Courtesy Reuters

Labor and the Multinationals

It is now generally accepted that the expansion of the multinational corporation is a major, perhaps the major, phenomenon of the international economy today. Large corporations with their headquarters in the United States, in other Western industrialized countries, and now increasingly in Japan as well, are expanding their activities both into industrialized countries, including the Soviet sphere, and into the less-developed world. Once heavily concentrated in mining and extractive fields, today it is the manufacturing activities of the multinationals that command growing attention.

The political consequences of this transformation have now become the subject of a vast and growing literature. Much less attention, however, has been devoted to the impact of the multinationals on the work force within the affected nations.1 Striving to come to grips with the rapidly changing pattern of production in the world, organized labor fluctuates between attempts to negotiate directly with the multinationals on their own ground wherever they may locate-a transnational strategy, if you will-and attempts to use their political leverage within their own nations in order to regulate and control the multinationals and thus to protect jobs within each nation.

In short, labor today has managed to generate only a confused, partial and lopsided response to the multinational corporation. To understand why this is so, it is necessary first to analyze the total impact of the multinational corporation (MNC) not merely on organized labor but on the total social structure and work force patterns of the affected nations. From such an analysis one can begin to grasp how truly drastic and dramatic the effect of the MNCs has already been and how over time that effect is likely to increase.

There emerges a reasonably clear conclusion that with rare exceptions organized labor henceforth is not likely to pursue the transnational strategy except in a minority of cases. Rather, the efforts of organized labor will be focused more and more heavily on moving national and international regulation of the multinationals in the direction of fuller control

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