Celso F. Rocha de Barros responds to Shalom Lappin

If global trade unions were to be organized, they would face two main obstacles.

First, there is no international state to put pressure on (e.g., by voting), which could enforce bargained compromises with capitalists everywhere (who would, I presume, have their own transnational organizations). In fact, it is easy to imagine a scenario in which countries would attract capital by refusing to enforce such deals.

Second, workers in different countries have different interests in many important regards. In poor countries, the main attraction for foreign companies is the large reserve of cheap labour. Workers in poor countries would lose not some, but all their jobs, if they were to receive wages that even resembled those of workers in countries that offer much better conditions for investment. Therefore, Global Trade Unions would only be possible if workers in rich countries had such a highly developed level of class solidarity that they accepted to have their wages cut, or lose a significant proportion of their jobs, to workers in poor countries. It is obvious that, for any leftist at this day and age, no claim by workers in rich countries could prevail over the need of Chinese, Indian or Ethiopian workers to earn their survival.

There could be some ways to overcome, or minimize, these problems. For instance, basic income schemes could be implemented in rich countries to compensate for the wage reduction implied by fair trade. Or similar schemes could be implemented in poor countries, partially or completely funded by rich countries, to increase the reservation wage there. We cannot be sure whether any of these schemes would be economically, or politically, feasible.

If GTUs are to become a reality, major steps will be necessary, radical reforms will be needed. It is questionable whether labour anywhere has the political capital to make such an investment.

[Celso F. Rocha de Barros, celso.barros@gmail.com, works at the Central Bank of Brazil and is studying for a DPhil in Sociology at Oxford University.]

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