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Globalisation, regionalism and Labour interests in the new international political economy

By Gerard Strange


This article has two main objectives. First, it provides a critical appraisal of the theoretical accounts of globalisation/regionalisation provided by the left \ud structuralist or ‘hyperglobalist’ approach and the new constitutionalist version of the neo-Gramscian approach. It is argued that both approaches have been essentially negative in their evaluation of the role and position of organised labour in the changing IPE. Such pessimism is particularly marked (perhaps not surprisingly) in the left structuralist approach, but nevertheless (and more\ud surprisingly) still pervades the new constitutionalism. I argue that in both cases pessimism is to a significant degree misplaced and I seek to show the various\ud points at which, in my view, each approach has gone wrong. Generally speaking, however, I would suggest that the problems highlighted have rather less to do with the general theoretical perspectives deployed (for both left structuralism and neo-Gramscian analysis have a great deal to offer the study of IPE) than with the specific treatments of these approaches critiqued here. Briefly stated, these treatments suffer from a common failure to conceptualise changing world orders in terms of the dialectic of structure and agency. Second, the article focuses on a more empirical analysis of (mainly British) labour movement agency within the context of European integration since the mid 1980s, concentrating particularly,\ud although not exclusively, on trade union responses to and understandings of economic and monetary union (EMU). This is designed partly as a corrective to the new constitutionalists’ emphasis on elite agency. I argue that the evidence indicates a significant galvanisation of labour agency at the European Union (EU) level. This needs to be understood partly in terms of a (negative/defensive)\ud response to economic globalisation but also as a positive engagement with the globalisation/regionalism, structure/agency dialectic which reveals broader and\ud more positive trade union purposes and objectives grounded in what Robert Cox has called ‘critical theory’ and directed at forms of social transformation.4 This\ud engagement has, in turn, been partly facilitated by the EU’s own determination of the structure/agency dialectic evident in the changing and politically contested (as opposed to elite-determined) governance structures of the EU. I argue that the starting theoretical assumptions of European labour movement agency are positive in their assertion of feasible alternatives to neoliberal economic governance at the EU level. This corresponds to the more optimistic version of neo-Gramscianism that has informed the work of Alain Lipiet

Topics: L160 International Economics
Publisher: Carfax / Taylor & francis
Year: 2002
DOI identifier: 10.1080/1356346022000018720
OAI identifier:
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