Building New Capabilities at the Local Level through Transnational Unionism: Evidence from the Case of Carrefour in Colombia

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
OLD.2.22 (Old Building)
Christian Levesque, HEC Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
Marc-Antonin Hennebert, HEC Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada
Gregor Murray, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada; Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada; CRIMT - Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work
This paper examines the relationship between transnational unionism and workplace trade union power. It seeks to understand how transnational trade unions can enhance workplace trade union capacity to act and as a result reduce the asymmetries of power between labour and capital. This question has prompted a debate on the appropriate articulation between the global and the local. Several scholars argue that trade unions are compelled to go global in order to counter multinational companies (MNCs) power and increase workplace trade union capacity to act. Other scholars are more sceptical about the necessity for labour to match these MNCs at the global level. They insist on local embeddedness arguing that priority must be given to local endeavours. This debate highlights the necessity to understand the complex intersection between the local and the global and the relationship between capabilities and power resources at multiple levels.

This paper analyzes a successful union organizing campaign in Colombia to assess how transnational trade unionism can reinforce workplace trade union power. This campaign can be considered as a critical case for at least two reasons. First, the campaign focuses on a large MNC in the retail industry, which is probably one of the more difficult industries to organize. Secondly, the institutional legacy in Colombia is, by way of understatement, extremely permissive inasmuch as it has been one of the most difficult contexts for the basic protection of trade union activity. In fact, Colombia is considered as one of the most dangerous countries for trade unionists.  

Drawing on interviews (n=30) conducted with management representatives and local union representatives, regional and industrial union federation leaders, and national and international union officers, the paper argues that the dissemination of capabilities and resources across the multilevel coordination structure and their complementarities was central to the success of this campaign.