European Trade Unions and Free Trade: Between International Solidarity and Perceived Self-Interest
ABSTRACT Opposition to capital’s promotion of free trade and deregulated markets should be
a unifying factor binding together the transnational labour movement. Yet the predominant
stance of European trade unions has been to support the free trade agenda promoted by the
European Union, while calling for social conditionalities to offset its most negative impacts.
This article seeks to draw out the ambivalent positioning of the European trade union
movement over and against free trade, and to explain its contradictions as evidence of
tension between the instrumental and expressive tendencies faced by trade unions in their
pursuit of self-interest in the globalised economy. The analysis concludes that a more radical
articulation of the labour movement’s political interests is required if this tension is to be
resolved in favour of transnational solidarity.