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United by a common language? Trade union responses in the UK and India to call centre offshoring

Taylor, P. and Bain, P.M. (2008) United by a common language? Trade union responses in the UK and India to call centre offshoring. Antipode: A Radical Jounal of Geography, 40 (1). pp. 131-154. ISSN 0066-4812

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Abstract

The offshoring of business processes from the global North to low-cost countries of the global South has grown spectacularly in the current decade. Self-evidently, transnational relocation presents considerable challenges for organised labour since it suggests both a 'race to the bottom' in respect of pay, conditions and workers' rights and wholesale redundancies in the developed economies. This paper examines the specific case of the migration of call centres from the UK to India and trade union responses in both geographies. Informed by theoretical developments, insights and evidence from diverse disciplines and literatures, the authors concur particularly with Herod's conviction that union strategies to counter TNCs should not be counterposed between 'organising globally' and 'organising locally'and that 'organising at both scales simultaneously may best serve their goals'. Following reflection upon the nature of the call centre and consideration of important contradictions in the offshoring process, we present evidence of UK union responses ranging from the nationalistic, even xenophobic, to the internationalsist, and conclude that membership mobilisation on a principled basis has been key to the limited successes unions have achieved. The paper also evaluates developments in India and the emergence of an embryonic organisation UNITES which is attempting to organise its call centre and business process outsourcing (BPO) workforce.We conclude by considering the gap between the potential and the reality of effective internationally co-ordinated union activity.