Labour internationalism and the public sector: The case of the Public Services International
What characterizes labour internationalism in the public sector? Jørgen EikenMagdahl and David Jordhus-Lier have interviewed office bearers in the most important global union federation in this sector, and in an article in Political Geograhpy they identify three strategic rationales: the political-institutional, the movement-popular and the industrial-corporate.
This paper sets out the need to conceptualise labour internationalism in the public sector, given its distinct political character and orientation. Our analysis adds to a literature on labour internationalism that hitherto has mainly depicted strategies of unions in private sector industries. To better understand the reasons for upscaling trade union efforts in a sector where the main employer remains the institutional apparatus of the nation-state, we have interviewed office bearers in the most important global union federation organising across different public services – Public Services International (PSI) – asking them to explain their political and strategic considerations. We find that the distinct role of the nation state as an employer, the public character of work and specific relations between public sector workers and the users of services, are all determinants in shaping labour transnationalism in the public sector. This in turn leads to a greater emphasis on alliances with social movements and oppositional campaigns, representing a radical global political unionism. Neoliberal austerity and privatisation measures have reinforced the importance of such political relationships and power, but also challenged their organisational foundations. However, alliance-building is not PSI's sole strategy. We find that office bearers at the transnational level combines three strategic rationales through orientations that we have labelled the political-institutional, the movement-popular and the industrial-corporate. We also suggest that employing these sensitising concepts can bolster the scholarly treatment of understanding labour internationalism and its strategy repertoires more generally.