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Dr. Andreas Bieler, Selwyn College, Cambridge CB3 9DQ, E-mail:

31 May, 2000

Labour and the struggle against neo-liberalism: a conceptualisation of trade unions’ possible role in the resistance to globalisation. (Paper prepared for presentation at the conference “Global Capital and Global Struggles: Strategies, Alliances, Alternatives”; London, 1 and 2 July, 2000.)


In recent years, globalisation has entered debates in social sciences in general and International Relations/International Political Economy (IR/IPE) in particular. Nevertheless, the focus has to date very much concentrated on the nature of change, the role of states and the operations of transnational corporations (TNCs), frequently considered to be the most important new actors at the international level. Labour, on the other hand, has almost completely been excluded from the analysis. Less mobile than capital, it is argued that labour is unlikely ever to play a role at the international level. Nevertheless, with the beneficial results of globalisation more and more challenged at the theoretical (e.g. Gills, 1997 and 2000) and practical level (e.g. mobilisation against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, November 1999, and the World Bank and IMF in Washington, April 2000) and an increased emphasis on the possibilities of resistance to globalisation, labour has regained attention.

This paper is informed by the understanding that the potential for resistance by labour, and trade unions as its institutional expression, can only be fully grasped, once a potential theoretical understanding of its possible role at the international level has been developed. The aim of this paper is, consequently, the conceptualisation of the role of labour at the international level. The argument has two main parts. The first part looks at different understandings of globalisation and the reasons of why labour is omitted from the analysis. It is shown that labour has to be regarded as a fundamental actor due to its place in the capitalist mode of production as manifested in globalisation. In the second part, it is demonstrated that while labour has to be understood at an international level, the national institutional setting continues to be relevant. In sum, a theoretical conceptualisation of labour needs to be developed, which allows the analysis of labour at the international level, while incorporating an investigation of the different national institutional set-ups.

Globalisation and the role of labour at the international level

Globalisation is a complex concept. This section first analysis the two mainstream definitions by the so-called “internationalists” and “globalists”, closely linked to neo- realist and liberal theories of IR/IPE respectively, and then looks at a Marxist critique of them. The final sub-section introduces a neo-Gramscian alternative, which takes on board the Marxist criticism of the established approaches, while at the same time stressing the international dimension of labour’s potential role.


Internationalists and neo-realism: states are still the main international actors

Neo-realism regards the international system as anarchic, since there is no over- arching authority to impose order, in which states, being the only significant actors, pursue rational policies of power maximisation and security enhancement to ensure their survival. The most important explanatory variable is the distribution of capabilities between states. Changes in this distribution lead to actions by states to counter possible losses (Waltz, 1979). Implicitly, this theoretical understanding informs the so-called internationalists in the globalisation debate. Hirst and Thompson, for example, argue that the world economy is predominantly international,

not global, and that therefore states, although in a slightly different way, still play a central role in its governance. Their rejection of more far-reaching definitions of globalisation, speaking of the emergence of a global economy above the state system based on the transnationalisation of production and finance and with TNCs operating through foreign direct investment (FDI) as new main actors (see below), centres around three main claims. Firstly, they argue that the international economy was more open in the pre-1914 period than in the period from the 1970s onwards. ‘International

were more important relative to GDP levels before the First

World War than they probably are today’ (Hirst and Thompson, 1996: 31). Secondly, they point out that FDI is not globally spread in an equal way, but concentrated on the Triad of North America, Japan and the European Economic Area in respect of both the originators and destination for FDI (Hirst and Thompson, 1996: 51-75). Finally, they stress the fact that there are only few ‘real’ TNCs without the identification of a home region/country, an internationalised management and the willingness to invest in the world, wherever the highest and/or most secure returns are to be expected. Instead, the international economy is characterised by multinational corporations, which are still predominantly concentrated on a home region/country with reference to their assets and sales (Hirst and Thompson, 1996: 76-98). Globalisation, then, is nothing more than a drastic increase in cross-border flows of goods, services and capital (Keohane and Milner, 1996). States remain the core international actors and have lost little of their traditional power over the economy and international markets.

trade and capital flows

From this perspective, it is clear that labour can be at best understood as operating at the national level, interacting with other domestic actors and the government in response to globalisation. 1 An early example of this is Katzenstein’s (1985) seminal analysis of small states in world markets, where he outlines labour’s crucial role in tripartite relations with government and business in adjusting a country’s economy to high levels of international competition without causing domestic social unrest. Garrett's analysis of the power on economic policies by the left and labour in times of increasing internationalisation is another example. Here, too, labour only responds to

1 In this respect, these analyses go beyond strict neo-realism by incorporating a domestic politics perspective in their investigation. The national and international levels are connected via a two-level game, in which governments sit simultaneously at two negotiating tables. They agree at the international level only to those treaties, for shich they are likely to obtain a majority at the national level (Putnam, 1988). Importantly, however, states are still considered to be gate-keepers between the domestic and internationl domains and non-state actors are confined to the domestic level.


changes at the international level via increasing or decreasing intervention into the economy without being part of the international changes itself (Garrett, 1996).

