The overall theme is Labour and the Challenges of Development, which is oriented around two key questions:
1) Labour, growth and the ‘developmental state’ – what kind of state-society linkages are necessary to avoid ‘enclave’, ‘uneconomic’ growth and development?
2) Labour, development and trade – what role does trade play in undermining or enhancing inclusive development?
Unions around the world operate in a complex and rapidly changing environment. In response to the industrial revolution of the 19th century organised labour fought for legislation and welfare provisions to make the ruthless dynamic of a ‘free’ market compatible with a democratic and inclusive society. Within many Northern industrialised countries, this struggle has been remarkably successful during the second half of the twentieth century, with many achieving near full employment and a substantial social wage. However, much of the Southern developing (or majority) world experienced low or at best ‘enclave’ development, where a few cosmopolitan elites enjoy the fruits of ‘development’, while the majority experience massive unemployment, informalised work, low wages and poor working conditions. For many, this experience of under-development is a direct result of colonialism and neo-colonialism, which arguably was a necessary condition for the development of the North.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the new wave of ‘neo-liberal’ globalisation has shifted jobs from the North to parts of the South. While on the one hand, this has boosted employment in parts of the South (especially Asia), it has threatened the ability of states to spread the benefits of economic development to all their citizens. In the North, it is eroding the regulatory capacity of the nation-state and the capacity of trade unions to defend social achievements. Most countries in the world now experience diminishing labour rights and welfare provisions, informalisation of employment relations and growing inequality and poverty. Indeed, on a global scale, the rich have become richer and the poor poorer.