Syndicalism and the ‘transnational turn’

Reviewed by  Lewis Mates, Durham University 

It has become something of a cliché to observe the remarkable explosion of renewed academic interest in syndicalism in recent years. While the British ‘baby boomers’ sought inspiration and understanding from early twentieth-century syndicalist movements in the context of increasing industrial militancy and rank-and-file activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, so this time round, as Constance Bantman and Dave Berry argue in their superb introduction to New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism, the context is truly global. They point firstly to the recent emergence of the ‘alter-globalisation’ movement that borrowed ‘many of its direct-action tactics from pre-World War I anarchism and syndicalism’ (p.1). Second, is a rekindled public interest in anarchist terrorism sparked by increasingly sophisticated and active international terrorist networks. The ‘transnational turn’ in labour history has spawned new comparative methodologies with which to analyse the emergence of syndicalism and ‘the first modern globalisation(p.11). Specifically, considerable attention has been directed towards the mapping of personal networks. Also essential is historical biography as it is particularly well tailored to scrutinise activists operating in more informal as well as formal organisations; especially important as syndicalism relied ‘on prominent activists and a tight organisational network’ (p.9).

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