There are, however, theoretical problems with this position. Neo-realists’ ahistoric insistence on states being the only significant international actors makes it theoretically impossible to account for structural change beyond change in the state system. In other words, whether there is change or not, neo-realism is a priori unable even to detect it, since its analytical focus is solely concentrated on states and their position in the international system. The next section looks at liberal IR/IPE approaches and their related wider understanding of globalisation.

Liberal approaches and the emergence of a global economy

In contrast to neo-realism, liberal approaches look at the individual, or to be more precise the aggregation of individuals in interest groups, as the most important actors. The state as a result does not become unimportant, but it is treated as a collective rather than unitary actor. The national interest is then not the result of a state’s position in the international system, but the outcome of domestic politics against the background of international pressures. Economic issues have become as important as, if not more important than, military concerns. States continue to play an important role at the international level, but they are joined by non-state actors such as TNCs and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - at the global level now also sometimes referred to as global social movements (GSMs) (e.g. Scholte, 2000) - but also international organisations and regimes. Structural change is not limited to change in the state structure. Instead it is realised that changes beyond the state system may imply the emergence of new actors. In short, the international system is viewed in a more complex and open-ended way (Burchill, 1996; Kegley, 1995: 9-14; Zacher and Matthew, 1995).

When defining globalisation, liberal approaches concentrate on changes in finance and production. Firstly, the rise of financial offshore markets since the 1960s, expanding significantly between 1973 and 1984 (Strange, 1994a: 107), in combination with the deregulation of national financial markets in the late 1970s but especially in the 1980s (Helleiner, 1994), led to the emergence of an integrated global financial market. Secondly, the growth of transnational corporations (TNCs), in numbers and size, has driven the transnational organisation of production. Their increasing importance is expressed in the rise of FDI. Outflows of FDI rose from $88 billions to $225 billions between 1986 and 1990, which is an annual increase of 26 per cent (UNCTAD, 1992: 14). There was a downturn in FDI in 1991 and 1992, mainly due to recessions in the biggest economies, but it picked up again from 1993 onwards up to $424 billions in 1997 (UNCTAD, 1998: 2). A study of TNCs by the UN concluded, in 1992, that ‘the growth of cross-national production networks of goods and services of some 35,000 transnational corporations and their more than 150,000 foreign affiliates is beginning to give rise to a [transnational] production system, organised and managed by transnational corporations’ (UNCTAD, 1992: 5). These figures further increased to 53,607 parent corporations and 448,917 foreign affiliates by 1997 (UNCTAD, 1998: 4).


In response to Hirst and Thompson, who reject such a definition of globalisation beyond the state system, it can be argued that FDI flows are not of a similar nature to trade flows. FDI does not end with the initial transaction. It is an indicator for the establishment of transnational production units, i.e. longer lasting links between economic agents across borders. Moreover, even if the transnationalisation of production has not led to a borderless global economy, a level playing field with truly global firms as the prime movers as some would have it (e.g. Ohmae 1990, 1995), it is realised that the growth in size and numbers of TNCs with a regional home base, indicated by the concentration of FDI in the Triad, is also part of the globalisation process. As Higgott outlines, regionalisation and globalisation are not necessarily contradictory phenomena. Rather, regional integration may be ‘an important dimension of the evolving world order in an era of globalisation’ (Higgott, 1997: 16). TNCs are predominantly characterised by a home region/country. Even with production units in only two countries, however, a TNC gains the ability of moving or threatening to move production units between countries and, thereby, some degree of leverage over national regulations. This led Strange and Stopford to argue that states do no longer bargain only with other states, but that a ‘triangular diplomacy’ is emerging, in which states must also negotiate with TNCs (Stopford and Strange,


To sum up, liberal perspectives argue that since the early 1970s, we have experienced a structural change called globalisation. ‘The new reality is that the system of states is overlaid by a highly integrated, incompletely regulated, rapidly growing - but consequently somewhat unstable - [global] economy’ (Strange, 1994b: 212). This has given rise to new, non-state actors at the international level, mainly TNCs but also NGOs, which compete for authority with states in the global economy (see the contributions in Higgott et al, 2000). States’ role and structure has changed and their influence over the economy weakened, with some speaking about the terminal retreat of the state (e.g. Strange, 1996). Labour is not overlooked, but it is only regarded as one interest group at the international level next to others. Elizabeth Smythe’s (2000) analysis of the failed OECD negotiations of a Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the struggle against enhanced capital mobility via further deregulation of national financial markets and for labour and environmental minimum standards is a good example. Here, the Trade Union Advisory Committee is treated as one interest organisation next to its business counterpart and environmental NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Similarly, in Scholte's analysis of the IMF's interaction with civil society, the labour movement through its various institutional expressions is only one of a whole range of different NGOs, which has lobbied the international organisation (Scholte, 2000). In short, a pluralist conceptualisation of policy-making is simply transferred from the national to the international level.

While the liberal perspectives of globalisation and the related structural changes are a clear progress in relation to neo-realist accounts, what is still not looked at is the more fundamental role of labour and trade unions stemming from the capitalist social relations of production, and thus the very nature of the structural changes related to globalisation. As Coates makes clear, this is mainly the result of an undue focus on capital mobility as the core feature of globalisation. Capital is regarded in a fetishised form as a “thing” instead of a “social relationship”. Thereby, it is overlooked that capital can only realise itself on a global scale to the extent that real production processes are created on this scale. “The enhanced global mobility of capital in the


last three decades has social rather than technical roots. Capital is more geographically mobile than it was in the past because it now has more proletariats on which to land” (Coates, 2000: 255). New strata of workers (e.g. women, rural workers and immigrants) have been employed in established capitalism and by spreading

production processes to developing countries new proletariats were additionally created, doubling the world proletariat to 3 billion people within a generation. Hence,

as it moves, does more than constrain the policy options of national

governments: it actually alters the balance and character of social classes, and does so increasingly on a global scale” (Coates, 2000: 256). In short, labour is part of global restructuring processes and it is, therefore, necessary to analyse its position in the global economy, as well as possibilities and opportunities. The theoretical roots of this oversight of labour by mainstream IR/IPE perspectives is analysed in the next section.


Open Marxism and its criticism of established IR/IPE approaches 2

Peter Burnham formulates a fundamental criticism of both neo-realist and liberal approaches in IR/IPE. Most importantly, he criticises them for taking “state” and “market” in the form of two separate entities as their starting-point of investigation. 3

States and markets are treated as self-evident entities and no attempt is made either to develop or relate to existing theories of the ‘state’ or to consider the inner connection (rather than the apparent external relationship) between ‘the state’ and ‘the market’. Instead ‘the state’ is fetishised whilst ‘the market’ is dehistoricised and viewed as a technical arena in which the ‘external’ state ‘intervenes’ (Burnham, 1995: 136).

As a result of taking “state” and “market”, or the political and the economic, as ahistorical entities, mainstream IR/IPE approaches reify the "state" and "market" and are, consequently, unable to consider change beyond the capitalist mode of production.

In contrast to established approaches, “open Marxism” suggests, following Marx, to take the social relations of production as starting-point. “By rooting his study in the analysis of the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate producers Marx offers a unique theorisation of the entire social edifice and, of course, its changing political form (Burnham, 1995: 138-9). Instead of fetishising "state" and "market" as ahistoric “things”, both are treated as different forms of the very same social relations of production. Hence, the main question is not to what extent the “state” has lost control over the “market”, but why do “state” and “market”

2 “Open Marxism” is a frequently used label, but refers here only to the work by Burnham, Holloway and Picciotto.

3 Gilpin provides a well-known example for this, when he states that "the historical relationship of state and market is a matter of intense scholarly controversy. Whether each developed autonomously, the market gave rise to the state, or the state to the market are important historical issues whose resolution is not really relevant to the argument of this book. State and market, whatever their respective origins, have independent existences, have logics of their own, and interact with one another" (Gilpin, 1987:



appear as two separate entities? It has to be asked “what it is about the relations of production under capitalism that makes them assume separate economic and political forms” (Holloway/Picciotto, 1977: 78). The answer is to be found by looking at the way the social relations of production are organised in capitalism. In contrast to feudalism, when economic and political authority were overlapping and economic exploitation was enforced politically, class domination in capitalism is mediated through commodity exchange. Based on the institution of private property, society is split in the bourgeoisie, i.e. those who own the means of production, and labour, i.e. those who only have their labour power to sell. Thus, economic exploitation is not politically enforced, but the result of the “free” sale and purchase of labour power. “This abstraction of relations of force from the immediate process of production and their necessary location (since class domination must ultimately rest on force) in an instance separated from individual capitals constitutes (historically and logically) the economic and the political as distinct, particularised forms of capitalist domination” (Holloway/Picciotto, 1977: 79). The apparent separation of “state” and “market” in capitalism does not imply, however, that there is no internal link between the two.

Despite the ‘separation’ between the ‘moment of coercion’ and the ‘moment of appropriation’ in capitalism, absolute private property, the contractual relation which binds producer to appropriator and the process of generalised commodity exchange itself are all maintained through legal and political forms. In this way in bourgeois civil society, the ‘economic’ rests firmly on the ‘political’ despite their ‘differentiation’. Hence the contradictory internal unity of state and market in capitalism (Burnham, 1995: 145).

Furthermore, “open Marxism” is opposed to economic deterministic, base/superstructure explanations. Determinism is avoided through a focus on class struggle. “Class struggle is … the daily resistance of the labouring class to the imposition of work – a permanent feature of human society above primitive levels …:

struggle by definition is uncertain and outcomes remain open (Burnham, 1994: 225).

It is this focus on class struggle between capital and labour, which suggests that an “open Marxism” account of IPE would be better suited for an analysis of labour at the international level. And indeed the character of accumulation is considered to be global. “The freeing of the worker from a particular exploiter, the freeing of the exploiter from a particular group of workers, implied the establishment of social relations in which geographical location was absolutely contingent, in which capital could, and did, flow all over the world” (Holloway, 1994: 30). Although the character of accumulation is global, the conditions of exploitation are standardised at the national political level. The latter, however, does not imply that capital could be conceptualised at the national level.

Sovereign states via the exchange rate mechanism, are interlocked

internationally into a hierarchy of price systems

founded on the rule of money and law are at the same time confined within limits imposed by the accumulation of capital on a world scale – the most obvious and important manifestation of which is their subordination to world money (Burnham, 1995: 148).

; national states therefore


In other words, global class relations are nationally processed. “It is for this reason that the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is not in substance, but only in form, a national struggle” (Burnham, 1995: 152).

Nevertheless, while this is a clear advance over mainstream approaches, it is also limited and the last quote is an indicator of this. While class struggle is considered to be global in substance, the form of this at the global level is state interaction. And here one is painfully reminded of neo-realist analyses of international relations. For example, Holloway argues that “the competitive struggle between states is … to attract and/or retain a share of world capital (and hence a share of global surplus value)” (Holloway, 1994: 34). This is very similar to neo-realist arguments about states competing with each other for military and economic resources at the world level. According to Burnham,

the dilemma facing national states is that, whilst participation in multilateral trade rounds and financial summits is necessary to enhance the accumulation of capital on the global level, such participation is also a potential source of disadvantage which can seriously undermine a particular national states’ economic strategy. The history of the modern international system is the history of the playing out of this tension (Burnham, 1995: 149).

This resembles closely the neo-neo debate about the possibility of co-operation between states. Whereas neo-realists argue that states are unlikely to co-operate due to the problem of relative gains – even if they gained by co-operating, states would not do so, because other states may gain more and thus achieve an advantage – neo-liberal institutionalists focus on absolute gains, arguing that states would co-operate as long as they make some gains regardless of the gains by other states (Grieco, 1988).

Importantly, what “open Marxism” overlooks is that the transnationalisation of production and finance since the early 1970s has implied that class struggle is now not only in substance but also in form of an international character. Burnham’s assertion that “the proletariat conducts its daily struggle in local-cum-national settings” (1998:

197) is no longer valid. Holloway is right when he states that the nature of capitalism has always been global and is not the result of globalisation. Nevertheless, the specific characteristics of this global nature have changed and this has to be taken into account when thinking about class struggle and labour’s role at the international level in times of globalisation. In short, it is not enough to assess the changes since the early 1970s as the “the recomposition of labour/capital relations expressed as the restructuring of relations of conflict and collaboration between national states” (Bonefeld, Brown and Burnham, 1995: 31). An analysis of the restructuring at the international level needs to be based on the transnational restructuring of the social relations of production and, therefore, includes capital and labour. In the next section, a neo-Gramscian alternative will be introduced. It is based on the core assumptions of “open Marxism”, but also goes beyond it comprehending the international form of class struggle in times of globalisation.

A neo-Gramscian perspective: the role of transnational social forces


In two seminal articles in the early 1980s, Robert Cox (1981, 1983) developed a neo- Gramscian perspective, most importantly based on core concepts of the work by the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci. Arguably, this perspective includes the most important features of “open Marxism”. Firstly, the social relations of production are considered to be the starting-point of an investigation. The sphere of production, Cox argues, ‘creates the material basis for all forms of social existence, and the ways in which human efforts are combined in productive processes affect all other aspects of social life, including the polity’ (Cox, 1987: 1). That is, the relations which organise material production are considered to be crucial for the wider institutional reproduction of social orders on both a national and an international level. In other words, this allows us to perceive entities such as “state” and “market” as different forms of the very same social relations of production. Secondly, a neo-Gramscian analysis is open-ended through an emphasis on class struggle. It ‘rejects the notion of objective laws of history and focuses upon class struggle [be they intra-class or inter- class] as the heuristic model for the understanding of structural change’ (Cox with Sinclair, 1996: 57-8). The essence of class struggle is exploitation and the resistance to it, and this confrontation of opposed social forces in concrete historical situations implies the potential for alternative forms of development.

By taking the social relations of production as a starting-point, a neo-Gramscian perspective considers social forces as engendered by the production process as the

most important collective actors. The concept of class is crucial for the definition of social forces. Classes are regarded ‘as social forces whose cohesion derives from the

role played in a mode of production

Consequently, very similar to “open Marxism” class is defined as a relation and the various fractions of labour and capital can be identified by relating them to their place in the production system. Most importantly, capital, the owners of the means of production, is opposed by labour, forced to sell its labour-power. There are, however, further differences within the capitalist mode of accumulation and it is here where a neo-Gramscian perspective departs from “open Marxism”. While production was organised on a national basis in the post-war era, significant parts have been transnationalised since the early 1970s as part of the globalisation processes (see above). As a consequence, capitalist accumulation is not necessarily any longer inscribed in national paths of economic development (Radice, 1997: 5). A basic distinction can, therefore, be drawn between transnational social forces of capital and labour, engendered by those production sectors, which are organised on a transnational scale, and national social forces of capital and labour stemming from national production sectors. These forces are located in the wider structure of the social relations of production, which do not determine but shape their interests and identity.

’ (Holman and van der Pijl, 1996: 55).

