Thinking through Worker Responses to Globalisation What's Geography Got to Do with It?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Andrew HEROD , University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Everywhere we go, it seems, we hear about globalisation.  And, if we are associated with a labour movement in any way, we often hear a corollary to this globalisation talk – ‘workers must organise globally!’, ‘unions must internationalise!’, and many similar such statements.  Certainly, I don’t want to suggest here that these are not important elements in a vibrant labour politics that seeks to confront the untrammeled power of global capital.  There are growing numbers of labour unions who are merging across international borders as a way to gain leverage in the global economy.  But what I do want to suggest is that responses to the activities of global capital are more complicated than a simple ‘we need to globalise’ response.  And part of what complicates this is questions of geography.

In this paper, then, I will detail some of the geographical approaches that a group of self-styled “Labour geographers” have developed to think through issues of worker power to show how the way in which the geography of capitalism is made is both reflective of capital-labour conflicts but also constitutive thereof.  In particular, I will focus upon two claims which, when viewed through a geographical lens, are more problematic than at first perceived, these being: 1) the claim that workers must organise at the same geographical scale as capital if they are to have any purchase upon the world economy (i.e., globally); and 2) that transnational organising by workers is necessarily progressive.  Such geographical perspectives provide a means to think about world order and political praxis in a more nuanced manner.  Researching how different places are geographically connected, then, is a central starting point to developing effective and progressive strategy in an increasingly networked global economy.