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Reviewed by:
  • Parties and Unions in the New Global Economy
  • Indira Palacios
Katrina Burgess , Parties and Unions in the New Global Economy. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. Tables, figures, acronyms, bibliography, index, 224pp.; paperback $27.95.

Since the 1980s, governing parties traditionally allied with organized labor have, in many cases, adopted market-oriented policies that threatened the welfare of workers and assaulted long-established union privileges. Katrina Burgess's book is excellent for those interested in understanding how unions responded to these shifts and how their reactions have affected traditional party-union relations. This rather small book makes a big contribution to our understanding of union activity today and its relationship to the changing character and quality of political representation in Spain and Latin America.

The book seeks to explain why, in the face of their traditional party ally's adoption of neoliberal reforms while in office, labor leaders in Mexico, Spain, and Venezuela adopted divergent strategies. It does so by focusing on the relationship between the major national labor confederation and the key party representing organized labor.

Spanish leaders ended up making a break with their party ally, while the Mexicans remained faithful and the Venezuelans vacillated between these two paths. The outcomes, Burgess argues convincingly, depended fundamentally on the relative power of the party and workers to punish labor leaders for disloyal behavior. Where workers had more punishing power, labor leaders had more incentives to oppose the party. Where the opposite was true, they remained loyal to the party. When the party had real autonomy to oppose its own government, however, labor leaders did not face a loyalty dilemma because the party could accommodate labor discontent.

The book is organized into eight chapters. Chapter 1 nicely introduces the research question, argument, and cases. It briefly reviews some of the key shifts in the global economy in recent decades and how they have affected domestic policies, pushing even previously labor-backed parties to adopt market-oriented reforms while in office. The chapter also discusses labor's main responses to these shifts and briefly touches on two themes developed more thoroughly in the last chapter, namely the impact of changes in union-party relations on political and union identities and the quality of political representation.

The second chapter presents the theory in greater detail. It treats labor-party relations as regimes composed of formal terms of exchange and informal practices that govern a shared view of society and conflict management, establishing bonds of loyalty among the parts. Building on Albert O. Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty(1970), Burgess argues that labor leaders had three possible responses to labor party adoption of market reforms: "norm-based voice," "norm-breaking voice," and [End Page 191]"voice after exit." Their choice depended on the two variables mentioned above. The relative punishing power of workers and parties was shaped by four basic institutional factors: the legal framework of labor relations, the competitive structure of the labor movement, the type of party system, and the party's mechanisms for filling party posts. Workers had greater punishing power when they could easily shift membership between competing unions and had an effective role in the selection of union leaders. In addition, the number of parties, the degree of electoral volatility, the party's control of the state, and mechanisms of filling party posts affected the party's capacity to punish labor leaders by shaping its ability to give or withdraw benefits.

The relative punishing power of workers and parties was decisive in determining how union leaders responded, unless the party had the capacity to oppose its own government, in which case union leaders could oppose the government without being disloyal to the party. According to Burgess, a variety of factors affected the extent of party autonomy from its government. The party had less autonomy to contest its government if the supreme authority of the party was also the chief executive of the state. Factionalism, party discipline, and mechanisms of control over candidacies and finances were additional shaping factors.

Chapter 3 describes the traditional labor-party regimes in Mexico, Spain, and Venezuela; the conditions of political and economic bargaining and conflict management they entailed; and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-2456
Print ISSN
1531-426X
Pages
pp. 191-196
Launched on MUSE
2005-05-11
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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