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How could the development of transnational justice shape transnational solidarity?

Author: Marcus Franke

The labor market has gone through various phases of transformation in recent decades. For example, the globalization has fostered multinational companies (MNCs) operating around the world like the retail giant amazon. At the same time, we experience a rise of the platform economy. After flexibilization, this latest development now represents a fragmentation of the labor market. These developments have one thing in common: the possibility to circumvent the regulations of the national labor markets, either by relocating to a different country with fewer regulations or in terms of platform economy trying to redefine traditional circumstances of employment as self-employment. Against the background of these changes the implications for solidarity are immanent in matter of transnationalizing and reinforcing the structure, perspective and actions supporting employees. At the same time, questions of justice have also shifted, which could give us new ideas about the normative dimension of (transnational) solidarity.

What does it mean for the stabilization of transnational solidarity when the so-called Westphalian Framework as a place of homogeneity of law and society is eroding? Could legitimacy through recognition be a significant factor in the transnational dimension of solidarity as homogeneity is harder to achieve across state borders, and is fairness as an element of justice a topic to unite people from different social, cultural, national and working backgrounds to act in solidarity? And could these questions elaborate about the normative dimension of solidarity of transnational working relations?

Looking at the topic of solidarity, or even more so of transnational solidarity, the primary question seems to be who is in solidarity with whom? The most common answer in the literature is that solidarity requires a group that is as homogeneous as possible, and this is found traditionally in the frame of the territorial national states (e.g. Engler 2016). In terms of justice the institutional framework of national states co-imbricate people as subjects of justice (Fraser 2008, p. 12), what gives justice a common reference point with regard to the structural starting position. As homogeneity is seen as a mechanism of stability regarding solidarity, Habermas reflected that the legitimacy of a state is based on the de facto recognition by the people of the state (Habermas 1994 p. 352). From a democratic view this means that legitimacy achieves a sufficient quality for stabilization if justice and participation are guaranteed at a certain level by the state framework.

Justice and solidarity in a globalized world

Both ideas of how justice and solidarity are functioning are influenced by the changes of a globalized world. Without a doubt, national states are still the dominating structure, but transnational developments opened new hurdles or reinforced old ones, but also created new opportunities. Nancy Fraser stated 2008 in “Scales of Justice” regarding a globalized world, that a theory of justice has to include three dimensions: redistribution, recognition and representation. Put simply, redistribution is the economic dimension of justice, recognition is the cultural dimension, and representation is the political dimension. These categories are not always clearly separable, and Fraser gives consideration that “Of course, distribution and recognition are themselves political in the sense of being contested and power-laden; and they have usually been seen as requiring adjudication by the state.” (Fraser 2008; p. 17)

According to Fraser, globalization shifted the relevance of questions of justice from what needs to be just into who is recognized and represented in modern societies. The answer to the latter question was clearly bound to citizenships in the past but has to be reflected under the new circumstances of the globalized world. In theories about civil society the public sphere is a significant place where injustice is identified and in a best-case scenario it is transferred into the political process and recognized by the political sphere (et al. Habermas 1994 p. 365; Young 2000 p.155, 174). The most convincing criticisms are then translated into regulations and law. Once more the frame of the national state is immanent, because the public sphere is required to influence political institutions that have the ability to regulate and sanction.

In the course of globalization public places, where opinions can be shared and mutually reviewed, have overcome national borders (Fraser 2008, pp. 76-80). However, this does not mean that a transnational public sphere is developed automatically. For instance, the legal frame of the European institutions could be an environment where a public sphere constitutes transnationally with the opportunity of political influence on a legitimate sovereign power like the EU. A transnational civil society, thus a European civil society, could also be a place of solidarity and European transnational working relations an important point of reference from which organized parts of the transnational public could address fairness in working relations and thus solicit solidarity across borders.

In particular since the economic world has increasingly left state borders behind, the state is losing the ability to effectively pursue regulation. MNCs act more detached from the original framework that structurally shaped both solidarity and justice. Therefore, the globalizing world needs new transnational actors, a new transnational framework to react to these developments.

Likewise, globalization increased the imbalance of power in the economic world, as workers' representatives must advocate for regulations that must be implemented by several states rather than just one. Therefore, the European Union is a unique institutional example worldwide, because of its unique transnational structure.

Justice in the context of transnational collective action

For instance, the collective bargaining of trade unions is traditionally focused on a fair redistribution, that is most acknowledged as a dimension of justice. But employee representatives, as the name implies, are also those who reflect a representative level of justice. Especially in transnational working relations the representation of all the employees across the national states and their associated institutional framework is a particular challenge. The implementation of European Work Councils (EWC) in MNCs testifies to the consideration of these aspects of justice. The obligation of MNCs in the EU to inform and consult EWCs in company matters based on the EU directive 2009/38/EC is a transnational institutional framework, that guarantees some level of participation and representation.

Therefore, the transnational actors in the globalized working world are fulfilling all three scales of justice. While the national unions primarily determine collective bargaining and therefore focus on justice in terms of redistribution, transnational employee representatives should primarily try to harmonize the framework for every employee in any location of the MNC including the recognition of the different starting situations of minorities. For example, a topic like gender equality is directly connected to questions of representation as well as recognition. It is also a question of representation within the structures of the MNC, if there are company locations, where employees are more excluded from the respective society. This also can touch a cultural aspect of being recognized in sense of minority.

Solidarity: a matter of common interest or more?

A major problem in terms of solidarity types is the demarcation between common interest to the normative orientation of solidarity. A solidarity without a common interest across borders seems to be unlikely. However, the normative dimension of solidarity usually comes into play at the point where there is a lack of common interest. Morgan & Pulignano highlighted in their recent concept elements of bonding and bridging (Morgan & Pulignano 2020, pp. 20-25). In this concept, the language of morality is one type of solidarity that almost directly refers to the dimension of justice as it is described as a binding element in matter of “engaging in forms of solidarity because it is ‘right’ to do so” (Morgan & Pulignano 2020,p. 21).

Against that background this type of solidarity is closely linked to an altruistic motive, but the development of justice in the course of globalization has demanded differentiation. Since justice cannot be a matter limited to redistribution anymore but has to be a question of representation and recognition in transnational relations beyond the guaranteed rights associated with citizenship, transnational solidarity could also be understood as an obligation for participation across borders.

The concept of the European Union links democratic societies together. Even if national conditions vary across economies, in democracies there should be common ground on issues of recognition and at least the goal of fair redistribution. Therefore, a shared understanding of transnational justice could already be a binding element.

However, it could also build bridges across borders and social divides in different societies when it comes to issues such as gender equality or work-life balance, based on a consensus on the additional dimensions of transnational justice detaching the idea of guaranteed citizenship from the national perspective and projecting it onto all workers from every location of the MNCs. By analogy with national civil societies, EWCs and other transnationally active employee representative bodies could serve as guardians of transnational justice within MNCs, but also as observers of the processes of transnational working relations, pressuring European legislators to regulate identified problems.

Emphasizing this level of transnational justice could be a valuable contribution to a common identity, which could strengthen transnational solidarity.





Engler, Marcus (2016): Zur Entstehung europäischer Solidarität (1. Aufl. 2016).

Fraser, Nancy (2009): Scales of Justice. Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World (Paperback edition 2010).

Habermas, Jürgen (1994): Between Facts and Norms (Sinsheim German 4th Edition).

Morgan, Glenn, & Pulignano, Valeria (2020): Solidarity at Work: Concepts, Levels and Challenges. Work, Employment

and Society. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0950017019866626

Young, Iris Marion (2000): Inclusion and Democracy (2000, New York).