Donna McGuire

Kurzexposé zum Promotionsvorhaben von Donna McGuire:

Increasing labour’s influence in economic global governance

Objective: To explore ways for organised labour to become more influential in economic global governance through its involvement in inter-governmental institutions such as the OECD.

Key research question:
What role does the OECD play in setting the international trade agenda and how can trade unions increase their influence in this organisation?

Research Proposal – Abstract:
This project will build on research conducted in my Master thesis, which explored attempts by trade unions to influence global economic rule making in the field of international trade; an area that is outside their traditional sphere of action and influence.

The campaign to keep education out of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) was used as a case study to explore the constraints and opportunities trade unions face in attempting to influence global economic rule making (see Appendix 1. abstract of MA thesis for further detail).

One of the missed opportunities identified in this research was the potential for unions to influence the OECD and its individual member states. The OECD’s tripartite nature makes it one of the few inter-governmental organisations within which trade unions have a recognised role and access. However, unions on the whole have failed to understand the importance of the OECD in determining the framework and content of WTO negotiations. Nor have they fully exploited the existing channels of influence they have through the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC).

Therefore my research will examine the constraints and opportunities for labour to influence economic global governance through their role in the OECD, with aim of developing a set of recommendations on how trade unions can become more influential in this area.

Background to the research:
The rules of economic global governance as promulgated in multilateral agreements and international organizations such as IMF, World Bank, World Intellectual Property Organisation etc. are increasingly influencing the living conditions of the working classes and the political powers of their representatives around the world.

Multilateral trade agreements such as GATS, the General Agreement on Trade in Services, have been used to pry open state regulated services to foreign suppliers. In general, this leads to fewer employment opportunities in the state sector, lower labour standards for those still employed, less access for the poor and a weakening of the unions of public employees which play an important role in the labour movement.

Despite the impact of these multilateral agreements on working people, labour issues are not sufficiently reflected at the bargaining tables. Even those governments that rely heavily on organised labour for election victories do not advance a labour agenda in the policy discussions in preparation for multilateral bargaining rounds.

However, the fault does not rest solely with the governments. The labour movement, with some notable exceptions, has ‘underinvested’ in developing its own voice on international economic governance.

Another problem is the lack of official status for organised labour within organisations such as the WTO, which leaves lobbying and campaigning as the main avenues through which unions can seek to exert influence. However, on the whole, unions have been slow to develop the lobbying and campaigning capacity needed to realise organised labour’s  policy goals.

As a result, the rules of global capitalism are moving towards a neo-liberal constitutionalism that privileges private ownership rights over national sovereignty and the rights of the producers and consumers.

One way to address this exclusion of labour issues from international economic governance is to explore ways in which organised labour can be more influential in inter-governmental institutions such as the OECD, which play a major role in setting global rules and guidelines.

Proposed methodology:

  1. Literature study: to identify the kinds of problems and limitations unions might face in trying to influence international rule making.
  2. Internship at OECD to explore the role and function of TUAC (the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD).
  3. Map OECD structure, decision making processes and spheres of influence.
  4. Map existing lobbying processes used by unions to influence OECD.
  5. Case studies: past or current attempts by unions to influence the OECD on a particular issue related to global economic governance, for example keeping public services, including education, out of GATS.
  6. Expert interviews.
  7. Document analysis: policy documents, campaign documents, letters, emails (if available) media statements, trade-related publications etc.

Work Schedule and Financial Support:
Work schedule, time frames and financial support will be determined after further discussion with my supervisor.

Appendix 1.
Master’s Thesis Abstract: Keeping education out of GATS: Global Labour’s mobilisation against the liberalising of education services – Successes and missed opportunities

For unions and civil society the foundation and implementation of the GATS raises questions about the consequences of developing a binding set of rules on the trade in services, determined solely with reference to economic rather than social benefits, which incorporates so many of the services fundamental to human existence. The liberalization of education services under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) serves as a good example. The market in educational services is already worth about $30 billion (OECD figures). However, what is new is the introduction of a binding set of international rules to govern this trade under GATS, and the attitude of seeing education as a commodity and a valuable trading item for export.

Using selective expert interviews, document analysis and case studies, the paper analyses the campaign of global union federations against the inclusion of educational services in GATS, with the aim of identifying lessons that global federations can learn for future cross-national campaigns against global governance policies. After providing a chronology of labour’s encounter with GATS ‑the contested issues in general and with specific reference to education ‑ the paper traces how GATS was put on the agenda of education unions and some of the likely negative consequences of GATS for education and its stakeholders.

In analysing the campaign against GATS the paper looks at the various ways unions seek to exert influence through lobbying (of international organisations, trade delegations and WTO member states), coalitions with NGOs and local governments and mobilising affiliate unions. Some of the constraints facing unions in their quest to identify a broad based movement against GATS, such as union structure, complexity of the issues, lack of resources, tensions between unions and NGOs, and scarcity of where experts are identified and these are analysed in terms of how they were overcome and opportunities were missed. Finally a few suggestions are volunteered for future campaigns.