This thesis considers labour internationalism in relation to and from the vantage point of Australia’s retail workers. Labour internationalism has long been an ambition of the left, which has yet to be realised. One reason might be a lack of strong connection between workers. This thesis considers claims that the contemporary transnationalisation of production transforms the potential for labour internationalism. The thesis also questions whether workers actually benefit from internationalism. If transnational connections fail to improve workers’ material conditions, empathy alone cannot engender genuine solidarity.
Informed by an evaluation of these general debates, the scope of the inquiry is narrowed-down and focused on the Australian retail trade. The generalisability of the findings might be limited because the characteristics of the Australian retail industry differ from other Australian industries or retail industries in other countries. Nevertheless, the results of this study highlight some trends and features of the current political-economic system that are experienced by many other workers.
This research finds that the power of Australian retail workers in direct conflict with employers is quite limited. Their marketplace structural power is insignificant, and thus, they cannot easily withdraw from the labour market as a bargaining tactic. However, that retail workers have significant coalitional and workplace structural powers in the national and global contexts. Using these powers, they can even enhance their limited institutional power. By involving other, predominantly working-class, actors, not only can retail workers win current conflicts but also reform the way future conflicts are conceived and fought. In short, the results of this study reemphasise the critical role of class struggle and labour internationalism in improving the conditions of Australia’s retail workers.