National Political Trajectories and the Changing Power of Labor in the Global South
The construction of networks and the robustness of their effects depend on the extent to which the labor movement is seen as serving a “breadth and variety of the interests” in addition to its own (Polanyi, 2001:163), that is, on the extent to which other sectors and classes see labor’s struggles as furthering their own aspirations. When middle class aspirations for political voice are blocked by authoritarian regimes, labor may be perceived as a champion of general interests. But, the parameters that allow labor rather than some other group to take this role have not been explicated. Nor do we understand what prevents a simple escalation of repression from undercutting labor’s success. Finally, the perils of success itself must be considered. Michels and the Thermidor still lurk.
We may still lack satisfying theories of labor’s successful engagement in national political trajectories, but this does not excuse us from exploring the possible lessons of labor’s comparative fortunes in recent years. Complementing CS Lee’s analysis of network effects with a Polanyian analysis of perceived service to the commonweal is one way to move forward.