE GROWLS
New strategies in new sites
One regrettably forgotten image of institutionalised labour is that
of the great British cartoonist, Vicky, who represented the British Trades
Union Congress as a carthorse - often with its row of portly, waistcoated,
riders facing backwards. My own favourite image of labour confronted by
globalisation is a sporting one: the unions trot out on the field, all
kitted-up for football, and find themselves sliding about on the ice-hockey
field of a GNC - or even confronted by the kind of electronic game incomprehensible
to most over the age of 25. To their complaints that there had been no
Collective Bargaining Agreement concerning the new game, the globalised
and networked cyborgs they confront (`half beings, half flows’, Castells:
1997:69), bleep back at them: `This-is-the-game. These-are-the-rules. If-you-don’t-like-them-you-can-go-play-with-yourselves.
Exterminate-terminate-ate’. This is a somewhat less affectionate image
than that offered by Vicky. But it is a less affectionate world.
Yet, after a decade or so of complaint about globalisation, of genuflection
toward free trade and consumer choice, of the great give-back, or of simply
lying paws-up waiting for some Head of State to publicly tickle their bellies,
the international labour organisations are beginning to realise that none
of these strategies guarantees the survival of the somewhat anorexic institutions
of wage labour representation. Some are beginning to growl. Some are beginning
Amongst the quite numerous events, documents, conferences, campaigns
and declarations that are now coming out of the international labour movement
(e.g. the book by John and Chenoy 1996, and the site, Summit of the Peoples
of the Americas), I can pick only one document for comment. To find it
I had to enter the wonderful world of Eric Lee. The new electronic labour
sites are not only to be understood as spaces of internationalist activity,
or for the creation of a new internationalist culture. They are, simultaneously,
archives for investigation, an agora for discussion and debate,
and a form of publication (see, for example, the Liverpool Dockers site,
Evans 1998). Even if, so far, academic international labour publication
on the net is seen only as marginal or provisional, one can expect the
development of electronic labour journals (with in-built audio and video).
Or one can promote such. Even in their infancy they seem to me an important
object for review.
Visions and strategies for the 21st century
The particular item I will discuss was on a site that seems, like so
many in this moment of transition between the real and virtual, to have
died shortly after its birth (though I copied it through to LabourNet first).
The document, with clear and original internationalist intentions, comes
out of a European initiative and can be considered the voice of a new eurocentred
labour internationalism that may eventually move beyond labourism, nation-statism
and eurocentrism. For those familiar with the turgid, predictable and banal
international union proclamations of the past, this is a radically innovative
document. It was submitted to an anniversary conference organised by the
SiD (Danish General Workers Union), May-June 1997 (SiD 1997). It was subtitled
Visions and Strategies for the 21st Century. For reasons of space
I am going to list most, but not all, of its heads and subheads, limiting
myself to brief remarks on crucial points. In so far as the original site
seems to have moved from electronic space to some even more ethereal one,
I would like to hope that this brief note will create or resuscitate interest
in the document:
1. Background: 1. A global revolution on the verge of the
21st century; 2. The crucial role of transnational companies; 3. Deterioration
of workers' rights; 4. More poverty and a further polarisation between
rich and poor; 5. Feminisation of poverty; 6. The neoliberal wave; 7. The
labour movement on the defensive; 8. A new global agenda. 2. Proposals
for a new global strategy: 1. Build strong, independent, democratic
and representative unions; 2. Build unity nationally and internationally
- a mass international social movement. 3. Strategic alliances: 1.
Political alliances; 2. Alliances with NGOs; 3. The informal sector; 4.
The struggle for human rights; 5. How to cope with the Transnational Companies;
2. The political consumer/the political enterprise; 6. Trade and
development; 7. Information and media strategy; 8. Seeking a viable alternative
to neoliberalism with focus on social development and equity.
The document recognises the extent of neo-liberalisation/globalisation,
though under-estimating the shift from productive to information/services
and the implications of this. It goes beyond either condemning or condoning
globalisation, arguing also for its positive aspect, or the necessity to
release such. It argues the necessity for unions to move from the defensive
to the offensive. Recognising the comparatively weak, divided and nationalist
nature of unions, it nonetheless insists that these are the `biggest mass
democratic movement in the world’ and repeats its conviction that `democratic
socialism is the viable alternative’ to neo-liberalism. Yet it also recognises
the importance of women’s, ecological and consumption issues.
