Documenting the History of Social Network Unionism before the GLOBAL MAY STRIKES – Part I

Movement-Space-Movement cycle: Linkages between Zapatista-WaterWar-Seattle-WSF-ESF-[JSC-ALTERSUMMIT] and Arab Spring/ 15M /OCCUPY I

First post of a series of key documents that trace back the efforts  have been made for the creation of a Globally Networked -preferably in a p2p distributed way- and reinvented Labour Movement, what we call on this blog Social Network Unionism.

Below video is the interview with Marco Berlinguer, who have played a key role in coordination and faciliation of the Labour & Globalisation network in Belem and afterwards. Peter Waterman’s critical response in L&G email list with several attachments gives a good snapshot of the process under taken at the time.

In the eve of a global strikes being planned, as the first time in human history, and there is a growing globally self-organised grassroots movements, it can be helpful to revisit these important documents.

[WSF-Labor and Globalization] Will Alt. Glob Labour Network Take Off in Belem?

Will an Alternative Global Labour Network Take Off and Take Shape at the World Social Forum, Belem, 2009?

Peter Waterman, p.waterman at


This is a contribution to discussion that has been taking place atvarious Social Forums and related events over the last year or two. Much of this has been within the ‘Labour and Globalisation’ (L&G) network. It has been something of a haphazard process since the network has no fixed abode, far less an office or officers, and its rather attractive list,, has been regretably under-utilised and was affected, late-2008, by some infantile disorder (of a digital kind). I expressed my confusion at that moment (Waterman 2008a). The problem has now been corrected.

Then, just as I was about to post this note, January 12 I think, I received various emails from de facto L&G coordinator, Marco Berlinguer, about the timetable and proposed content of the L&G programme for Belem, as well as the spread of the network to the USA, all of which suggests that the project is in better shape than it has recently appeared. Marco has also moved the list to another e-dress, as follows:

*To post at the new list, the address is: <

wsf-l-and-g at>

*To inscribe or unsubscribe the address is:

I will not attempt to record or respond to these latest mailings. I already have too many appendices. But I am, of course, intending to post this on the list. And I will post it to my own network, in the hope of reaching more labour movement people attending Belem, and of involving more in the online network.

Creating such a network is a delicate and complex matter in so far as it is an attempt to create a space attractive and open to both the traditional inter/national union bodies organising workers in the so-called ‘formal economy’, and networks, movements or non-governmental organisations often working with workers in so-called ‘atypical’ work. As the distancing quotes might suggest, the problem is also is a matter of how ‘work’ and ‘the labour movement’ are to be understood in the epoch of computerisation and globalisation, dominated by the ultra-capitalist politics and ideology of neo-liberalism. It is also a matter of how an autonomous labour network can be most effective under such conditions – and at a moment in which global capitalism is yet again demonstrating its multiple incapacities and inhumanities.

Complexity is increased because any such network is involved in the articulation of both the above parties with the ‘global justice and solidarity movement’ (my preferred name for it) in general and the World, European and other such Social Forums in particular. This is not yet to speak of the surely desirable impact of any such new initiative on a hypothetically sympathetic global public.

The items attached as appendices below have mostly been, or are likely to be, posted on this list. So, no doubt, will later reports on L&G and other labour or union activities at the Belem, Brazil, WSF, January 27-February 2, 2009. But it needs to be remembered that the traditional inter/national unions are likely to have their own activities at Belem and have their own spaces on the web. Moreover, there are labour-related networks, dealing with such categories as rural or migrant labour, with working women, with safety at work and ecology, or the ‘solidarity economy’, that may be taking their own initiatives at Belem and online.

What follows, finally, is not intended to directly comment on the contributions appended but it has certainly been stimulated by such. Some of my previous such contributions to the new global labour networking, particularly my own ideas on a global labour charter movement, are listed in the bibliography appended.


I think we need a network that would contribute to the revival or reinvention of a global labour movement in the light of 1) capitalist globalisation and informatisation (now in considerable political-economic and ideological crisis), and 2) the new global justice and solidarity movement developing in response to such.

Such a network should, I believe, simultaneously, raise the profile of the ‘labour question’ within an event and movement in which it has so far been somewhat (self-)marginalised and (in comparison with ‘women’ or ‘peasants’) certainly under-estimated.

