‘New Forms of Transnational Union Coordination and Action: The Ituc's New Approach to Campaigning'

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
OLD.2.22 (Old Building)
Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Birkbeck, University of London, London, United Kingdom
‘New Forms of Transnational Union Coordination and Action: The ITUC’s New Approach to Campaigning’

 Abstract for SASE conference, London 2 – 24 July 2-15

 Mini Conference, ‘Transnational Trade Unionism and MNCs: Building new capabilities to reduce inequalities’

 Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Birkbeck, University of London, WC1E 7HX


The structure and actions of the international trade union movement went through a major change with the creation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in 2006, which brought together affiliates of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), and a number of previously non-aligned national centres. The creation of the ITUC also marked the beginning of a new era in relationships between previously independent bodies, primarily between the ITUC itself and the Global Union Federations (GUFs), and increased autonomy for the central body’s regional organisations. In my recent work (for example ‘The international labour movement: structures and dynamics’, in Fairbrother et al 2013) I have elaborated on the nature and implications of this change in the formal international structure of the trade union movement, but have not gone in detail into any of the significant changes in international trade union action. I will seek to rectify this here. 

In this paper, I will explore one of the more significant changes in the approach and action of the ITUC:  its increased focus on the development of international trade union campaigns in cooperation with its regional organisations, national affiliates, the GUFs and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These campaigns involve working together in a more egalitarian and coordinated way on specific themes, often targeting particular multinational corporations (MNCs) or specific issues such as domestic and migrant labour or human rights abuses. This is a new way of working for the ITUC, different from the example of either of its predecessors, which tended to focus more on representation at inter-governmental organisations (such as the ILO) than on campaigning, and which left specific campaigns to individual affiliates, the regions or (in the case of industrial campaigns) the GUFs. It is not yet clear how successful this approach will be but it is worth exploring the logic and motivation for adopting it, its implications for relations between the confederation and these other layers of international trade unionism, the degree to which it either reinforces or moves away from a ‘top down’ approach, and the extent to which it promotes greater equality between the most powerful affiliates in the North and the majority of affiliates in the South. I will draw on examples of individual campaigns involving the promotion of women’s equality, the defence of trade union rights, and the protection of migrant workers, in an attempt to answer these questions and to consider to what extent the structure and action of the international trade union movement have significantly changed.