Rollerball and the spirit of capitalism: Competitive dynamics within the global context, the challenge to labour transnationalism, and the emergence of ironic outcomes

Nathan Lillie, Miguel Martinez Lucio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Capital, through its practices and narratives of global competition, is able to play unions in different locations off against one another through the construction and exploitation of difference. Trade unions and their activists have responded through formal institutional responses and with new forms of network-based cooperation which is, at best, limited to action supported by the interests of union actors involved at a given juncture. This article seeks to argue that these forms of organizational responses are in themselves insufficient to allow unions to overcome the prisoner's dilemma inherent in their operating at a lower geographic level than capital. Design/methodology/approach: The paper brings together ideas and insights from various interventions made by the authors and is a based on a review of a large part of the literature. Findings: To regain control over labour markets would require either more systematic and structured union organizations of a transnational scope or a more concerted attempt at new forms of networking and the construction of a convincing radical counter-narrative to that of global capitalist competition. The paper also argues that on close inspection the internationalization of capital itself exhibits significant Achilles Heels and may actually facilitate these new labour developments. Practical implications: The paper argues that trade unions need to build their international coordinating strategies through a range of democratic and participative approaches. It also claims that transnational corporations are much more exposed by globalization than many commentators admit, trade unions and worker activists can and do exploit these gaps. Social implications: The power of transnational corporations fails to create consistent regimes of regulation and social progress. These in turn create a series of evasive strategies that do not contribute to consistent international dialogue. Originality/value: The article asserts that the network structure of transnational labour unionism is in itself an ineffective response to capitalist globalization and the narrative of global competition. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-92
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Perspectives on International Business
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • Labour transnationalism
  • Networking
  • Regulation
  • Trade unions
  • Transnational companies
  • Worker activism


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