This paper use neo-functionalist and institutionalist theories of geo-political integration to develop a theory of international trade unionism. In brief, the theory asserts that the type of international ‘context’ in which international trade unions operate presupposes the types of ‘imperatives’ that will dominate their interests and concerns. These imperatives are taken to operate along one of three dimensions - industrial, political and ideological, and are seen as evolving in accordance with the ‘logic of spill-over’ in global and sub-global integration processes. Using this interpretation the discussion provides reasons as to why ideological imperatives have historically dominated international trade union thinking, the only exception being regional trade unions operating in Europe, which have evolved beyond the ideological to embrace industrial and political imperatives in their modes of organisation and operation.
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