Geographic scale and grass-roots internationalism: the Liverpool dock dispute, 1995-1998



Publication Details

Castree, N. (2000). Geographic scale and grass-roots internationalism: the Liverpool dock dispute, 1995-1998. Economic Geography, 76 (3), 272-292.


In the context of ongoing debates over the effects of "globalization" on organized labor and, specifically, recent experiments in labor internationalism, this paper examines the geography of the Liverpool dock dispute, 1995-98. The dispute has rarely been subject to a serious analysis of its causes and trajectory. This is surprising since it was not only the most protracted industrial dispute in recent British history but also the hub of a relatively novel form of transnational labor organizing: namely, a form of grass-roots internationalism organized largely outside the formal apparatuses of national and international unionism. In the paper I focus on the nature and dynamics of this "grass-roots internationalism" with a view to making two claims that have a wider thematic and theoretical relevance to the study of labor geographies. First, contrary to an emerging new orthodoxy in labor geography (and labor studies more generally), the Liverpool case in fact suggests that the necessity for labor to "up-scale" solidarity and struggle in the 1990s is much overstated. Second, the Liverpool case suggests that international labor organizing is only efficacious when considered in relation to two scales of struggle often thought increasingly irrelevant or ineffectual in a globalizing world: the local and the national. Thus, while those few analysts who have cited the Liverpool dispute, basing their assessments on secondhand knowledge, have held the dockers up as exemplars of a new form of labor internationalism, in this paper I suggest the need for a more complex and contingent appreciation of the multiscalar dynamics of labor struggles. In short, we have not yet reached the stage, even in a globalizing world, where labor's "spatial fixes" must be preeminently supranational.

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