Building Union Power Across Borders: The Transnational Partnership Initiative of IG Metall and the UAW

  • Michael Fichter Global Labour University


This is a case study of how the transnational cooperation between two unions – IG Metall in Germany and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) in the United States – was put on a new trajectory. It is a template for the challenges unions face in adapting their nationally oriented self-interest toward building transnational solidarity and being able to leverage global corporate power in defence of workers’ interests across borders. Using the power resources approach, it highlights the unions’ transnational strategy built on mobilising associational and institutional resources. Understanding their make-up and utilisation became crucial in the process as limits to institutional power without involvement and mobilisation on the ground became evident. The case study focuses on the initiation and preparation phase of a more comprehensive organisational cooperation, culminating in a formal agreement to establish a Transnational Partnership Initiative (TPI) in 2015. While no organising gains were made in this phase – indeed, only losses – it was crucial for building trust and mutual understanding, as well as for actively promoting a broadly based anchoring of the TPI in terms of policy in both unions. The case study’s conclusions are generally positive on this count; yet they are preliminary as the overall project is a work-in-progress and its basis of support beyond the two unions (societal power) is still untested.