For the first time, in my memory, such a document calls labour a `mass
international social movement’, yet it criticises the international union
bodies for their closed debates, and for the limited role within them of
women, the young and the `developing countries’ (an archaic term in this
context). In talking of alliances it recognises the high and favourable
public profile of environmental and other `NGOs’ (another term ripe for
de- and reconstruction). Whilst spelling out their demands and recognising
their media capacities, it argues that these - unlike the unions - do not
have `democratic structures’ and implies they should rather be used than
be relied on. There is here no recognition of the way in which 1) representative-democratic
bodies can be bureaucratised and instrumentalised, nor 2) of the way that
the NSMs (reduced here to a catch-all institutional form of the NGO) create
new democratic meanings, arenas and self-activating constituencies. The
traditional notion of labour rights is broadened out by the assertion
that labour rights are human rights, and that these extend to those of
women, children and the `informal sector’ (another archaic and misleading
concept from hegemonic discourse). The new ideas here will, in sum, need
a new vocabulary if they are to turn from shoots into plants.
A new union intelligence at work?
Whilst many of the anti-transnational corporation strategies proposed
are traditional, the notion of the political consumer and enterprise are
novel. The political consumer - a demanding, ethical, socially-conscious
being - is seen as another important ally. S/he is not, however, seen as
a wage or salary earner, or dependent of such, out shopping! The stress
on information and media strategy represents a belated recognition of the
increasing centrality of such. Yet the proposal to create a `Global Labour
Information Network’ reveals either ignorance of what Eric Lee shows or
a belated and archaic desire to initiate or organise something which already
exists and is, in any case, quite literally `out of control’.
In its stirring finale, the document argues that neoliberalism has failed.
It rejects the notion that the market be prioritised over human beings
and the environment. It considers the democratisation of globalised capital
and global governance the `central issue of the 21st century’. It calls
a world where considerations for the individual’s possibilities, rights
and freedoms together with solidarity and considerations for the community
are accompanied by social welfare, justice and full employment without
destroying the ecological balance.
All this requires growth oriented to the poor, a new role for the state,
and for an active role of civil society at all levels, in shaping and monitoring
democracy and rights.
I see this as a station on the road between the old inter-national labour
movement and a new global solidarity one. It is an indication of Hyman’s
new `trade union intelligence’, and one would like to know exactly where,
how and by whom this intelligence was generated.
8. TOWARDS AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL MOVEMENT UNIONISM
Labour as a new internationalist movement
I have to finish with the book of Kim Moody. This is 1) a pathbreaking
book 2) a very intelligent one, 3) easily accessible and 4) strategy oriented.
It is going to be a standard teaching text - both in universities and in
labour education - and also a basic point of reference for debates on theory
and strategy. I cannot, of course, guarantee that it will be translated
into Spanish, German, Japanese, French, Russian and Chinese, but it certainly
ought to be. What Moody has done is to revive the notion of labour as an
emancipatory social movement, and as an international/ist one, and as one
that both needs and lays the groundwork for a new kind of socialism. And
all this is done on the basis not of a retreat to the past but of a confrontation
with the contemporary capitalist revolution and of left intellectual adjustment
Workers in a Lean World is the first socialist book I recall,
at least in English, that deals with one world of wage labour, or that
places the workers of the industrialised capitalist economies back into
a single world of such (cf. the equally impressive, radical but non-socialist
work of William Grieder (1997)). For decades international or comparative
labour studies have dealt with labour in industrialised capitalist democracies.
Indeed, for the US, international either means US+Canadian or simply
foreign. And one of the most useful works on labour internationally,
Ronnie Munck’s (1988), whilst informed by international cases and debates,
limited itself to workers in the Third World. But Kim Moody is the longtime
editor of the US left-labour monthly, Labor Notes, which organises
an annual international conference on labour struggles. He is not only
well informed on labour struggles in North America. He also has a fine
journalistic style, an understanding of political economy, a balanced attitude
toward what is usually brushed off as the labour bureaucracy. He
seems to have travelled in Latin America and Western Europe. And to have
himself been involved in attempts at what he calls rank-and-file internationalism.
