Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Work
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Labor
Secondary Theme: Class
This panel seeks understand how unions resist and adapt to the challenges of global capital and national austerity. Emerging literature focuses on unions’ role as arbitrators of wage and disciplinary disputes and as policy influencing social movement. However, across various nations, trade unions serve myriad social, emotional, economic and political purposes, real and imagined, to their leaders and members. Particularly contested is the role of trade unions in developing nations and states experiencing austerity measures. In these environments, governments and corporations depict unions as protecting as those who are lucky, privileged or connected enough to have a job, from the communal sacrifices required for ‘development’ or ‘budget repair’. Simultaneously, high unemployment and regressive labor laws reduce unions ability to bargain for wages and represent members.
This panel explores what trade unions offer in environments where their legitimacy and efficacy is under question. It describes and tactics and possibilities for effective politics and representation under such circumstances and the potential for co-option of trade unions by the elite. More theoretically, the panel details how trade union discourse draws upon local understandings, like those relating to kinship, gender and colonial histories and how unions respond to and co-create various legal, economic and cultural structures to describe how affective relationships are created and maintained with and through these unions, as their economic and political power diminishes. In doing so it begins a dialogue between the study of labor and recent breakthroughs in the study of capitalism. Where anthropologists increasingly understand capitalism as primarily existing in the social relations that animate it, this panel explores how unions resist, enable and influence these relations.