Beliefs and trade union support for trade liberalisation in the US and the UK: the AFL-CIO and the TUC compared

Abstract

This article applies an interpretive approach to behaviour to explain why the United States’ American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) has opposed free trade agreements, whereas the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) has endorsed them and why the AFL-CIO shifted its position on trade liberalisation around 1970. The AFL-CIO has opposed FTAs because it views past costs of trade liberalisation as excessive and believes that FTAs do not protect workers enough against surges in imports. The British TUC has accepted FTAs and the enlargement of the EU because it sees no economic alternative to open markets. On a substantive level, the article describes how the US and the British trade union confederations have approached trade liberalisation and FTAs. On an analytical level, the article emphasises the autonomy of individual and group beliefs with respect to structures and with respect to dominant ideas and therefore the need to examine these beliefs when explaining behaviour.

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Primary sources for content-analysis

AFL-CIO

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TUC

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Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to the JIRD reviewers, to Jeffrey Checkel, Liesbet Hooghe, Gary Marks, Juan Fernández, Francesco Duina, Thomas Risse, Robert Fishman, and Bart Manikowski for stimulating feedback to previous versions of this paper. I also thank the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the Institut Barcelona d’ Estudis Internacionals (IBEI), the Wissenchaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB), the Kollegforschungsgruppe (KfG) ‘The Transformative Power of Europe’ at the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Institut für Soziologie at the Freie Universität Berlin, for having provided me with the ideal settings to work on this project.

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Díez Medrano, J. Beliefs and trade union support for trade liberalisation in the US and the UK: the AFL-CIO and the TUC compared. J Int Relat Dev 21, 769–797 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-017-0084-2

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Keywords

  • constructivism
  • European Union
  • free trade agreements
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • trade unions