The Effects of Globalization on Organized Labor

Unions believe that outsourcing reduces organized labor's bargaining position.
Unions believe that outsourcing reduces organized labor's bargaining position. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

As unions watch good, middle-class jobs go overseas, they are reminded that industry's main purpose is not to create jobs; it is to create profits. If jobs can be done abroad for a fraction of American wages, modern industry will not hesitate to take advantage of it. Corporate social responsibility only goes so far. Unions have been stung by the outsourcing of globalization and have launched a two-pronged campaign against it.

Trade Agreements

Organized labor fights trade agreements that are unfair to workers and bad for the environment. Unions are not against global trade in general; in fact, many of their members have jobs that rely on it. They are, however, against any trade agreement that does not guarantee workers a livable wage, does not protect against child and prison labor or does not have responsible environmental protections. Additionally, say unions, trade agreements must protect the right of workers to organize and join labor unions.

Race to the Bottom

Organized labor sees global trade -- as it is practiced in the early 21st century -- as detrimental to workers throughout the world and damaging to the union movement. When countries are forced to compete against each other for jobs, wages and worker protections are invariably driven down and organized labor’s bargaining position undermined. To appear more appealing to industry, countries also weaken their labor laws and reduce taxes until there is clearly a “race to the bottom” in quality of life for all nations’ workers.


Organized labor has lost many jobs to the practice of outsourcing. A large percentage of these jobs are the manufacturing positions that helped fuel America's labor movement and build America’s once-thriving middle class. In response to outsourcing, unions are trying to show industry why keeping the jobs at home will be beneficial both to industry and the unions. For example, it was organized labor that convinced Boeing to rethink its plans to send the job of rewriting its maintenance engineering manuals to Chile. The task stayed in Puget Sound.

The Other Side

Global trade advocates see things differently. Proponents of globalization believe that the race-to-the-bottom phenomenon does not really exist. Instead, they say, globalization has had a net positive effect on the standards of living for the majority of the world’s people. Further, they contend that industry is not looking for cheap labor; it is looking for value. The most valuable labor, they say, can usually be found where workers have the best education and access to the best technology and machinery.

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