Overall, the identification of the various fractions of labour and capital by relating them to their place in the production system makes structural changes such as globalisation accessible, since the emergence of new social forces engendered by the transnationalisation of production and finance can be incorporated. Globalisation, thus, is not only understood as an exogenous structural impact to which actors can only respond. It is also regarded as enabling with transnational forces playing an active role, responding to and bringing about global structural change at the same time. Importantly and in contrast to “open Marxism”, the fact that there are now transnational and national fractions of capital and labour implies that class struggle


takes place at the international level not only in substance but, in the wake of globalisation, also in form. This has profound implications for research in IR/IPE. Class struggle at the international level can no longer be studied as a struggle between states, but it has to be analysed how different social forces operate at the national and international level.

The neo-Gramscian concepts of historical bloc and hegemony are crucial for the understanding of class struggle. Various social forces may attempt to form an historical bloc to establish preferable forms of governance at the national and/or international level. "The historic[al] bloc is the term applied to the particular configuration of social classes and ideology that gives content to a historical state" (Cox, 1987: 409) and, thus, consists of structure and superstructure. It forms a complex, politically contestable and dynamic ensemble of social relations which includes economic, political and cultural aspects. The relationship between structure and superstructure is reciprocal. Hegemony describes a type of rule, which

predominantly relies on consent, not on coercion. It ‘is based on a coherent conjunction or fit between a configuration of material power, the prevalent collective

and a set of institutions which administer the order with a

certain semblance of universality’ (Cox, 1981: 139). A fundamental class exercises a hegemonic function when it transcends particular economic-corporate interests and is capable of binding and cohering diverse aspirations, interests and identities into an historical bloc. ‘Organic intellectuals’, the representatives of a class or class fraction, play a crucial role in achieving hegemony. 4 They do not simply produce ideas, but it is their task to organise the social forces they stem from and to develop a ‘hegemonic project’ which is able to transcend the particular interests of this group so that other social forces are able to give their consent. Such a hegemonic project must be based on ‘organic’ ideas, which stem from the economic sphere. It must, however, also go beyond economics into the political and social sphere, incorporating ideas related to issues such as social reform or moral regeneration, to result in a stable hegemonic political system. It ‘brings the interests of the leading class into harmony with those of subordinate classes and incorporates these other interests into an ideology expressed in universal terms’ (Cox, 1983: 168).

image of world order

Applied to globalisation, it is argued that the transnationalisation of production and finance has engendered new transnational social forces. As a result, Cox ‘has noted

there may be an emerging transnational historic bloc’ (Gill/Law, 1988: 65), led

by transnational capital. This transnational bloc may become the foundation of a new international hegemonic order through establishing its neo-liberal ideas of free trade and a deregulatory economy as generally accepted truths, promoted by institutions like the World Bank or the OECD. It is the contestation of this transnational neo- liberal hegemonic project, where labour potentially plays a crucial role. As a result, a neo-Gramscian research strategy implies first an identification of relevant social forces by analysing the social relations of production and investigates then these


forces’ activities at the national and/or international level. In contrast to liberal approaches, labour is not understood as an interest group, but as a fundamental actor in class struggle at the national and international level.

4 For a discussion of Gramsci's concept of "organic intellectual", see Gill (1990).


Class struggle in different national institutional settings:

Liberal IR/IPE approaches, especially the most extreme globalist variety, tend to think in terms of a general convergence of national economic policies due to the unifying pressures of globalisation. In order to attract TNCs and their FDI and to obtain good credit ratings on the global financial market, states, it is argued, would converge around so-called policies of best practice, providing TNCs with incentives while at the same time deregulating and, thus, opening-up national markets, including the financial and labour markets. What is overlooked, however, are the different national institutional set-ups and different national modes of economic policy-making due to states' historically different development of capitalism. Lane’s detailed analysis of the British, French and German industrial orders in times of globalisation suggests that despite strong unifying pressures of transnational restructuring, there is still a strong degree of national distinctiveness (Lane, 1995). In short, even if one accepts that the main tasks of the capitalist state are the maintenance of accumulation and legitimisation, “states will employ different strategies for doing so and will experience varying degrees of success as a consequence of differences in their socioeconomic organization” (Hall, 1984: 40). For example, states differ according to issues such as the relation of the finance sector to industrial capital, the organisation of trade unions and employers’ organisations, the role of different state institutions and, of course, the different relations between all institutions within national economic-political systems. One-sided convergence approaches, be they of a Marxist or a liberal variety fail to acknowledge the impact of these differences (Lane, 1995: 198). This has sparked a discussion about different models of capitalism and their continuing importance or convergence within globalisation (e.g. Coates, 2000; Crouch and Streeck, 1997).

While these approaches have a tendency to over-emphasise the difference between systems and, being at least implicitly closely linked to neo-realist IR/IPE theories, deny the fundamental structural changes associated with globalisation, what is important for this paper here is the crucial role of different national institutional set- ups. Although it has been accepted that social forces of labour are of a national and transnational nature and may operate at the national and international level, the structural environment of these actions has to be kept in mind. This is, firstly, the structure of the production system, where the core actors are identified. It is, however, also the different national institutional set-ups, within and through which social forces operate. In this section of the paper, it is attempted to conceptualise labour’s actions within national institutional structures and link it to the neo-Gramscian perspective outlined above.

