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"Labour and New Social Movements in a Globalizing World System"

39th Linz Conference of ITH (September 11th –14th, 2003)

organized by
International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH)
and Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria (AK-OÖ)

Preparatory Group:

Bruno Groppo (, Gabriella Hauch (, Helmut Konrad (, Gerhard Pfeisinger (, Gustav Seebold (, Marcel Van der Linden (, Berthold Unfried (, coordinator),

The international preparatory group modified the title of the 2003 Linz Conference as above (the AGM 2001 had voted for "Labour Movement in a globalized world system") and elaborated a draft for a call for papers. The draft was presented to the AGM by Berthold Unfried and approved by the representatives of the member institutes.

Call for Papers

Whoever speaks about a world market should not be silent about work and protest. „Globalisation" has become an ambiguous and fashionable word. It is supposed to give the impression that a great new beginning is presently occurring in the economy and politics. However, is has been noted that "globalisation" is not really a new phenomenon. The international interconnectedness of the economy had already reached similar proportions before 1914, it is argued.

The 2003 Linz conference would like to analyse these views in historical perspective. This should be the starting point for a historical analysis of the relationship between the workers' movement and "globalisation" in the practice of politics, organization and the culture of life.

Which phases allow themselves to be made out in the relationship between political movement and free movement of capital? How is the workers' movement situated with regard to these economic trends of national ties and international orientation? What is—from the perspective of the workers' movement—really qualitatively "new" about the "globalisation" of our time? And what does "globalisation" mean for the worldwide development of working conditions, workers' movements, and social protests?

"Globalisation" today is frequently seen as a worldwide process of liberation of the market economy from social and political limitations, as a process of worldwide assertion of the capital-work-relationship, and as a world market which is as unregulated as possible through outside economic intrusions. Unions and social legislation are regarded in this view, as is every government intrusion, as a limitation and distortion of the free labour market.

One phenomenon of "globalisation" is doubtless the disappearance of possibilities of state control over the economy.
Were not the organizations of the workers' movement in Europe (especially in Central and Eastern Europe) created in the process of the formation of national states? Did not the workers' movement always need the arm of the (national) state to erect barriers to capital? Has not the actual framework of movement for the political organizations of the workers' movement, within which they could exert their influence, always remained within the national state? After 1945 in Europe, it was developed further into the welfare state, which increased its territorial ties. Will international mobility not become greater in the direction of "capital" and territorial, national ties in the direction of "work"?

On the other hand, the workers' movement has always understood itself as an international, globally active movement. An expression of this claim were its attempts at international organization. These international attempts at organization, however, were not equipped with concrete instruments of power to allow an international claim to be carried out materially. Also, unions never developed the international cultural practice in organizational structure and lifestyles which is present in globally active corporations. On the side of labour, no trans-national layers have been educated comparable with those in the management of trans-national corporations. Should the employees' representation necessarily be less "globalised" in appearance and lifestyle than the management of a trans-national corporation like "McDonald's"?

Today, the organizations of the workers' movement in the centres of the world system appear to belong to the least globally active forces. They appear much more bound to the social homogenous national state in the form of the welfare state. The economic and social developments, which one summarizes under the term "globalisation," weaken the classical workers' movement as they also do the social state in the centres, and they have a tendency to dissolve them in many contexts.
Is capital escaping the control of the state and the organizations of the workers' movement developed by the state in these centres or are there areas where the organizations of the workers' movement appear not only reactive but also as participants in the process of "globalisation?"
In the "newly industrialised states", a new working class is also growing up as a phenomenon of "globalisation." Here, there is no talk of a crisis in the workers' movement. How are these movements reacting to the phenomenon of "globalisation"?

In addition to the unions, new organizations have developed on a global level, which want to form a political counterweight against "globalisation" as a process of the escape of capital from social and political barriers. Many of these organizations, described with the somehow vague term "Non-Governmental Organizations" (NGOs), have constituted themselves as trans-national networks. Can these globally active organizations represent labour at the level of multinational corporations or at multilateral organizations like the IMF, World Bank, and WTO?

The 2003 ITH Conference would like to attempt to evaluate research results from all continents. The debate should centre around three major topic areas:

1. Globalisation of working conditions (world market factories, export processing zones, transcontinental worker migration, worldwide competing employment markets, „McDonaldized" work forms). What is new about these? What does this development mean for our core term "working class," which was developed in the North Atlantic-European context? Which developmental tendencies are there worldwide in the working class?

2. Unions. The international union movement (IBFG, WVA) came into being in the North Atlantic region and continues to be dominated by the OECD countries. How does this "old" movement conduct itself with regard to the new workers' movements in Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, India? Are union organizational forms bound to historical shapings of working conditions and will they disappear with these? Which organizational and structural problems need to be solved in order not to passively be at the mercy of the developments of "globalisation," but to contribute to actively form them? What can be learned in this regard from the radical changes in the international workers' movement of the 19th Century (Transition from sub-national to national organizational forms in affiliated unions.)?
3. Social Movements. These movements have developed new action and organizational forms to some extent. Partially, these new organizations have spurned strong debates about their behaviour: Can NGOs, for example, not also be seen as financed by metropolises and, thus, as apparatuses loyal to their interests, which foster a brain drain of the most advanced thinkers and leaders from endogenous social movements? The problem of the absorption of local elites by multilateral organizations in conjunction with development programs also belongs here. Which connections exist between NGOs and unions in the centres and at the periphery of the world system and which examples of cooperation between new social movements/NGOs and unions are there?

The concrete presentation topics should be developed out of these three major topic lines. Every topic line should be introduced with a main presentation and two commentaries. Following this, a podium discussion will be held, which will attempt to integrate the three aspects.


Christine Schindler, ITH, Wipplinger Str. 8, A-1010 Wien, e-mail:,
Tel. +43 1 534 36 90 329 (Schindler), Fax. +43 1 534 36 99 90 319

Please notice:
The Linz Conferences are gatherings of the member institutes of the ITH. Participants pay only a – compared to similar conferences – modest fee (€ 80 with, € 40 without accomodation) for the conference materials, simultaneous interpretation and meals. All other expenses — insofar as they cannot be covered by subsidies of the Austrian government and of Austrian labour institutions and by financial support of private sponsors — are borne by the member institutes. For that reason the delegating of participants is up to the member institutes of the ITH; individual registrations can be accepted only in justified cases (please enclose a short paper with reasons to your registration application)!