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Union Power and Transnational Corporations in the Argentine Steel Industry Julia Soul DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c004 Introduction Neoliberal globalization is the consequence of capitalistic logic as it developed in a particular historical context marked by key defeats of socialist and workers’ movements. It has developed mainly through capital restructuring and concentration processes, as much as the reshaping of the global division of labor and industrial expansion to former nonindustrialized regions (Astarita 2004; Smith 2010). Research focused on labor movements highlights the critical condition of these organizations, undermined by the diminishing social role of the working class, new forms of employment with the predominance of precarious jobs, the “new” working class identities adopted by young workers, and the general impact of globalization on the economy. Since 2000, academic debates have been focused on unions’ “revitalization” both as a strategy played out by leaderships and as a process led by the increasing role of unions as collective actors. 112 Julia Soul This chapter addresses changes in union power, in particular in the development of neoliberal globalization in Argentina, a semi-industrialized country with an important working class.1 The research is focused on the relations between shifts in the steel industry—where the restructuring process went through the privatization of SOMISA, the former state owned company purchased by Techint Group in 1992—and the configuration of the workers’ collective and its union, the Argentine Metalworkers’ Union (from now on referred to as UOM, its Spanish acronym) (Soul 2002, 2010, 2014). I start with three theoretical assumptions related to industrial relations actors. The first is that labor unions are workers’ secondary organizational field, shaped primarily—although not in a mechanical relation—by the structural features of capital. The second distinguishes union power from workers ’ power, as critical approaches to industrial relations do (Hyman 1981). This analytical distinction allows us to understand relations between class action and the institutional framework for labor relations as a key device in turning work-capital antagonism into commitments. The third relates to Marxist debates about the distinction between politics and economy. As Ellen Mesksins Wood (2000) stated, capitalist development relies on the distinction between private political power, held by management and employers for organizing and disciplining the workforce in the private sphere, and state political power granted by the centralization of “legitimate coercion” and by political and ideological hegemonic relations. This assessment offers a double dimension to unions’ political action: the private one, related to direct links with employers, and the public one, related to the links with the institutional framework. This assumption paved the way to considering the possible differentiation of union actions in relation with different levels or poles of political power, as Chris Kelley shows for Switzerland in this volume. This chapter provides a brief depiction of the contemporary Argentine industrial relations framework, its actors, and its main institutional features as much as its main changes since the “neoliberal decade.” Then I describe three empirical nodes of relations that provide insight into union action as a result of contradictory local/international political and economic processes: – Workplace relations between union and company. This level of union action has been reputed as central to the building of union power, as it is the field where struggles between capital and labor take place at the “molecular” level. 113 Union Power and Transnational Corporations in the Argentine Steel Industry – National relations between union and company. The description of relations at this level will allow for discussion of the empirical development of the distinctive features of the Argentine industrial relations framework. – International relations between national unions and federations and the global company. Focusing on different actors engaged in the building of international union power makes it possible to single out the role of governments, national regulations, and company policies involved in these relations. This chapter aims to assess changes in union power as a result of the company international expansion as well as of the union political dynamic. The discussion in the workshop at the University of Iowa allowed me to place Argentine union action in the broader context of social and political relations, showing the diversity of actions and conditions faced by workers in their struggle for better lives and working conditions. The chapter concludes by retrieving that context and introducing an anthropological perspective for the problems and challenges of union action as an aspect of working class formation. The Argentine Industrial Relations System One of the main particularities of the Argentine institutional framework is its national collective...


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