Friday, March 25, 2011

Trade Unions, Free Trade and the Problem of Transnational Solidarity


Two-day workshop at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at Nottingham University on 2 and 3 December 2011 with Samir Amin as keynote speaker

Since the completion of the GATT Uruguay Round and the establishment of the WTO in the mid-1990s, the international free trade agenda has been drastically expanded including now also issues related to intellectual property rights, trade in services and trade-related investment measures. The WTO Doha negotiations round launched in 2001 had been intended to complete ‘unfinished business’ especially in the area of free trade in services, public procurement and agriculture. At the same time, resistance to these developments has increased with the demonstrations at the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle in 1999 as a first landmark event. The latest attempt to revive the Doha round in July 2008 ended in failure. In view of the problems at the multilateral level, both the EU and the USA have increasingly engaged in bilateral strategies of free trade agreements. These strategies include the expanded trade agenda and are a tool to achieve what has been impossible within a multilateral setting.

Free trade strategies have increasingly become a problem for the international labour movement. On the one hand, trade unions in the North especially in manufacturing have supported free trade agreements. They hope that new export markets for products in their sectors will preserve jobs. On the other, trade unions in the Global South as well as social movements more generally oppose these free trade agreements, since they often imply deindustrialisation and the related loss of jobs for them. Unsurprisingly, transnational solidarity is difficult if not impossible to achieve as a result. At the same time, however, it has to be asked what free trade actually is and whether we can call the existing system really a free trade system? How trade unions understand both these questions is fundamental for their chances to understand each other. Understandings of free trade, which draw on alternative economic theories – see, for example, Samir Amin’s theory of unequal exchange and imperialism – may open up new avenues.
Additionally, a focus is required on countries’ different position in the global economy, core, semiperiphery, periphery, the related dynamics of uneven and combined development structuring it, as well as the related implications for labour movements in view of free trade. Equally, a sector specific view is required, as particular sectoral dynamics are likely to have an influence on trade unions’ outlook on free trade.

In this workshop, we intend to focus on the problematic around free trade, the current free trade system and the related neo-liberal ideology, as well as analyse the problems for trade unions and social movements in more detail. The objective is to understand better the dynamics underlying free trade as well as explore possibilities for transnational solidarity against the background of uneven and combined development. This will also involve a discussion of alternative conceptualisations of free trade based on different economic theories and the related implications for labour movements. The workshop intends to reach beyond academia and facilitate discussions between academics and trade union researchers as well as social movement activists.

In more detail, we invite papers by academics, trade union researchers and social movement activists in the following areas:

• Basic analyses of what a ‘proper’ free trade system is;
• Analyses of current free trade policies, the implications of neo-liberalism as well as the concrete results of free trade policies for the populations affected. Can we call the current system a free trade system?
• Analyses of free trade policies and the relationships with other policies of neo-liberal restructuring;
• Implications of countries’ structural location in the global economy as well as sectoral specificities for trade unions’ positions on free trade;
• Analyses of resistance movements to concrete free trade agreements with a specific emphasis on co-operation and/or non – co-operation between trade unions and social movements;
• Analyses of the position of specific trade unions and/or social movements on free trade;

Paper proposals of ca. 250 words should be sent to by 9 May 2011. There is no registration fee for the workshop and all participants will be provided with coffee/tea breaks, two lunches and one evening dinner free of charge.

The workshop is supported with a small research grant of £6960 by the British Academy (SG102043) as well as a grant of £1750 by the University of Nottingham priority group Integrating Global Society.

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski
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