What are the main features of globalisation?

The Programme for Workers Activities at the ILO’s Turin International Training Centre places particular importance on the effects of globalisation when it is designing and conducting its courses.

Each course, no matter what the topic, includes a session on the effects of globalisation and potential union responses to those effects. Workers’ organisations are confronted with complex issues related to the profound changes caused by globalisation.

The main features of globalisation are related to: a dramatic expansion in the volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services; the development of new technologies used for information communication and transportation; and the huge increase in international capital flows in the past few years.


All these developments, driven mainly by technological changes, are accompanied by political decisions which play a major role in shaping the economic and social forces of globalisation.

The introduction of neo-liberal economic policies based on the liberalisation of trade, the privatisation of public utilities, the reduction of welfare provisions and the instability of labour markets work against the transformation of this first phase of globalisation into an opportunity for working people.

The recent economic crises in Asia and Latin America have provoked a general re-thinking of these neo-liberal policies which prepares the ground for the development of new approaches for associating economic reforms to a social agenda.

The sad fact is that if globalisation is measured in terms of increased world opportunities for trade, foreign direct investments and the distribution of income, research shows that globalisation is limited to the established industrialised nations and a small number of newly industrialised countries. Meanwhile globalisation has had enormous effects on the world of work.


The introduction of new technologies and the development of new forms of work organisation have resulted in constant modification and fragmentation of production patterns within small units and in the reorganisation of production networks on an international scale.

This process has generated greater productivity gains which are rarely distributed to working people. Such new systems of work have completely redefined the composition and characteristics of both blue and white collar work forces and have decreased the numbers of workers employed in the industrial sector.

Another important dimension of globalisation is related to the rapid growth of financial markets with the lifting of capital barriers and the creation of an enormous mass of financial resources which is used mainly for speculation. These recent developments are having great impacts on the aspirations and needs of working people.

The developments of new technologies, particularly in the last decade, have paved the way for the rise of the “knowledge economy”. At the same time, a strong informal sector has emerged in developing countries, while in industrialised countries the number of working poor has increased dramatically.


All this serves to promote similar international economic and social scenarios in many different parts of the world where globalisation has been perceived by workers as a threat because it is not associated with social development.

The respect of core labour standards promoted by trade unions and the development of the new ILO agenda built on the concept of “Decent work for all” will contribute to the consolidation of linkages between economic and social developments. Within this perspective, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental’

Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up are important tools for unions as they confront the challenges of governing globalisation.

Education and training are important long-term responses to the challenges of globalisation. Upgrading the skills of staff that provide union leadership with support and advisory services and the training of new union members are essential to how unions can react successfully to globalisation.


Education and training can also contribute to fostering cooperation between unions on a global basis in the areas of the management of training systems, labour relations and collective bargaining strategies, better management of human and financial resources and the use of information technology by national labour centres and individual unions.

The Workers Programme is dedicated to helping unions, especially in developing countries, to confront the effects of globalisation through high quality education and training sessions.