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Identity Work: Sustaining Transnational Collective Action at General Motors Europe




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    •  The authors’ affiliation are, respectively, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Park Row, London SE10 9LS, UK. E-mail:; Cardiff University, Aberconway Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU, UK. E-mail:; +44 0 2920 875080. Many thanks to Cornell University’s Einaudi Centre, the Hans Böckler Foundation, and Cardiff Business School for funding portions of the field research. For comments on earlier drafts, many thanks to Khalid Al Hoor, Magdalena Bernaciak, Rick Delbridge, Virginia Doellgast, Bradon Ellem, Thomas Fetzer, Chris Forde, Ed Heery, Harry Katz, Nathan Lillie, Miguel Martinez Lucio, Mark Stuart, and Lowell Turner, as well as an anonymous reviewer and Industrial Relations editor Steven Rafael. Thanks also to participants in the British Universities Industrial Relations Association conference, Bristol, June 26–28, 2008; the “Internationalization and Organization” seminar at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin in August 2008; the workshop “Transnational Solidarity in Times of Global Restructuring,” Nottingham, November 6–7, 2008; the HRM special interest group workshop of the British Academy of Management, Cardiff, March 30–31, 2009; the World Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association, Sydney, August 24–27, 2009; and the Transatlantic Social Dialogue, Brussels, March 12–13, 2010.


What are the conditions under which transnational collective action is initiated and sustained? This article presents a case study of General Motors Europe, where labor leaders have mobilized the workforce and bargained with management at the transnational level repeatedly over more than a decade as a response to management whipsawing and threats of plant closures. In contrast to structuralist interest-based theories of union behavior, we identify a process of “identity work” that was necessary to sustain transnational worker cooperation.