Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


John C. Shearer

First Page



This article briefly reviews the magnitude, nature, and growth of the foreign investments of American-based MNCs, especially those in the nine member countries of the European Community (EC), and summarizes the major union fears and aspirations that arise from the rapid growth in scope and power of MNCs. The article focuses on the realities and fantasies surrounding the prospects for multinational collective bargaining with MNCs, which is widely viewed as the most feasible means by which unions can protect their vital interests threatened by MNCs. Unfortunately, in discussions of this matter considerable fiction is often mixed with fact. Some observers see international unionism and multinational collective bargaining as natural concommitants of the internationalization of production and product markets through the spread of MNCs, and they view these developments as the transnational extension of the phenomenon that has characterized the evolution of domestic union structures in response to the national widening of production and of product markets. In their fascination with the bold notion of the internationalization of collective bargaining it is tempting for commentators to allow abstract ideas and aspirations to prevail over realities.

As background, the discussion includes a brief description of how American-based MNCs structure and manage their overseas labor relations policies and practices, the nature of the American industrial relations environment in which they operate, and the considerable differences in the industrial relations environments in the EC countries. The article concludes with a discussion of the union responses, both international and domestic, to the MNCs and, finally, with the effects of recent EC developments on the prospects for multinational collective bargaining there.