Andreas Bieler – Global capitalism, exploitation and strategies of resistance

Andreas Bieler – Global capitalism, exploitation and strategies of resistance

Globalisation has put national labour movements under severe pressure due to the increasing transnationalisation of production and informalisation of the economy. The main purpose of this sub-project is to understand the structural conditioning of labour’s agency in order to explore potentially progressive trade union strategies against exploitation for the 21st century.

This project is divided into three areas: (1) a conceptual investigation of the fundamental structural dynamics of global capitalism; (2) an empirical analysis of the transnational alliance for the universal right of access to clean water; as well as (3) an empirical analysis of the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR). While an assessment of structural dynamics is essential to map out the setting within which agency can take place, the rights to water movement and SIGTUR represent two potentially progressive strategies of labour agency for the 21st century, going beyond the traditional focus on workers and work place/production oriented strategies.

The structural dynamics of global capitalism:

In any particular situation, there are always several potential strategies forward. Nevertheless, agents are never completely free. They are structurally conditioned by the wider systemic setting. This first research area has the objective to delineate the current structural setting of global capitalism and the way this conditions the potential agency of labour. This will involve a discussion of the nature of the capitalist social relations of production, the spread of capitalism along uneven and combined developmental dynamics, as well as the ways the relations between core and periphery are constituted and re-constituted in order to ensure the transfer of surplus from the periphery to the core of the global economy.

Access to clean water as a human right:

Global restructuring has limited the possibility of national labour movements to resist exploitation. And yet, trade unions are not only victims of globalisation, they are also co- constituting it. Globalisation has not only disempowered labour, it has also provided trade unions with new power resources. One aspect of globalisation has been the extension of exploitation into the sphere of social reproduction such as health and education, but also the privatisation of common goods such as water. Restructuring in these areas does not only impact negatively on workers, but equally also on the users of these services. As a result, these areas, traditionally in the public sector, are ideal for the potential co-operation between trade unions and social movements, the latter representing users’ interests. The purpose of this research area is to analyse the dynamics underlying the transnational alliance for the universal right of access to clean water, in which trade unions and social movements have been closely working together within different national contexts as well as across borders against the background of global restructuring.


Unlike trade unions in the North, labour movements of the Global South have always been confronted with the predominance of informal labour markets and more aggressive strategies by capital. They also share a history of colonialism. The purpose of this research area is to explore whether there is an experience of strategies in the Global South, from which Northern labour movements can learn in the current situation of neo-liberal restructuring.