The chimera of new forms of worker organisation: why trade unions matter in rebuilding national and global labour movements

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Immanuel Ness City University of New York, USA
University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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The decline in union representation is occurring globally even as the working class has been growing, especially in the Global South. The decline in the global organised workforce contradicts expectations that trade unions would grow in response to growing levels of exploitation prevailing especially in poor countries integrated into global production chains. However, trade unions are not growing stronger but are weaker as industrial and service workers are growing in number. This article reprises the concept of new forms of worker organisation (NFWO), advocated and advanced over the past 25 years and rooted in independent labour entities, including worker centres, syndicalist organisations, and autonomous, unaffiliated unions, and even NGOs. The record of these entities thus far demonstrates that new forms of worker organisation are expanding in response to rank-and-file activism but are ineffective as a replacement for traditional union models in building and consolidating labour power to challenge the rise of precarious and contract labour. This article examines the mixed record of new labour organisations and their failure to confront neoliberal capitalism. To remedy this structural defect, this article contends that existing unions must engage in activism rooted in the precarious working class of the Global South to build trade union power.

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Immanuel Ness City University of New York, USA
University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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