The transnationalisation of production, along with the rise of global supply chains, informalisation, financialisation, and connecting of world markets through informationalisation have all hit hard on workers. It seems to have become impossible to overcome the resulting divisions among working classes, who have been so radically abused by capital. These new structural forces have created an immense need for connected self-organisations of workers, built from the bottom up, and operating simultaneously at local, national and international levels. This article argues for a new global unionism that goes beyond the IWW experience and allows workers to connect local, national, regional and international struggles by aligning with other struggles in life.
Peter Waterman calls this model “Social Movement Unionism”. In order to develop enough strength to turn the tide globally, we need to redistribute power to the nodes involved in collective subjectivity and action. This cannot happen without dismantling the giant hierarchies — those organisational models that have been constructed above the people they represent, and have been gradually co-opted. The distance between the worker and the coordinators of union operations needs to be dissolved.
The good news is that something fundamentally different is emerging today. “Distributed networks” enable closer communication and deeper collaboration between individuals. These are spreading across the world among citizens, consumers, workers, artists, activists and so on. Such an approach allows participants to initiate strong and coordinated collective actions, create value and culture, produce services and materials, distribute these products equally, and organise and mobilize masses. The term “peer-to-peer” refers to the relational dynamics expressed within these distributed networks.
Within a distributed peer-to-peer network, all the key and systemic information, be it of a project, collective bargaining process, or decision to be made, is open and accessible to all the nodes, without being filtered through a ‘hub’ that can use its position to collect power. This in turn creates not a chaotic mass but the opposite: a massive collateral of collective and organisational capacity. As a form, this maintains the advantages of the network form (non-hierarchical and flexible), while allowing the nodes to act as an organisation, and to achieve whatever is aimed for in a timely manner. Some people have called this quantum leap in our capacity for individual or collective action ‘hyper-empowerment’.
The argument that we are setting forth (not only here but also in the references added below) is timely for any discussion of global unionism, as it increases the possibility and potential of global emancipatory labour activism. Global social movement unions are being built up ‘de facto’ by working people themselves, based on peer-to-peer distributed networking principles, and adapting peer-to-peer relational dynamics and social network technologies to organising, campaigning, mobilising, and other functions.
Such new organisational forms will soon bring about tectonic shifts in not only traditional labour organising but also in societal structures. In a way, such organisms allow many to move in harmony, or swarm in rapid deployments that are able to reach local conflicts, wherever they occur.
Such collective empowerment can only be achieved if the collective itself allows the individual nodes to become hyper-empowered. A massive global offensive and defensive capacity in yje face of capital then becomes possible, without falling into the trap of centralised power, which can so easily become co-opted.