In this paper, I have attempted to outline the current debate on the effects of 'globalisation' on the labour market and the positive trade union strategies to deal with those effects.
The survey of the evidence shows that the advocates of trade liberalisation have not been able to convince opinion makers that benefits will automatically flow to workers and the community from trade liberalisation.
There is plenty of evidence out there that gives reason for us to be sceptical about their claims. However, similar suspicion should also apply to those who advocate isolationism (which is simply not an option).
The appropriate response I believe consists of the following elements:
1. We should not accept or reject globalisation outright but make our presence felt in how it should be shaped and formed. After all, Bretton Woods in the 1940s and the Asia Crisis now shows that international institutions do matter and are there for the influencing.
2. We should not underestimate the role of Australian's labour market and social institutions in partly absorbing the effects of globalisation.
3. We should take a hard-headed view of the analysis of globalisation and labour markets and always put the onus on the globalisation advocates to show evidence of its benefits in terms of living standards.
4. We should not underestimate traditional trade union industrial campaigns.
The Australian union campaigns on globalisation can be effective as evidenced by the recent TCFUA Fairwear Campaign and similar efforts by the AMWU in the car industry.
Globalisation can be an effective recruiting tool especially if there is a perception that globalisation gives increased bargaining power to employers. Evidence from the OECD (as cited) showed that a trade union presence in a workplace has a positive effect on wages and employment, even in the face of trade liberalisation.
In summary, globalisation is not a trend or fashion, but is part of the bargaining challenge that trade unions face in advancing our members' interests.
It should not be treated as the end of the world, but as another opportunity in terms of union recruitment and organising.
Afterall, we've got nothing to lose...but a world to win.