European trade unions and world trade negotiations
: the struggle for fair and sustainable trade policies 1973 - 2018

  • Andrew Waterman

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    As organisations representing the collective interests of workers, trade unions have a huge interest in the direction and impact of world trade. Whilst European trade unions have traditionally supported free trade to secure jobs for their members, this position has been harder to maintain as world trade has become more neoliberal over time. European trade unions have therefore become more critical of the dominant free trade agenda, which has increasingly moved beyond tariff reduction into areas such as public service liberalisation and regulatory alignment.
    By using a mixed-methods approach that draws on extensive archival research and interview data, this thesis seeks to understand how trade union strategies to influence world trade negotiations have changed over time. To achieve this, the strategies of three national trade union confederations – the UK Trades Union Congress, German Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund and French Confédération Générale du Travail – and the European level European Trade Union Confederation will be analysed during two distinct periods: the long 1970s (1973-1982) and the period since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (1995-2018).
    This research reveals three key findings. First, union strategies to influence world trade negotiations have changed over time by adopting a greater openness to outsider influence and transnational mobilisation. Second, the key reasons behind this change are that union power has declined, few effective institutional avenues of influence exist, and unions’ policy objectives have increasingly conflicted with the dominant trade agenda. Finally, the research highlights that European unions have been able to influence world trade negotiations by raising and fighting for defensive demands that mitigate some of the social costs of free trade, but still have limited power and capacity to bring a genuine social dimension to EU trade policies.
    Date of AwardJun 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorWolfram Kaiser (Supervisor), Ben Garner (Supervisor), Brigitte Leucht (Supervisor), Karen Heard-Laureote (Supervisor) & Richard Eoin McMahon (Supervisor)

    Cite this