Room for Manoeuvre? Variegated Trade Union Strategies in the Spanish Automotive Industry

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Jon Las Heras


Labour solidarity is in crisis. The waves of social unrest that grew in Western and European countries against both the 2008 financial crisis and the austerity politics that followed have lost momentum. Trade unions have neither managed to spearhead any significant countermovement and, if anything, have often been blamed by radicals and non-radicals for not representing the interests of the working class. Nevertheless, in the broad discipline of International Political Economy (IPE) the dilemmas that organised labour are facing have received very little attention. Instead, IPE has focused on studying transnational and state scale politics, displacing labour to a secondary role in the development and transformation of capitalism and its governance. This thesis enriches and expands these literatures by turning them upside down and accounting for the development of global capitalism in Spain from labour´s strategic perspective, namely by presenting an International Political Economy of Labour (IPEL) of trade unions in the Spanish automotive industry. More specifically, it studies the variegated forms in which various trade unions have engaged with corporate pressures to reduce labour costs and augment labour productivity and, as well, the concrete forms in which these strategies have resulted in the formation of working class fractions and in the production of particular collective agreements and collective bargaining structures. In explaining how different trade union strategies have mattered in the development of capitalism in Spain, this thesis poses two main arguments. First, that in capitalist regulation labour agency matters; thus, IPE scholarship should be more sensitive to the position that workers and their organisations hold in the reproduction and transformation of capitalist structures. Second, and complementary to the first, this thesis also argues that labour has room for manoeuvre and that the self-empowerment of the working class is possible, no matter how limited or provisional it might be, when more confrontational and inclusive strategies are pursued against capitalist pressures.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2017