This book eschews the pretensions of academic labour studies. But Parts
I and II deal, in turn, and at quite a general level, with the new capitalist
globalisation and with the role of the state. Here Moody suggests that
our brutal capitalist order is either returning to or fulfilling Marx’s
predictions. We have an extremely aggressive, mobile capital, creating
international production chains. And we have states, capital’s cops
(Part II), extending nationally, and enforcing internationally, the
rule of the market. Part III represents the core of the work, dealing with
the impact of globalisation on labour and its response to this. The international
working class, he argues, is today simultaneously pushed apart and pulled
together (Ch. 7), in the sense of being both fractured and made more
interdependent. Considering the South, Moody concentrates on the industrialising
countries of the capitalist periphery, such as Mexico, Brazil, South Africa,
South Korea. He then examines, in turn, both Official Labour Internationalism
in Transition (Ch. 10) and Rank-and-File Internationalism (Chapter
11). Although he has earlier eschewed any intention of legislating for
the movement, his Conclusion is entitled Toward an International Social-Movement
Unionism. And this is followed by an Epilogue on A Socialist Direction.
If these do not legislate for labour internationally, they certainly put
forward a class and socialist vision for the 21st century.
Resuscitation or reassertion?
I welcome Kim Moody’s book. I am happy to see twenty-first century wage
labour, the working class, socialism and internationalism arise, like the
phoenix, from the fire that devoured its 20th century predecessor. Labour
and socialism, as I have already suggested, do have something to contribute
to the emancipatory subjects and forces of this new epoch. Ecological,
human rights, peace and women’s movements will be freshly challenged to
take account of something they have tended to constrict within their own
fields of vision. Moody may require them to rethink the role of labour,
the ideology of socialism. All of which is preliminary to a quite extensive
disagreement with Moody. Because I do not think a reassertion of
class identity, socialist ideology and Marxist theory adequately addresses
the current transformation of capitalism and crisis of labour (reproduced,
along with Moody’s argument in Wood, Meiksins and Yates 1997). In what
follows I will address myself largely to Part III, Labour’s Response,
and particularly to his Conclusion, Toward an International Social-Movement
Although Moody’s book is based on the notion of social-movement unionism
(SMU), this is nowhere theorised. He presents it as a broad orientation,
distinct from either party-led or bargaining-dominated unionisms:
In social-movement unionism neither the unions nor their members are
passive in any sense. Unions take an active lead in the streets, as well
as in politics. They ally with other social movements, but provide a class
vision and content... That content is not simply the demands of the movements
but the activation of the mass of union members as the leaders of change
- those who in most cases have the greatest social and economic leverage
in capitalist society. Social-movement unionism implies an active strategic
orientation that uses the strongest of society’s oppressed and exploited,
generally organised workers, to mobilise those who are less able to sustain
self-mobilisation: the poor, the unemployed, the casualised workers, the
neighbourhood organisations. (Moody 1997:276)
Other crucial elements of his vision of a renewed unionism include: current
worker rebellion against capitalist globalisation; that this rebellion
can be found across the dominant global triad (US, Western Europe, Japan)
and in both the global North and South; that it challenges class-collaborationist
and bureaucratic leaderships; the recognition or even embrace of differences
within the working class; the reaching out to wider communities of the
poor; the required linkage of democracy, solidarity and mobilisation. Whilst
finding instances or moments of such a cross-sectoral and cross-ideological
movement in the North, he considers it to be already exemplified in countries
like Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, South Africa, Brazil and
South Korea - the last three of which provide the North with `role models’
(289. Moody’s quotes).
