Challenges and Opportunities for South-South Labor Internationalism in Latin America: The Case of the International Dockworkers Council

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:24
Oral Presentation
Caitlin FOX-HODESS, UC Berkeley, USA
While scholars of the new labor internationalism have identified the need for increased collaboration among trade unions in the Global South, few examples are available for study. What are the challenges that workers outside of the Global North face in building global unionism with one another and how might these challenges be overcome? This paper responds to this question by drawing on participant-observation and in-depth interviews conducted between 2012 and 2017 on regional-level labor internationalism among Latin American dockworkers unions affiliated to the International Dockworkers Council, an autonomous global union network.

Despite tremendous growth in affiliation, the IDC continues to face significant challenges to building a powerful regional-level network within Latin America. First, the weakness of Latin American trade unionism in general poses a significant challenge. When trade unionists are struggling to build even local level organizations with very limited resources, the international level may seem quite distant. Second, the absence of a robust transnational governance framework comparable to that found in Europe has meant a similar systematic logic for cooperation is lacking in Latin America. Finally, the large distances and cost of travel in Latin America, coupled with poorly resourced unions, create practical barriers to internationalism.

In the final section of the paper, I examine the role of North-South internationalism in labor internationalism within Latin America. Because of the far greater resources available to dockworkers in the Global North, the fees they pay to the IDC are used to subsidize the organization’s work in Latin America and Africa and Northern unions play an outsized role in the organization, which is based in Europe. I consider the implications of the potential dependencies and inequalities this entails on the Latin American region and possibilities for transcending these challenges.