Regulating labor: The formation and effects of a world labor regime in the twentieth century
AuthorMulcahy, Michael J.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractInequalities in the commodification of labor are constitutive for economic activities that span political borders. Increasing global economic integration at the end of the twentieth century is motivated part by new opportunities to exploit such inequalities. Despite this fundamental characteristic of global economic relations, the twentieth century has also witnessed the evolution of an institutional framework of international labor regulation, produced and monitored by the International Labor Organization (ILO), that aims at reducing inequalities in working conditions and protecting workers from the extremes of economic competition, i.e. decommodifying labor. What factors account for the formation of a world labor regime in the twentieth century? And, given the apparent contradiction between the purpose of the ILO's world labor regime and the roots of economic globalization in inequalities in labor commodification, what effects has the world labor regime had for workers on the ground? This study explores the formation and effects of the world labor regime in the twentieth century. Neo-institutionalist theories of an emergent world culture and world polity provide a useful framework for understanding the diffusion of symbolic constructs and institutional forms on a world scale, but they tend to de-emphasize questions of agency, power and conflict. Global class conflict approaches (world systems theory, dependent development theory, dependency theory) help to situate the formation of the ILO's global labor regime in the context of global patterns of exploitation, stratification, dependence and conflict. Three dimensions of world labor regime formation are examined: the historical roots of the world labor regime in the nineteenth century, the articulation of international labor standards by the ILO, and the ratification of those standards by ILO member countries, between 1919-1999. This study examines the impact of member countries' integration in the world labor regime on labor protest, and on workers' rights. The most important findings concern the dynamic relationships between labor protest and world labor regime formation, and the significant effects of countries' labor regime integration on the protection of workers' rights. The formation and integration of the world labor regime is in part a co-optive response to the threat posed by working class mobilization; nevertheless, integration in the world labor regime does appear to benefit workers on the ground.
Degree ProgramGraduate College