Dockworkers Against Austerity: Multiscalar Political Alignment and Campaign Success in Transnational Union Activism

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Caitlin FOX-HODESS, UC Berkeley, USA
Labor scholars and activists have called for greater international coordination among trade unions to respond to the assault on workers by the austerity agenda, but we lack a theory for understanding under what conditions labor unions at multiple levels (local, national, European) come together effectively to achieve campaign goals. The impact of the austerity agenda has not been uniform and international solidarity does not always deliver a victory, even in sectors where labor is well-organized internationally: through European solidarity since 2009, English dockworkers achieved a partial victory; Portuguese dockworkers achieved a full victory; and Greek dockworkers have thus far not succeeded in achieving their goals. How do we account for this variation in success at resisting austerity despite strong international participation by the same actors in all three cases during the same period (2009- 2014)? The dockworker cases suggest that international solidarity is a necessary but never sufficient condition for the successful resolution of disputes, even in this highly internationalized sector of the economy. Instead, the most effective organizing necessarily ties together strong shop floor and community action at the local level with effective industrial action (or the threat thereof) at the international level, as in the Portuguese case. Strategies that rely too heavily on national political change at the expense of international action, as in the Greek case, or too heavily on international action to overcome problems at the local level created by the national union bureaucracy, as in the English case, have not met with success. Effective dispute resolution for the dockworkers, then, has depended on the successful articulation of union politics and strategy at multiple levels: in essence, exercising worker power in a coordinated fashion at the local and international levels while avoiding or overcoming the constraining effects of national union bureaucracies and political parties.