ICTs, distributed discourse and the territorialisation of labour: the case of Balkan trade unionism
Purpose – This paper aims to examine the significance of information communication technology (ICT) for Balkan labour. Drawing on the heuristic of “distributed discourse”, this paper aims to explore virtual forms of communication and interaction. The paper aims to examine the privileged role of ICT in the: formation of autonomous trade union structures and channels of communication; evasion of the territorial structures of the nation-state and the construction of virtual communities of international labour solidarity; and authoritative transmission of models of industrial relations practice and of capitalist modernity in virtual space. Design/methodology/approach – The authors conducted in-depth interviews, followed up by further discussions, with officials and researchers from unions in the Balkan region. IR academics in Serbia and Montenegro were also consulted, as were union web sites and those of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Serbia, Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions of Serbia. The purpose of the dialogue was to build an empirically grounded framework for understanding the limits and possibilities presented by the new distributed communications technologies of the internet for labour in the era of globalisation. This article provides qualitative data to allow reflection on the possibilities inherent in ICT for the reinvigoration of trade unionism and labour mobilisation in this era of rampant neoliberalism, particularly in the area of trade union democratisation and accountability. Findings – The article finds that key figures within the Balkan labour movement are conversant with the potential of ICTs. It is also apparent that the construction of cyber-unionism at the official level is subject to the authoritative force of neo-liberal imperial governance. However, this is a regime of policing that is indexed and auditable through the very distributed communication technologies which can affect forms of meta-governance beyond the control of institutions . Research limitations/implications – The findings, based on the interrogation of qualitative data are provisional hypotheses and an invitation to further research on the space-time dimensions of trade unionism in the age of globalisation. Practical implications – This paper highlights the situated character of ICT utilisation. While ICTs can be implicated in the reproduction of extant organisational forms and politics, this article provides the international labour movement with a viewpoint from which to build ICT strategies and appropriate organisational structures that recognise the limitations of centralised representation and control. Originality/value – This paper represents fresh and contemporary data on the use of the internet by Balkan labour. By interrogating the qualitative data an invitation to further research on the space-time dimensions of trade unionism in the age of globalisation is presented.