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Reviewed by:
  • Parties and Unions in the New Global Economy
  • Volker Frank
Parties and Unions in the New Global Economy. By Katrina Burgess. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. Pp. xiii, 209. Tables. Figures. Abbreviations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $27.95 paper.

This work is concise, well written, and timely. It is a useful contribution to the literature and readers interested in political parties, labor parties, political regimes and, of course, labor movements, will all benefit from Burgess' insights. What happens to party-union relationships when they are exposed to increased pressures stemming from global competition? Burgess examines the cases of Spain, Venezuela, and Mexico, in which the time-proven party-union alliance each reached a point where union leaders "had to choose sides" (p. 4). But what determines whose side they chose? When and why do top union leaders go with their workers, on one hand, or pick the party over their own organizations, on the other? Burgess has convincing answers to these and other important questions.

Her theoretical and conceptual tools work well, and the reader gains access to a densely written account of factors union leaders take into account in the cost-benefit [End Page 297] calculation of their relationship to parties who have been a historical ally of labor. Specifically, Burgess argues that in the aftermath of adopted economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, "the divergent responses of disaffected labor leaders faced with similar pressures can be explained by two variables: 1). the relative power of the party and workers to punish labor leaders for disloyal behavior, and 2). the party's capacity to act autonomously from its own government" (p. 6). Moreover, she argues that the responses should be seen along a continuum, "at one extreme is the CTM's (Confederation of Mexican Workers) collaboration with the reforms, which translated into a sustained commitment to its alliance with the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). At the other extreme is the UGT's (General Workers' Union) resistance to the reforms, which took the form of defection from its alliance with the Spanish PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party). In the middle is the CTV's (Confederation of Venezuelan Workers) vacillation between collaboration and resistance, which strained but did not break its alliance with AD (Democratic Action Party)" (p. 6).

Burgess argues that when, between 1982-1994, Mexico's CTM faced a "loyalty dilemma"—produced in the first place by the economic crisis but interpreted through the logic as well as the history of political exchange with its ally, the PRI—the CTM merely opted to use "norm-based voice," defined as "demand-making that conforms to the norms governing interaction with the [PRI]" (p. 9). In other words, while benefiting from the political exchange with the PRI for a long time, at the moment of crisis, the CTM under the leadership of Fidel Velazquez managed to subordinate workers' interests to that of the PRI and, by extension, of the political regime. In contrast, Spain's UGT leaders finally opted to "exit" the alliance with the PSOE in 1989-1993, though that exit came about incrementally. Initially, in 1982-84, UGT leaders raised "norm-based voice" (opposition) to the government's reforms, but when that proved ineffective, UGT leaders switched to "norm-breaking voice" (breaking the norms that govern party-union interaction), and finally to "exit" (end of the alliance) in 1989-93. As mentioned, Venezuela's CTV leader went further than Mexico's CTM leaders, but stopped short of exiting the alliance with "norm-breaking voice" in 1989.

At times, I found her analysis a bit repetitive, which may have more to do with the design of the book than with the method behind the argument. But I also found advantages to this approach, and Chapter 3 in particular ("Loyalties under Stress") delivers an excellent analysis of each country's labor regime, its institutional history, labor legislation, labor movement structure and so forth. All this information is highly useful because it allows the reader to better understand what structural, legal, and political tools top labor leaders have available, or are able to produce, in the execution of political exchange with the party and thus, ultimately, with the government...


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