Seven Strategies to Rebuild Worker Power for the 21st Century Global Economy: A Comparative and Historical Framework for Policy Action

By Todd N. Tucker |

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Is globalization good or bad for workers? One view sees it as an inevitable and desirable process of making economies more efficient: It may displace workers in the short run, but it has the potential to make them richer in the long run. Another view sees globalization as a net negative, leading to a loss of local and national control as workers are divided against each other in a race-to-the-bottom where business wins and labor loses.

In Seven Strategies to Rebuild Worker Power for the 21st Century Global Economy, Roosevelt Fellow Todd N. Tucker uses historical lessons to lay out a framework for how to rebuild worker power and fight inequality, starting with a global labor agreement—what Tucker calls the Worker Power Agreement—modeled on the Paris Climate Accords.

The report argues for governments to take on explicit targets to increase union density, as well as complementary policies that our trading partners make use of, including:

  • Privileging firms that cooperate well with unions;
  • Making labor law enforcement more favorable toward labor;
  • Extending union contracts to non-union workers;
  • Structurally incorporating unions into the policymaking process;
  • Allowing unions to manage public benefits; and
  • Making union membership the default status for workers.

Recent Supreme Court decisions like Janus v. AFSCME reveal that the state (of which courts are a part) can and does put its thumb on the scale against labor. Thus, policy could instead actively tilt the other way.

This paper proposes a fundamental re-visioning of the role of government in rebuilding worker power, which has a stronger foothold when it benefits from more than just one base of support. Instead of defeatist resignation, modest legal changes, or waiting for unions to save themselves, Tucker recommends ambitious and linked strategies at the international and domestic level to strengthen labor institutions across the globe.

 

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Todd N. Tucker is a political scientist and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. His research focuses on global economic governance, judicial politics, and the domestic implications of international trade, investment, and tax treaties. Dr. Tucker is author of The Sustainable Equitable Trade Doctrine (a 2017 report) and Judge Knot (a 2018 book on international dispute settlement and lawyering). His writing has been featured in Politico, Time Magazine, Democracy Journal, the Financial Times, and the Washington Post, and he has made hundreds of media appearances, including in and on CNN, the New York Times, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal.