Spaces of hope? Fatalism, trade unionism, and the uneven geogrpahy of capital in white goods manufacturing

Robert Lambert, Michael Gillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


By engaging the "politics of scale," the discourse of labor geography challenges the fatalism and consequent passivity that pervades much of the labor movement when it is confronted by corporate restructuring. An optimistic view of agency is central to this theoretical intervention. On the basis of empirical research on workers' responses to a transnational corporation's restructuring of a large refrigerator factory in rural Australia, this article highlights contradictory reactions to restructuring, thereby questioning the conception of agency that is at the heart of the labor geography project. Our data suggest a need to refine a theory that tends toward voluntarism in stressing workers' autonomy by developing a more complex, contradictory, and embedded conception. The batter reveals the unpredictable, dynamic, and contested character of agency in which the strategic response of unionism is a critical variable. The results repeal the power of a new discourse on scale in transforming fatalism. Although this initiative in Australia is now in the first phase of evolving a new institutional expression of this discourse, the data reveal how the union's policy decision to rescale and network globally within the corporation has empowered those who are determined to act, thereby undermining the passivity and fatalism of the majority. This transformation of social consciousness is a crucial trigger in the shift toward globally net-worked forms of unionism. To date, the labor geography literature has not adequately addressed the relationship between discourse, consciousness, and action. The article concludes that this new direction may have a wider significance in the global dynamic between corporations and civil society and may point to a more systematic, long-term change in the geographic scale of unionism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-95
JournalEconomic Geography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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