In the face of a neo-liberal globalisation, a renewed and energised
internationalism is also an essential part of Kim Moody’s vision:
To say that most struggle is ultimately national or even local is
not to say that international links, co-ordination, organisation, and action
are not critical to the success of social-movement unionism in today’s
globalising international economy. Internationalism must be part of the
perspective and practice of union leaders, activists, and members if global
capital is to be contained at all. (279-8)
He points to a growing understanding by national and international unions
of `the contours and vulnerabilities of international production chains’
(273), and mentions a number of cross-border alliances and networks across
the NAFTA, or between Europe and North Africa. He looks forward to the
possibility of such networks going beyond this and eventually impacting
on transnational management decisions and changing the rules of the game.
The second coming of Marx’s proletariat
Moody’s SMU represents a union alliance with the labouring poor, with
leadership in the hands of the well-organised workers, who occupy strategically
central positions in capitalist society and who potentially possess emancipatory
consciousness and vision. This is a contemporary expression of classical
19th century Marxism. It differs from some Marxisms in so far as it takes
distance from vanguardism/substitutionism. But it replaces this, largely,
by a workerism shared by the revolutionary socialist, anarcho-syndicalist
and social-reformist traditions. It represents, implicitly, the expectation
that now that Marx’s capitalism has become global, Marx’s working class
will fulfil its emancipatory role, socially and geographically. There is,
it seems to me, nothing in history to justify this vision, since this rather
reveals industrial worker struggles ending in vicious repression, false
utopias or, most problematically, successful reform! Contemporary evidence
- West, South and East (the problematic ex-Communist world largely ignored
by him) - points in other directions to those suggested by Moody.
The second crucial element in the Moody argument is the socio-geographic
one. This sees the crucial relationship here as being between the industrial
working classes of the North and the South. The exemplary Southern cases
he mentions are countries like Brazil and South Africa. Whilst he mentions
major strikes in countries like Nigeria and Ecuador, these provide little
more than rhetorical ballast. Similarly, he mentions women workers, cocoa
producers and Zapatistas. He even stresses as highly significant that the
strike waves of the mid-1990s have been of public sector workers.
But all his analysis refers to industrial workers, particularly
autoworkers (Hyman’s Fordist working class). I see no particular reason
why the internationalism of the embattled metal-bashing trades (or the
equally embattled cargo-handling ones I have been following) should be
more significant or advanced than that of the informatised and service
ones. I imagine, indeed, that the latter are likely to have more of the
necessary skills, attitudes and motivations.
Brazil, South Africa, Korea and some other countries certainly went
through a period of, something that could be called `social-movement unionism’
- at least in the sense of significant labour-popular alliances.
But this, regrettably, seems to have been a moment rather than a tendency.
The workers and unions of these three countries find themselves mired in
much the same neo-liberal mud as those of the North, and the unions tend
to find themselves increasingly deeply involved in webs of national industrial
relations institutions, laws and values. Franco Barchiesi (1996) shows
that South African unions provide less a `role model’ to the North than
another problematic case. The new Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
was, even before South Korea was struck down by the Asian flu in late-1997,
proposing for itself the social-partnership model appropriate to the liberal
democracy its militancy was expected to bring into existence! Shortly afterwards
its leadership made concessions on job reductions to the new government,
in exchange for political concessions. There was a rebellion led by significant
unions and the top leadership was deposed. The disorientation of this still
powerful movement continues at the time of writing.
Gay and lesbian workers of the world unite
It is evident that the centrality of the industrial or wage-earning
working class to capitalist production, distribution and exchange is not
necessarily correlated to its primacy in emancipatory struggle.
The contemporary Mexican case presented by Moody demonstrates something
quite different. The initiating role and radicalism comes from the rural
areas, the indigenous minorities, the Mexican periphery! And both the Zapatistas
and the radical unions - which certainly do exist - are aiming at democratisation
and self-determination (indigenous, popular, national) rather than socialism.
Socialist consciousness and transformatory intention rest here, as they
so often have, largely in the minds of the intellectuals and organisers.