One key here is to revive the historical notion of ‘the emancipation of labour’, understood now not as sole or primary vanguard of global social emancipation from capitalism but as an essential partner in such a general movement.

Another key is a revival of the utopian element present within early labour movements, meaning the imagination of a world beyond capitalism, and the development of structures, strategies and relationships in the light of such (rather than assuming capitalism is worldwide, all-powerful and eternal, accepting the subordination of labour and being permanently on the defensive against an agenda and language determined by capital, state or interstate agencies). As part of a radically-democratic civil society in formation, labour can not only be more socially assertive but also more effective in self-defence.


This is not the first or only attempt to create global labour solidarity networks either within or beyond ‘the factory wall or the union office’.

There was the West-Europe-based ‘shopfloor labour internationalism’ of the 1980s. There is still the Australia-based Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (Sigtur). There was an international-union and social- movement roundtable, Bangkok, 2002. There are and have been dozens of others, focused on particular issues (e.g. union rights, health and safety), limited to certain regions, ideologically-inspired, and one-off solidarity actions or exchanges. Labour also figures prominently within a Socialist-cum-Thirdworldist project, led by the Egyptian political-economist and activist, Samir Amin, that intends to challenge the WSF (Waterman 2008c).

The point is that these provide both positive and negative ? not to mention complex or problematic – models or lessons. Feeding such ideas and experiences into this new project is not so difficult. It might require simply a ‘History’ or ‘Experiences’ sub-section on the below-discussed list or web page. But awareness of such is essential if bad history is not to be repeated nor already- existing models duplicated.


As most readers of this item will be aware, DW is the major current campaign on ‘labour and globalisation’ of the traditional inter/national trade union movement. Indeed, it has been energetically promoting DW at Social Forum events. But DW has been simply adopted by the unions from an inter-state body, the International Labour Organisation (itself seriously criticised for its incapacities in the face of globalisation by a former insider, (Standing 2008)).

Neither the origin of DW in an inter-state organisation (75 percent dominated by the political-economic hegemons!) nor its assumptions of natural and eternal capitalist ownership and control have been discussed by the unions. Indeed, criticism of DW ? or of the ILO ? has only just begun amongst critical labor specialists (as Appendix 4 complains: the bourgeoisie is discussing Marx whilst the Left is discussing Keynes). I am primarily concerned here, however, that DW, and alternatives to such, be discussable, civilly of course, within any autonomous labour network. The alternative would be to preserve silences at a time in which the surpassing of diplomatic relations in the labour movement is a requirement for renewal. Whether the labour movement identifies with the DW campaign or not, it seems to me, is less important than a recognition that we need to at the very least to discuss it.


The L&G project will obviously appeal to both traditional unionised/unionisable labour organisations and those in urban or rural sub-contracted or petty-commodity production, trade and services (customarily called the ‘informal’ sector or ‘atypical’ workers, more recently the ‘precariat’), as well as migrant labour (for an experience at national level, see Leonardi 2008). But it needs to simultaneously address itself to the question of ‘work’, notably to that of women as customarily unpaid housekeepers and carers, an increasing proportion of wage-earners globally. Further, it needs to address itself to the urban and rural communities and ecologies in which working people live, and to all those forms in which attempts are made to surpass traditional capitalist work and income, such as the ‘economy of solidarity’, the ‘basic income grant’, worker participation and self-management, ecologically-friendly production and consumption.


The L&G initiative already has a modest global and European presence, in so far as networking occurs within social forums at these levels. There are also, however, labour initiatives within other regions, such as those related to the US Social Forum 2007. No doubt there are or will be regionally-specific others.

It is essential that any new labour network establish relations of equality between such particular or regionally-specific partners (as StreetNet, Via Campesina, or the International Centre for Trade Union Rights), thus surpassing any traditional Westocentrism or, for that matter, the prioritisation of one organisational form (the union) over other forms of self-organisation and self-expression (the network, the pro-labour NGO, cultural and communication centres, whether online or offline).

READ the rest of the text HERE

3 thoughts on “Documenting the History of Social Network Unionism before the GLOBAL MAY STRIKES – Part I

  1. Pingback: Documenting the History of Social Network Unionism before the ... | reciprocalinfluence |

  2. Pingback: GLOBALISATION of MAY 1st GENERAL STRIKE | Social Network Unionism

  3. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Documenting the rise of P2P Labour Unionism – Part I

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