In principle, neo-Gramscian perspectives are open for a problematisation of national institutional set-ups. Through the concept of form of state, state-centric IR/IPE approaches are amended with a concern for the relationship between civil society and the state (Cox 1981: 134). Cox speaks about various forms of states and shows that the ‘raison d’état’ cannot be separated from society, as it depends on the configuration of social forces at the state level. Forms of state are defined in terms of the apparatus of administration and of the historical bloc or class configuration that defines the raison d’état for that form (Cox 1989: 41). This implies that states cannot be treated as


unitary actors, but as structures within and through which social forces operate. Gramsci’s concept of the integral state is analytically useful for the conceptualisation of the relation between state and society (Rupert 1995: 27-8). On the one hand, the integral state consists of ‘political society’, i.e. the coercive apparatus of the state more narrowly understood including ministries and other state institutions. On the other, ‘civil society’, made up of political parties, unions, employers’ associations, churches, etc., ‘represents the realm of cultural institutions and practices in which the hegemony of a class may be constructed or challenged’ (Rupert 1995: 27). The concept of the integral state implies, firstly, that the focus on social forces does not exclude an analysis of state institutions, i.e. political society. They are institutions through which these forces operate. Similarly, political parties and interest associations, i.e. civil society, are also considered to be important. They are regarded as institutional frameworks within and through which different class fractions of capital and labour attempt to establish their particular interests and ideas as the generally accepted, or ‘common sense’, view. What is missing, however, is a conceptualisation of the structural impact these institutions have on social forces. The task of this section is to tackle this problem.

Regulation theory

Regulation theory can be seen as a reaction to structural Marxism a la Althusser. It wishes to emphasise, "at one and the same time, the institutional and cultural diversity of advanced societies and the homogenizing influence of the world capitalist system" (Lane, 1995: 22). As de Vroey correctly notes, "it would be incorrect to regard [regulation theory] as one homogenous school of thought …" (de Vroey, 1984: 45). Jessop (1990b) alone identifies seven different regulationist schools. This is not the place to explore all these varieties in detail. Instead, several core concepts are outlined.

Regulation theory starts from the assumption that capitalism is crisis-ridden and that periods of crisis alternate with periods of compromise. The latter is characterised by a relatively stable model or mode of development ensuring economic growth and capital accumulation. Once this mode of development breaks apart because of inner contradictions, a period of crisis ensues, during which a new mode of development has to be developed. The three core elements of a mode of development are, firstly, the industrial paradigm, which comprises the forces of production including the development of new technologies, industries and human skills and determines the process of labour, i.e. the way workers relate to the means of production. Secondly, the accumulation regime "is a systematic organisation of production, income distribution, exchange of the social product, and consumption" (Dunford, 1990: 305). Finally, the mode of regulation is an "institutional ensemble … and the complex of cultural habits and norms which secures capitalist reproduction as such (Nielsen, 1991: 22). It defines the rules of the game in capitalism and allows a dynamic adaptation of production and social demand, thereby providing guidance and stabilisation of the process of accumulation. The major institutional arrangements within the mode of regulation are the monetary system and mechanisms, the regulation of wage relations, the modes of competition and, as some would argue, the character and role of the state. Crises related to the general business cycle can be handled within a mode of development. Structural crises, however, are due to an


exhaustion of a mode of development (Dunford, 1990: 309). They may be due to "declining productivity and profitability; growing integration into an increasingly unstable global economic system; and, in some accounts, also saturation and fragmentation of markets" (Lane, 1995: 24). A structural crisis becomes apparent in an increasing conflict between capital and labour (Lane, 1995: 23; Oberhauser, 1990:

215), which is only resolved once a new fit between an accumulation regime and mode of regulation is found.

There are a host of studies, criticising regulation theory (for a critical evaluation providing a summary of criticisms, see Lane, 1995: 25-8). Three main points are important for the purpose of this paper. Firstly, although some regulation theorists consider national modes of development to be inserted into a global mode of development and attempt to conceptualise the link between the two levels (Jessop, 1990b: 160-2), "theories of regulation are founded on a division of the world into a system of states and of multiple sovereignties and an identification of national modes of regulation" (Dunford, 1990: 310). As a result, the main emphasis is on national differences, while the international level is only of secondary importance and the changes associated with globalisation difficult to integrate into the analysis. Secondly, "it is not clear how the connection between regime of accumulation and mode of regulation can be conceptualized without falling back on either a determinist Marxism or positing a functionalist integration" (Lane, 1995: 26). In other words, a specific mode of regulation is either determined by a particular accumulation regime or it is the functional counterpart of this regime. In more concrete terms, the fact that Fordism came to an end in the late 1960, early 1970s is considered to imply that there has now emerged a new accumulation regime with its specific corresponding mode of regulation, forming a new mode of development often labelled neo-Fordism or post- Fordism. Finally the conceptualisation between agency and structure, class struggle and completed form is problematic. "While theory continuously emphasizes class struggle, empirical accounts of the current transformation of the accumulation regime are mainly couched in structural terms" (Lane, 1995: 26). In sum, regulation theory is not suitable for a combination with the neo-Gramscian perspective outlined above, due to its lack of focus on class struggle at the empirical level and its difficulties combining the analysis of national modes of development with structural changes in global capitalism. What has to be positively kept in mind, however, is regulation theories' insistence on national institutional differences within the general capitalist mode of production. There are several alternative logics of capital (Jessop, 1990a:

198; 1990b: 187), which result in different forms of the institutional set-up at the national level, within which accumulation takes place.


