Globalization and Trade Union Movement in the US


Globalization is the process of joining the national and foreign markets into one global market for goods, services, capital, and technology and to some extent labor. This is the continuous process which has joined together the once separate, individual and restricted certain areas economies, ways of doing things and societies through advancements in information technology and increased global trade. The erstwhile local markets have transformed themselves and have become part of a global or worldwide market due to the increased changes in terms of advancements in the modes of transportation and the ways in which information is communicated following the advancement in the field of information technology (Morris, 2002).


The advent of globalization brought about a need by the trade unions to shape up according to the changing trends so that they could remain a major player in the market due to the changes in the structures and the forms of the labor markets and the way industrial relations were conducted (Binghay, 2003, p. 2). These changing conditions made it easier for the entrance of new players into the field of labor organization and therefore had influence on how issues concerning labor were handled. These included the church, learning institutions, and even the non governmental organizations.

The main actors in the industrial relations in the current world we live in do not act independently but work together and are influenced by the state of the market, level and rates of technological changes, and also the political arena in which they are acting. These actors include the employers, the government and the labor unions. Indeed, globalization has led to the changes in the environment in which the unions operate and this has affected their validity and future (Binghay, 2003, p. 3).

The rise of globalization was due to the individual countries competition with each other in an effort tom increase their power economically and militarily. In addition, colonial powers aimed at extracting wealth from their colonies and traded this with the other countries, leading to the formation of trade blocs. The collapse of the USSR led to the opening up of this market as economic liberalism was advocated for, which was the key ingredient for the emergence of liberalism hence the increased expansion of the private sector. Moreover, the formation of the united nation, League of Nations and the international labor organization (WTO) can be seen as the attempt from very early on to have a structure for a global world and global world standards. These standards included the formation of International Standards Organization, international travel, human rights, and levels of governance standards – these were the codes that were developed to control and monitor the acts of the globalization agents (Morris, 2002, p. 10).

The formation of international organizations like the IMF, world trade organization and the World Bank played a big role in the furthering of globalization. This process led to a need for some guidelines on how to act on the global stage including the need to respect human rights and freedoms, refraining from interfering with governments’ relations, corruption and the necessity for respecting countries sovereignty, which were adopted by the international labor organization in 1977 (Morris, 2002, p. 11).

With the increased changes in the world markets, the trade unions grew in size and the areas of representation also increased. Moreover, the international confederation of free trade unions was formed in 1949 as a response to these changes (Global education, 2009).

Globalization and the trade unions

The increase in the joining the national economies to form a unilateral global market and production systems have resulted in the joining of the localized and the global agendas pertaining the trade unions. The first trade unions and organizations that were not under the political influence started in 1889 and by 1914, more than 33 of these were in existence (Ryder, 2004, p. 21). In addition, the international confederation of free trade unions (ICFTU) is based on the thought that, recognized unions which address the workers plight should be controlled by their members only. It is an independent body that is funded by the members’ contributions and has more than 150 million members. Its main work is directed towards acting on the behalf the trade union to defend its interests on a global scale. It seeks to proportionate the social and economic benefits of the workers in relation to the levels of development and structural adjustment. The trade unions are brought together on an international scale by the global union federations. Since most of these trade unions have similar policies, the need to cooperate has been there for a long time.

Globalization has made it hard for the trade unions to effectively represent and make sure that their benefits are in line with the levels and rates of development mainly due to the increased rates of migrations by the workers. Indeed, this wave of migrations has enabled knowledge transfer, supported economic growth (Hutton, 2008).

The control of the international trade and/or investment has largely been in hands of the international companies called the multinationals. This gave them power to increase the competition by the workers and the governments to have the multinationals in their countries. This has also led to worsening of the working conditions due to the inability of the workers to fight for their rights (Globalization, 2010).

The concept of the free trade has led to the multinationals leaving their high priced labor market in their parent countries to invest in areas where they will incur lower labor costs. This is criticized by the trade unions on the basis that these special economic zones associated with low wages in comparison to the other areas tend to leave the workers abused. However, the unions are unable to help because these conditions are created deliberately in order to lock out the union organizations. The work of the labor unions in the United States revolves around the need for collective bargaining so that the workers can have favorable wages and benefits and also ensure that its members working environments are okay. Indeed, in 1980 when Ronald Regan was sworn in as the president of United States, he came up with some policies which were aimed at reducing the power of the laborers, while at the same time increasing the global scale in which the other sectors operated.

