Much is being claimed in terms of new forms of trade union networking and co‐ordination at the international level during the past two decades. However, there is a need to ground these views in terms of the reality and contexts of trade union activity. This article seeks to argue that tension within the different modes of international labour activity is nothing new. In fact, political and organisational differences in terms of the practices and strategies of the labour movement have been salient features of trade unionism for over a century. The article will map the interest in networking as a form of labour co‐ordination and the question of the emergence of competing international models of network‐based trade union action.
The paper is based on a general and literature review of the debates on labour internationalism supported by insights gained from a variety of research initiatives.
As noted by a variety of authors, the reality is that there are assorted types of global and international movements within trade unionism, which are based on four dimensions in terms of specific sectoral, ideological, organisational and national factors. There is a need is to understand the tensions between these models, and not just work from a “vertical” view of power based on hierarchies and levels.
The paper is mainly a critical review of debates and discussions.
Network‐based initiatives should not just be contrasted with bureaucracy per se, but be understood in terms of distinct initiatives, meanings and politics. In fact, one could see the signs of emerging “managerialist” modes of labour internationalism.
New forms of trade union and worker representation in a global context are engaging with social and political issues – they are engaging with a range of social and organisational activities such as those of non‐government organisations. These represent an important debate on the way work‐related issues are organised around.
The paper indicates how the question of labour networking is a significant academic discussion and needs to be seen from different perspectives.
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