Institutionalism in various different forms is another approach, which has re-gained prominence in recent years. Here, the work of Peter Hall is considered as an example. In response to the question of why states respond in systematically different ways to similar global structural pressures, Hall puts forward the hypothesis that

both the pressures for a particular policy and the possibility of implementing it are most fundamentally affected by the organization of three basic facets of the socioeconomic structure of a nation, namely, the organization of labor, the


organization of capital and the organization of the state itself. The first refers primarily to the organization of the working class in the labor market. The second refers principally to the organization of the relationship between financial and industrial capital. And the third refers to the internal organization of the state apparatus as well as to the organization of the electoral arena (Hall, 1984: 24).

Elsewhere, Hall adds two further factors, the position of a state within the global economy and the organisation of its political system, used "to refer to the electoral practices and network of organized political parties that dominate the electoral arena" (Hall, 1986: 232). The way these different institutions are organised and related to each other has a profound impact on policy-making. "Some interests will be privileged as a result of the overall organization of interlocking institutional frameworks, while others will receive less attention no matter how loudly their spokesmen scream or how many members their formal interest associations mobilize behind them (Hall, 1986: 264). To conclude, being the result of political actions in the past, national institutional set-ups, although not closed towards the possibility of change, clearly structure policy-making in the present.

There are several problems with Hall's version of institutionalism, which make a combination with a neo-Gramscian perspective problematic. Firstly, while the emphasis is on the institutional structure, actors are not clearly identified. The question of who is operating within this structure remains unproblematised. Secondly, although noted as an additional factor, the international dimension is underdeveloped. If its impact is considered at all, then it is in the form of pressure by an external structure to which national actors have to respond within the particular institutional set-up of the country (e.g. Hall, 1986: 225). 5 This forecloses an analysis of social forces operating at the national and international level. Finally, Hall makes a clear distinction between the economic and the political, considering governments to be engaged in coalition-building in two areas. "On the one hand, a government is often called upon to construct coalitions with producer groups in order to implement its economic policies. On the other hand, it needs to maintain an electoral coalition in order to stay in office" (Hall, 1986: 273). This implies that there are different actors in the economic area, such as trade unions and employers' associations, and in the political area, such as political parties. What is not realised is the inner relation between both areas and that social forces as the main actors may operate in both areas through, for example, trade unions and political parties. Nevertheless, despite its drawbacks, what can usefully be employed is the idea that the way national institutional structures are organised privileges some actors over others. This is taken up in the next section, when Jessop's conceptualisation of the state is analysed.

A strategic-relational approach to the state

5 It is a general problem of institutionalism in its various forms that it can only be analysed how institutions at the national level mitigate between the changed preferences of domestic policy makers in response to external international pressures and the eventual political outcomes as far as policies and institutional change is concerned (e.g. Garrett and Lange, 1986).


Jessop suggests to regard the state as a social relation. “This approach can be called ‘strategic-relational’ and its most distinctive feature is its emphasis on analysing the state as a site of strategic selectivity” (Jessop, 1990a: 193). In more detail, considering the state as a social relation means that it can be analysed as the site, the generator and the product of strategies. With reference to the first point, “as an institutional ensemble the state constitutes a terrain upon which different political forces attempt to impart a specific strategic direction to the individual or collective activities of its different branches” (Jessop, 1990a: 268). Thus, the form of the state is the framework, within which various different strategies are possible. The state in this sense “can never be considered as neutral. It has a necessary structural selectivity” (Jessop, 1990a: 268), favouring certain strategies over others. Importantly, "the differential impact of the state system on the capacity of different class (-relevant) forces to pursue their interests in different strategies over a given time horizon is not inscribed in the state system as such but in the relation between state structures and the strategies which different forces adopt towards it" (Jessop, 1990a: 260). Moreover, being an institutional ensemble, the state does not exercise power. Instead, “we should speak about the various potential structural powers (or state capacities) inscribed in the state as institutional ensemble” (Jessop, 1990a: 366). These “powers (in the plural) are activated through the agency of definite political forces in specific conjunctures. It is not the state which acts: it is always specific sets of politicians and state officials located in specific parts of the state system. It is they who activate specific powers and state capacities inscribed in particular institutions and agencies” (Jessop, 1990a:

366-7). This leads to the second point. The state is a generator of strategies in the sense that the political forces in the state, i.e. state managers, can develop strategies to achieve unitary action of the state. “Thirdly, the structure and modus operandi of the state system can be understood in terms of their production in and through past political strategies and struggles” (Jessop, 1990a: 261). Hence, we have to see a given state structure in its historical context and have to acknowledge that this particular structure constrains present actors, on the one hand, which, however, might be able to change this structure via new strategies, on the other. In sum, "the form of the state is the crystallization of past strategies as well as privileging some over other current strategies. As a strategic terrain the state is located within a complex dialectic of structures and strategies" (Jessop, 1990a: 269).

