When and Why Do Synergies Work? Comparing Synergistic Movements to Stop “Free Trade” to Synergies Between Transnational Labor and Feminist Movements

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:20
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Peter EVANS, Watson Institute for International Studies, USA, Sociology, University of California-Berkeley, CA, USA
Two contrasting cases in which synergistic strategies joining transnational labor movements and other transnational social movements appear to have benefitted labor and its partner movements create fruitful foundations for debating the theoretical underpinnings of cross movement synergies. 

             At the beginning of the millennium, a set of diverse social movements known as the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HAS/ASC), in which labor played a leading role, stopped the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a regional trade and investment regime strongly supported by both capital and globally hegemonic political actors.  Today, no similarly powerful counter-alliance of social movements to counter the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is to be seen.  Why cross-movement success in the FTAA case and not (yet) in the fight against the TPP/TTIP?

            Synergies between transnational labor networks and transnational networks focusing on rights and gender equity have a different trajectory. Silvia Walby (2011) asserts that there has been a “re-gendering of unions” and that “Trade unions are the largest feminist organizations.”  Possible explanations include the shifting composition of trade union membership, the increased salience of issues with a strong gendered component, such as fights against austerity and cutbacks of public services, and the increasing importance of women workers’ organizations in transnational efforts to organize informal workers, as in the fight for ILO Convention 189.

            The contrasting historical dynamics of the two cases is provocative. In the first synergistic victory, historically conjunctural factors that apparently will not be repeated appear to have been crucial.  In the second, robust long-term structural changes reinforce the logic of cross-movement synergies. Is the contrast between the two cases serendipitous?  Or does it offer a start toward a more general argument about when synergies are likely to work?