Trade unions, strategic pedagogy and globalisation : learning from the anti-privatisation struggles of Sintraemcali

  • Mario Novelli

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The thesis explores trade union resistance to neo-liberal globalisation through a case-study of the strategic development of Sintraemcali (the trade union of the Municipal Enterprises of Cali) in Colombia. Sintraemcali, since the mid 1990's, has fought off a series of attempts by the Colombian government to privatise the public utilities of water, electricity and telecommunications. Drawing on Burawoy's (1998) Extended Case Method the research is based on 16 months of participatory ethnographic fieldwork and develops a critical theory approach to researching `globalisation from below' through drawing on the work of the Neo-Gramscian School and that of Boaventura de Sousa Santos. The thesis focuses on one particular episode of protest - the 36 day CAM Tower Occupation that began on December 25th, 2001 - in order to understand the conditions that enabled this event to come about. This episode of protest linked workers and local communities in mass protest and operated on a range of scales from the local to the global. The thesis explores how this multi-scalar strategy developed. The thesis traces the historical development of these strategies and explores Sintraemcali's transformation during the 1990's from a corporate trade union fighting for the particular interests of its affiliates to a social movement union defending the broader interests of the local community. The transformation of the trade union took place under the difficult conditions of Colombia where trade unions and human rights activists are regularly subject to assassination by state and para-state forces. Through a reconceptualisation of `trade union education' the thesis argues that Sintraemcali's transformation can be understood as a pedagogical process. The main argument put forward is that the emergence of a strategic pedagogy within the union facilitated the development of a broad multi-scalar strategy that included: (1) an alternative economic strategy for the management of Emcali; (2) a trade union/ community alliance within the city of Cali in defence of public services; (3) a mobilisation strategy which included a series of militant occupations of high profile buildings; and, (4) a human rights strategy that provided access to local, national and international legal and advocacy mechanisms that facilitated Sintraemcali's ability to globalise its struggle against privatisation. The research isolates two key pedagogical processes at work that serve to modify the context within which Sintraemcali operated: transborderisation and horiiontalisation. The first challenges the view that labour organisations can only operate at the local scale and highlights how, through a multi-scalar pedagogy, Sintraemcali members and allies developed new skills, knowledge and strategies that enabled them to operate on a range of scales from the local to the global. The second pedagogical process, horiiontalisation, highlights the rearticulation of trade union objectives towards an ethic of citizenship and human rights. This allowed for the development of a more reciprocal relationship between the trade union, social movements, and marginalised communities at a range of geographical scales.
Date of Award2005
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLeon P Tikly (Supervisor)

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