This approach, so far, allows the incorporation of both positive aspects of regulation theories and institutionalism, i.e. the acknowledgement of different national institutional set-ups and the privileging of some forces over others by particular national institutions. In contrast to the other two approaches, however, it does offer the possibility to be combined with a neo-Gramscian perspective. Jessop distinguishes between the formal and the substantive aspects of the state. The formal ones have just been dealt with. It is the substantive aspects, the social basis of the state and the nature of the hegemonic project, around which the exercise of state power is centred, which make a combination possible. “By the social basis of the state we understand the specific configuration of social forces, however identified as subjects and (dis-) organized as political actors, that supports the basic structure of the state system, its mode of operation and its objectives” (Jessop, 1990a: 207). The hegemonic project is the method of establishing this social basis by solving the problem between particular interests and the general interest. Its goal is to achieve hegemony, which “involves the interpellation and organization of different ‘class relevant’ (but not necessarily class- conscious) forces under the ‘political, intellectual and moral leadership’ of a particular


class (or class fraction) or, more precisely, its political, intellectual and moral spokesmen” (Jessop, 1990a: 207-8). In order to positively forge what can be called a historical bloc, the hegemonic project must go beyond economic issues and the sphere of economic relations into the field of civil society and the state. Thus, “hegemonic projects can be concerned principally with various non-economic objectives (even if economically conditioned and economically relevant). The latter might include military success, social reform, political stability or moral regeneration” (Jessop, 1990a: 208). Organic intellectuals play a crucial role in the formation and promotion of a hegemonic project. It is their task to mediate between civil society and political society, the two aspects of Gramsci's definition of the state in its inclusive sense. In short, the way these concepts are defined and used mirrors the neo-Gramscian perspective outlined above. While the strategic-relational approach brings with it an understanding of the different impact of national institutions, the neo-Gramscian perspective is able of bridging the national-international divide. In other words, a neo- Gramscian perspective combined with a strategic-relational approach to the state is able to conceptualise labour's role at the international level without neglecting the impact of different national institutional environments.


This paper draws too main conclusions in relation to the conceptualisation of labour's role at the international level. Firstly, according to the neo-Gramscian perspective, the transnationalisation of finance and production, part of the globalisation processes, have engendered new transnational social forces. As a result, class struggle takes place at the international level not only in substance but also in form. Secondly, transnational restructuring processes do not imply that there is a convergence of forms of state in capitalist societies. Different national institutional set-ups and ways of policy-making, resulting from different historical developments of capitalism at the national level, are likely to persist and have a different impact on social forces of labour acting within and through them, privileging some forces and strategies over others. These different national backgrounds need to be taken into account, when labour's activities at the international level are investigated. It was argued that Jessop's strategic-relational approach provides the best way of combining an emphasis on national differences with the neo-Gramscian focus on class struggle at the international level.

By way of conclusion, in the following it will be discussed how these theoretical considerations could be used for a comparative analysis of trade unions of five European Union (EU) members, i.e. Britain, France, Germany, Austria and Sweden, and their position on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The focus of this project is not limited to EMU as a case study. Rather, EMU is regarded as a vehicle to assess trade unions' options and possibilities to respond to global structural change in general and to participate in the formation of the future economic-political system of the EU in particular. Two principal hypotheses can be formulated. Firstly, that a labour movement's position on EMU depends crucially on its length and degree of exposure to the competitive pressures of globalisation. Secondly, that those trade unions of countries with extremely transnationalised production structures and which lost influence within the national industrial relations system are most in favour of the establishment of an industrial relations system and social regulations at the European


level to counter global pressures. The first hypothesis requires an analysis of trade unions' perception of globalisation, their position on EMU and the links they make

between the two. Clearly, globalisation has also a theoretical dimension in the form of

a discourse of economic and political knowledge. Regardless whether there is

something happening considered to be globalisation, if actors belief that it does take place, it acquires a material reality. The first hypothesis and the first part of the second hypothesis require close attention by the neo-Gramscian perspective outlined in this paper. The five countries clearly differ according to the degree to which their production structures are transnationalised. An analysis of their production structures via the role of TNCs in the countries' economy and the development of inward and outward FDI helps to assess firstly the degree of exposure to globalisation and secondly, to identify the relevant social forces, i.e. the strength and configuration of national and transnational labour. The second part of the second hypothesis requires the insights of Jessop's strategic-relational approach. Clearly, trade unions, even if they represent transnational labour, are more likely to continue concentrating on the national level, if the domestic institutional set-up provides them with good opportunities of impact on decision-making. Austria's corporatist institutional set-up, which allocates trade unions institutionalised privileged access to decision-making is

an example here. Alternatively, those trade unions which have little guaranteed impact

on policy-making at the national level, such as for example in Sweden after the break-

up of corporatism in the early 1990s, are more likely to shift their focus and attention

to the international level in Brussels. Considering that the EU itself has developed into

a complex institutional decision-making system, a form of state at the international level it could be even argued, the strategic selectivity of the EU institutions need to be compared with unions' domestic situation. Only if the former are more advantageous than the latter, are unions really likely to shift their emphasis. In short, the five countries' trade unions need to be compared according to their different configuration of social forces of labour depending on the production systems and the different strategic situations they face at the national level in comparison with the international, European level.



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