Six Propositions for a Panel on Inter/national/ist Labour Net/working by Peter Waterman (2001)
Prepared for a Conference of the Global Studies, Association, Manchester Metropolitan University, July 2-4, 2001. The panel was co-coordinated by Peter Waterman, together with Stuart Hodkinson, stuart [at] leedsalumni [dot] org [dot] uk.
Steve Walker, S [dot] Walker [at] lmu [dot] ac [dot] uk
has set up a Group/List around this event, at:
Comments, additions, criticisms and – in particular – alternatives, would be more than welcome For further information on the GSA Conference, see http://www.mmu.ac.uk/gsa/confmain.htm.
1. ‘Networking’ has fundamental but ambiguous implications for labour under a globalised capitalism.
The inter/national labour movement was formed within the struggle in and against the industrial and nation-state period of capitalist development, one now being increasingly challenged. ‘Networking’, in the sense of open, changing, flexible, interdependent relations between formally independent parties, is becoming the dominant ‘relational form’ under capitalism but is a highly contradictory one for labour and its traditional forms of inter/national organisation. It engenders new forms of work, workers, products and enterprises and of relations between such. Networking simultaneously broadens/ flexibilises/strengthens globalised capitalist domination and has anti- or even post-capitalist emancipatory potential. The development of a globalised and informatised capitalism requires labour to understand the increasing centrality of information/ communications/culture to society, and that this is the nervous system of internationalism and solidarity.
2. The general understanding of networking within the inter/national labour movement is a limited one.
Despite dramatically growing experience, the common understanding of networking within the movement is probably in terms of one or more of the following: a) computer mediated communication (CMC), b) a tool to strengthen the inter/national union (or party) form but which can be misunderstood or misused to undermine such, c) to be used for traditional collective bargaining or labour rights purposes (possibly on regional/global scale), d) a means of propaganda, and the exchange of information (occasionally of mobilisation). Networking is rarely understood as alternatively/additionally: a) facilitating the presence of new voices, b) allowing the creation of newer and broader internationalist identities, c) advancing a continuing dialogue, within, between and beyond the unions or general labour movement, d) as a new way of both understanding and re-inventing the labour movement for/against the era of globalisation, e) allowing for the international discussion of realistic utopias on the other side of capitalism.
3. The challenge that networking represents to the inter/national labour movement is suggested by the ‘anti-globalisation’ and other such radical-democratic movements.
The form taken by the international anti-corporate movement – networked, ideologically/strategically pluralist, flexible, fast-moving, media-oriented and communication-sensitive – suggests a future model for an effective international labour movement in the age of globalisation. Such networked movements are a means of information, ideas and dialogue, they support and stimulate horizontal and vertical contacts between (and beyond) their ‘followers’, for a new bottom-up internationalism. They articulate the local, national, regional, global and cyberspatial (rather than making one subordinate to the other). They allow for the continual reshaping of the form, content and activities of the movement (rather than its institutionalisation in hierarchical organisational form).
4. To be effective under and against dominant networking, radical-democratic networking must be informed by a new sense of solidarity and internationalism, a new understanding of the organisation:network relation, and an idea of leadership less as a vanguard than as a supporting, stimulating and servicing ‘rearguard’.
If not informed by a broader vision or leadership, international labour networking can reinforce old (or new) enterprise and corporate/chauvinist identities. The meaning(s) of a contemporary solidarity and internationalism need to be worked out. The relationship between labour organisations and labour networks need to be understood as a dialectic in which organisations may well develop and become more effective in so far as they understand and support the logic of networking. To avoid oppositions between the local, global and cyberspatial, a constructive dialogue is necessary between the politics of cyberspace and the global, and the politics of the place and the local.
5. The international labour movement needs to be politically and publicly active within the international movement for the democratisation of communication, culture and cyberspace.
Development of a networked labour internationalism requires public campaigning/ educational action by the labour movement – in partnership with civil society – in/against the institutions/arenas in which control is exercised over the technology, access to and the content of electronic media and cyberspace. Such interventions need to be explicitly opposed to or subversive of corporate, imperial and state domination, for the strengthening of an autonomous, open, diverse and democratic model of cyberspace. They also need to stimulate a 21st century equivalent of the international(ist) worker communication/cultural movements of the early-20th century, so as to build up popular skills and public demands for a de-commoditised culture and the overcoming of growing information divides.
6. The development of networking within the international labour movement would be stimulated by the production and circulation of a declaration or discussion document, expressed in language accessible to not only the computer savvy but also internationalist activists beyond.