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[Excerpt] This paper argues that while the internationalization of the economy has tended to weaken national labor movements, the internationalization of domestic politics may expand the traditional arenas for strategic action for labor unions. In particular, the North American Free Trade Agreement has been portrayed by some of its many critics as representing the consolidation of a neoconservative or neoliberal project that will not only shape the future economic development of the region, but also constrain its social policies and limit its political options (Grinspun and Cameron 1993: Chapter 1). However, these same critics have also noted that the debate surrounding NAFTA in Mexico, Canada, and the United States has led to a broad range of contacts and cooperative efforts among labor, environmental, women's, religious, and educators' groups in the three countries. This process is not only itself an expression of the search for new strategies in the context of regional integration, it has also altered the traditional ways in which U.S.-Mexican relations have been carried out and shaped the political process within Mexico. While the constraints to transnational labor collaboration remain strong, these new dimensions of the international and political environments nonetheless potentially offer new opportunities to weakened labor movements in all three countries.

This paper will begin with a discussion of the contours of this new international political environment—in particular, the internationalization of domestic politics—and how this environment differs from traditional, nationally bounded notions of domestic politics and state action. I then discuss how both the transnationalization of politics and regional economic integration change the arena for strategic action by labor groups, how this new environment affects the labor movement in Mexico, and the kinds of strategies Mexican and U.S. labor unions have begun to pursue in this context. Finally, I consider whether the side agreement on labor standards that was developed as a complement to the NAFTA represents an example of institutionalization of this political internationalization, thus potentially facilitating further transnational collaboration among unions, or whether, alternatively, the side accord buttresses national institutions and state autonomy in ways that could constrain labor's strategic use of the international arena.


Suggested Citation
Cook, M. L. (1994). Regional integration and transnational labor strategies under NAFTA [Electronic version]. In M. L. Cook & H. C. Katz (Eds.), Regional integration and industrial relations in North America (pp. 142-166). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

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© Cornell University. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.