I see no way that Moody’s model of a labour/popular alliance
could make room even for what is happening next door to the US - the national
conference of gay, lesbian and bisexual workers organised by the Canadian
Labour Congress (Kinsman 1997) - or internationally, where a similar one
was being proposed during the period of the Gay and Lesbian Games, Amsterdam,
summer 1998. In so far as the `abnormal’ subverts the norm (wage-husband+house-wife),
we obviously need a model that can. It could start from the belated recognition
that Marx’ revolutionary internationalist proletariat was a philosophical
necessity rather than a sociological discovery (compare Engels’ study of
the English working class). Moody’s recognition of `the social’, and `difference’,
represent a belated attempt to get a complex GNC back within a 19th century
Marxist discourse, not an attempt to dialogue with movements and ideas
responding to the latter. (Actually, not a globalised and informatised
capitalism, since, again, this book deals neither with information, communication
The internationalism of the working class, also assumed by Marx, is
fraught with similar problems. Kim Moody allows for one of these in so
far as he recognises that whilst capitalism is increasingly global, workers
live and fight nationally, or even more locally. Historically, as Eric
Hobsbawm has somewhere pointed out, when workers and unions have had to
chose between class and national (or ethnic!) identity, they have tended
to opt for the latter. It can be argued that much historical labour internationalism
was a national internationalism (seeking the right to nations of
those who had none, and rights within them for those who had one). It can
also be argued that historical labour internationalism had most social
impact when it was least proletarian (combined with liberal, radical, democratic,
anti-fascist, pacifist, anti-imperialist internationalisms). Whilst, in
the contemporary period, there has been a welcome increase in labour and
even union internationalism, this again tends to be most politically successful
when most-closely articulated with other internationalisms (women’s, human
rights, ecological/consumer, peace).
CONCLUSION: WORKERS OF THE WORLD, COMMUNICATE!
I have here repeatedly suggested the growing import of networking, communication
and culture in the development of a new kind of global solidarity. Lee’s
book illustrates this new factor/orientation but does not theorise it.
The Danish document recognises the significance but hardly cedes it the
necessary space. Hyman hints strongly at it but does not spell out the
hints. The others are as innocent of such an understanding as was Eve before
she was confronted by the Brave New Snake and its Apple. Yet this kind
of understanding has existed at moments within the labour and socialist
movement, having been stimulated in the first case mentioned below by radio
and telegraph, in the second by TV. Jose Carlos Mariategui, `the Peruvian
Gramsci’, a founder of Peru’s first Communist Party and General Confederation
of Labour, begins by talking, in classical Marxist terms, of labour internationalism,
but ends thus:
In this century everything tends to link, everything tends to connect,
peoples and individuals...The progress of communications has to an incredible
extent mutually bound the activity and history of nations...Communications
are the nervous system of this internationalism and human solidarity...A
new idea that blossoms in Britain is not a British idea except for the
time that it takes for it to be printed. Once launched into space by the
press, this idea, if it expresses some universal truth, can be instantaneously
transformed into an internationalist idea. (Mariategui 1986 [1923-4]).
The second quote comes out of a critical reflection on Paris 1968, when
the students occupied the opera rather than the radio and TV stations.
It is addressed neither to workers nor to the international, but it is
to contemporary social movements:
The open secret of the electronic media, the decisive political factor,
which has been waiting, suppressed or crippled, for its moment to come,
is their mobilising power [...] When I say mobilise I mean mobilise...namely
to make men [hopefully menschen/people rather than maenner/men
in the original? PW] more mobile than they are. As free as dancers, as
aware as football players, as surprising as guerrillas. (Enzensburger 1976:??)
Such ideas may be less convincing to union leaders and labour specialists
than to the severely neo-liberalised Liverpool dockers (who were defeated
despite their electronic internationalism) and the Australian ones (successfully
fighting back, at time of writing, because of this). But it is my strong
feeling that they will need to be rediscovered and rediscussed if an international
labour solidarity movement suitable for the new millennium is to be reinvented.
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Labour Start <http://www.solinet.org/LEE/labourstart.html>
Maritime Workers Union of Australia <http://mua.tcp.au/welcome.ssi>
Global Solidarity <http://www.antenna.nl/~waterman/>
Liverpool Dockers <http://www.labournet.org.uk/docks2/other/dockhome.htm>
SiD (Danish Workers Union) 1997 <http://www.labournet.org.uk/discuss.html>
Summit of the Peoples of the Americas <http://members.tripod.com/~redchile/