Thursday, June 2, 2016

Global solidarity for workers organising critical in the face of neoliberalism

Organised workers are antithetical to neoliberalism. In neoliberal thought, ‘the organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers’, writes George Monbiot in the Guardian this month. International Workers Day gives us an opportunity to think about how to fight new challenges brought about by globalisation – the denigration of labour rights, privatisation and austerity that neoliberalism has heralded.

In the global north, unions are in decline both in membership and in influence, where they are losing control over traditional levers of power. While the crushing of organised labour in the global north remains a dominant narrative, the global south tells a different story. As industries have relocated to capitalise on low cost labour markets, worker organising has slowly followed. Research shows that the number, influence and density of labour unions in the global south have steadily risen.

Women workers in the global south face multiple challenges to benefiting from the organised labour movement. Firstly, women workers are underrepresented, and women’s rights to work free from sexual harassment and rights to maternity leave are marginalised. Where women do hold positions of power, they have often paid a high price for sticking their heads above the parapet. Secondly, some of the industries in which women play a strong role, such as the garment industry, are those that have been removed to ‘export processing zones’. These are proliferating in industrialising countries. Some 90% of the 27 million strong workforce in such zones are female, and some countries have outlawed worker organising in these areas. How can we support the position of women within organised labour in the global south, and in the context of repressive rights environments? How can we support organising among women workers, many of whom are migrants placed within sectors that are not recognised as ‘labour’?

The last few years have seen many trade unions proactively engaging with migrant workers and domestic workers. The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is an India-based trade union of self-employed women workers. But unionising is not the only form of organising. Women’s movements across the world provide us with many examples of innovative, subversive and resilient organising among women. One of the earliest and on-going struggles of women’s movements has been to make women’s unpaid and paid work visible and to advocate for parity in remuneration...Read more: