Coming to terms with Globalisation:
British Labour, Economic
Modernisation and Democracy


Gerry Strange

University of Lincoln


This paper is concerned to locate the process of economic modernisation, adopted by New Labour under wider banner of the 'third way', within the broader context of globalisation, comparative political economy the contested nature of modernisation evident in the policy approaches of reform-minded British trade unions. First, I briefly outline the concept of economic globalisation, focusing particularly on the conceptualisation of globalisation adopted by so-called competition state theorists. My primary objectives in this section are (a), to locate the general imperative towards policy modernisation within the context of the increasingly open global economy; (b) to introduce competition state analysis as a critical tool for analysing modernisation. Secondly, I very briefly outline New Labour’s approach to modernisation. Thirdly, I outline the dominant (alternative) approach to modernisation developed by the British trade union movement. This has been most clearly articulated by the TUC but draws on policy development within the wider union movement. Significantly, the TUC’s modernisation agenda can be seen to have developed in concert with British trade union Europeanisation (Strange, 2002) and connects with an increasing advocacy of ‘post-Fordist’ restructuring and the European social model by the TUC and leading pro-EU affiliates such as the GMB and the AEEU (now part of Amicus). Finally I critically evaluate New Labour’s approach to economic and labour modernisation in terms of the imperatives of inclusion, democracy and functional flexibility. I argue that the contested nature of modernisation evident in competition state theory is reflected in the different approaches to modernisation adopted by New Labour on the one hand and the TUC on the other. It is suggested that this help to illustrate one of the Paris regulation school’s key contentions, namely that postfordism offers broadly two possible modes of national regulation within the wider structural context of globalised economic relations: an exclusionary, neoliberal mode and a solidaristic, socially inclusive mode (Lipietz 1992).

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