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The Second Coming of Proletarian Internationalism?

A Review of Recent Resources

Peter Waterman

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 <>; Kim Moody, Workers in a Lean World: Unions in the International Economy. London: Verso. 1997, 342pp.

1. RIP?

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 environmentalism. 

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 appeal internationally.

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.


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 union strategy.

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' solidarity. (266) 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).



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 agency.

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 labour solidarity.

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 tradition.

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.


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 academic work. 

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).



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 ago.

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: ` 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 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 of solidarity. 

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 or qualifiers...



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.



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 to bite.

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 for 

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.


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 to it.

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 Unionism

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 or culture).

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).


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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Wood, Ellen Meiksins, Meiksins, Peter and Yates, Michael (eds) . 1997. `Rising from the Ashes: Labor in the Age of "Global" Capitalism', Monthly Review (Special Issue), Vol. 49, No. 3, July-August, pp. 1-14.

WWW sites

LabourNet <>

Labour Start <>

Maritime Workers Union of Australia <>

Global Solidarity <>

Liverpool Dockers <>

SiD (Danish Workers Union) 1997 <>

Summit of the Peoples of the Americas < index. htm>.

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