Private property ownership was increased and trade opened and the powers of the unions were regulated to ensure that the aspect of trade run smoothly. This has all the aspects of the neoliberal state (Harvey, 2005, p. 67). In addition, the United States has seen a decline in the number of people represented by the unions despite it having a large labor force of more than 142 million workers (Trade unions, n.d.). Here, trade unions started even before industrialization. Due to the increased impersonal associations with the increasing complex organizations, a need for worker representation and management was required. This brought about the emergence of scientific methods that were used for work design and were basis for determining the pay mechanism (Bamber, et al, 2004).

Capitalists who had power and prestige were looked down upon and opposed and this, together with the scientific methods, acted to deter the development of trade unions and their ability to represent the workers (Harvey, 2005, p. 68). The employers also acted to deter the growth of unions through the use of the decollectivist strategies which were aimed at alienating the workers from the unions by creating for them a substitute by the introduction of the company based and dominated unions. This severely hampered the principle of the group or collective bargaining (Wolman, 1975, p. 23).

The use of propaganda by the employers to discredit the unions together with the unfavorable legal environment in the US due to the adoption of free trade and support for the mechanisms that supported globalization resulted in the increased weakening of the trade unions and this continued until the workers needed an arbitrator during the great depression which saw the reemergence of unions as a force to reckon with in the industrial relations. Despite their revitalization, they were still controlled and regulated by the federal registration (Harvey, 2005, pp 68).

The employers in the United States have had their organizations for a long time. Basically, these organizations are directed at reducing union influence on the employees of such companies. This is because in the small and rural firms there existed unstructured informal employment practices and all the employment practices were informal in nature. Despite the claim that globalization has created unemployment in developed countries as labor moves to developing countries through foreign direct investment, the wider picture is that globalization expands the market leading to economic growth in world economies thus increased employment (International Labor Organization, n.d.). In an effort to maintain the status quo, the employers formed organizations that engaged in anti-union activities through lobbying, litigation and the use of bad publicity campaigns against the unions. They also resulted to educating and training their employees in the methods of avoiding the trade unions recruitment (Harvey, 2005, p. 70).

The government on its part has registered rules that seem to be tailored to encourage the workers to move away from union representation. These include the laws on union certification and their roles in bargaining for the employees rights in the private sector. Moreover, these rules give the employees a choice on whether to join the union or not.

Due to the decreased influence or the unions, the wages are determined on the basis of job evaluation and the assessment of individual’s performance in the non union sector. Nevertheless, the unionized sector is diminishing due to the breakdown of collective bargaining levels to become grass root based and employer specific (Harvey, 2005, p. 88).


Globalization has had major impacts on the ways in which trade and other related activities are conducted. This is through the consolidation and opening up of the world to the international dynamics of trading and mobility. The workers have been subjected to intense competitions from the other workers on the global platform which have led to the risks of using the international prevailing conditions to drive down the wages. Job security has become a thing of the past due to career, occupation, and work mobility. All the above conditions brought about by globalization have affected the functioning of trade unions in the United States of America.


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Binghay, P., 2003.The Decline of Trade Unions and the Emerging Actors in Industrial Relations. Philippines: University of the Philippines. (Online). Web.

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Harvey, D., 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. London, Oxford University Press. Web.

Hutton, J., 2008. Globalization and the Changing UK Economy Business: Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Web.

International Labor Organization. N.d. Labor Market Trends and Globalization’s Impact on Them. 2010. Web.

Morris, R., 2002. International Trade Unions and Globalization: A Caribbean Workers’ Education Guide. Port of Spain, International Labor Office. Web.

Ryder, G., 2004. International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU): A Trade Union Guide to Globalization (Second Edition). (Online). Web.

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Wolman, L., 1975. The Growth of American Trade Unions. Ayer Publishing. Web.

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