Bringing Race in: Transnational Whiteness and Philosophies of Social Partnership

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Katherine NASTOVSKI, McMaster University, Canada
Transnational solidarity and coordination is a principal challenge and opportunity for workers’ organizations in an era of globalized circuits of production and care. As key civil society organizations, the prospects of building transnational labour alliances are not only central for the future of workers’ organizations themselves, but also for broader struggles for social justice globally. However, the role of workers’ organizations in struggles against global inequalities have been and continue to be fraught with contradictions. Examples include explicit labour imperialism on the part of some unions in the Global North, but also what Rebecca Johns’ (1998) calls accommodationist solidarities, practices meant to be solidaristic that end up reinforcing competition for jobs and investments.

Exploring the ongoing relevance of these practices has been limited by tendencies to view these contradictions as sole products of the Cold War and therefore of no import for thinking about transnational labour relations today. I argue that assessments of organizational possibilities for international labour coordination and solidarity must tackle these contradictions. Drawing on my doctoral research on labour transnationalism in Canada from the mid-1940s to the end of the Cold War, I argue that besides anti-communism, the international practices of the Canadian Congress of Labour and later Canadian Labour Congress were grounded in a philosophy of social partnership characterized by ideas of race and nation arising from the specificities of Canadian class formation. Focusing on the case of the Caribbean and support for the Colombo Plan, my research suggests that transnational whiteness had a significant impact on the way union actors developing these practices understood their role in global politics. Consideration of the ongoing significance of ideas of race in shaping transnational labour solidarities is especially timely given the rise of right-wing populist movements.