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Globalisation, labour and development: a view from the South.

The 'new' international labour studies (NILS) of the 1980s have been largely superseded by the globalisation and labour problematic which, arguably, translates the original NILS project into a contemporary idiom. An understanding of Karl Polanyi's 'double movement' has been important in that transition. But do we not also need a clear grasp of Karl Marx's analysis of capital accumulation and its impact on labour? And, has the era of globalisation done away with the 'law' of uneven and combined development? Finally, in the new flat world we inhabit, can we really articulate a 'view from the South' or is that just an anachronism? Taking stock after 30 years of international labour research this piece points to some possible avenues for further research on globalisation, labour and development from a subaltern perspective.

Labour studies

In the early 1970s a new labour movement began to emerge in South Africa to challenge the apartheid regime. As Eddie Webster describes it 'at first, sociologists were ill-prepared to explain the rapid rise of a militant labour movement in a country such as South Africa' (Webster 2004: 258). Eurocentric theories of trade unions and their stages of development were not particularly helpful and nor were the dogmatic Marxist accounts based on notions of trade union economism. As Webster puts it, 'To understand and explain the rise of labour a new generation of sociologists stepped outside the classroom' (Webster 2004:260). Thus in South Africa a new type of labour studies was generated (in large part due to the enthusiasm and expertise of Eddie Webster) based on critical engagement with labour organisations and the pre-existing body of knowledge around labour.

Following similar revivals of critical labour studies in South-East Asia and in Latin America a definable research strand calling itself the 'new international labour studies' (NILS) emerged in the 1980s with its own bulletin (the Newsletter of International Labour Studies) and book series (Zed Books Labour Studies Series). The main impetus behind this emerging problematic was the wish to 'mainstream' Third World studies as we might put it today. That is to say, the study of labour in India, Latin America or South Africa was seen to be as important as what we then called 'metropolitan' labour studies. In the West we had the discipline of industrial relations within which workers played a fairly circumscribed role. For the rest of the world the study of workers came under the rubric of 'social movements', itself within the rather exotic category of 'developing countries' studies. We had not heard of globalisation then but we did understand that the world was one in which capital accumulation occurred on a global scale and all workers came under its sway albeit through different labour regimes.

The NILS represented a revolt against the marginalisation of Third World workers in a paradigm which assumed collective bargaining and an order where regulated negotiations were the norm in mediating the capital/wage-labour conflict. They were also resisting the compartmentalisation of 'area studies' whereby the 'Latinamericanist' or the 'Africanist' worked in watertight compartments (see the pioneering study of Seidman 1994). Thus there were early 'South-South' crossovers and a realisation of the coloniality of academic power (Quijano 2000) prevailing. So to some extent this was a move to 'provincialise Europe' and bring the majority world into the picture. But there was also a keen interest in exploring early European labour history and the making of the working class. In Latin America in particular the new labour studies was heavily influenced by the studies of EP Thompson and more generally the cultural materialism of Raymond Williams. The attention to bottom-up history, cultural forms and gendered patterns of work were part of the mix that went into the making of the new international labour studies and perhaps justified the label of 'new' at that time.

The NILS did not, in my opinion, become a new paradigm as Robin Cohen (1980) had hoped it would despite the emergence of a book boldly proclaiming its existence (Munck 1988) and the ongoing work of Peter Waterman (1998). There are several reasons why that did not happen at that particular time. The NILS project was, in my view, both too early and too late to prosper. The post-1968 radical wave (which shaped most of its protagonists) had subsided by the mid-1970s and the backlash in academia created an unwelcoming atmosphere for this cross-disciplinary and self-proclaimed radical project. But it was also too early because the 'international' domain it was situated in was more inter-national than truly global. The globalisation paradigm only really began to establish its dominance in the 1990s. Methodological nationalism was superseded by the new global studies. We could no longer discuss labour or capital either separately or together in the context of a 'society' in its unproblematised inherited national/coherent/bounded sense. Thus NILS could be said to have emerged in a period of paradigmatic transition with Thirdworldism standing in for the new globalism and a vague radicalism for the new transdisciplinarity we are now becoming more used to.

We need to ask what is the object of study of NILS today compared to NILS Mark I? In the late 1970s/early 1980s mainstream labour studies in the majority world were dominated by the technicist International Labour Organization (ILO) approach and the 'labour and development' field dominated by economics. NILS brought to the fore a critical concern with the 'labouring poor' as a broader category than that of a classical proletariat. Likewise, the hidden forms of workers' struggles were highlighted as were broader 'sociological' approaches to class formation and proletarianisation. There was also keen attention to the realm of social reproduction as well as production and also the feminist-inspired debates on the domestic mode of production. Today we see a clear break with the dominance of a workerless international relations and international political economy. The rapidity and scale of transformation wrought by what we fairly imprecisely call globalisation is captured very well in the more recent studies. The understanding of production as a social and not a technical process is well-presented and we obtain a clear picture of the dynamics of power and the continuous cycle of resistance and accommodation by workers in the new global factories.

The second major issue where we see elements of continuity/discontinuity between the original NILS and the new NILS is in relation to the spatial framing of labour. Here I would say that the original NILS really lacked a spatial imagination or at least it was not theorised. There is now a better understanding of workers 'jumping scale and bridging space' and explicit and self-conscious engagement with the spatial scale of labour struggles. As Manuel Castells (1996) painted this picture, the world of capital is fluid and instantaneous whereas that of labour is more immobile and time is still governed by the clock. Corporations are free to go 'regime shopping' and thus promote a race to the bottom. But, in keeping with the new labour geography, workers may 'jump scales' and gain leverage over employers and even, on occasion, over governments. Today the main task for the new global labour studies is, I would argue, to integrate the spatial analysis more explicitly into our analysis.

Transborder struggles are a key focus in the new NILS which I would personally prefer to call a 'global labour studies' (Munck 2004). The new internationalism was certainly a dominant theme in the 1980s literature and it grappled with the multi-national corporation and how workers could combat their pitting of worker against worker by relocation. However, in retrospect there was probably a hierarchy of solidarities in our minds with transnationalism 'higher' than local solidarities, never mind anything remotely smacking of nationalism or even a national-state focus. Seidman (2007) shows in some detail the limitations of transnational campaigns such as the anti-sweatshop movement. Consumer boycotts and engagements with the corporate social responsibility agenda are part of a growing transnational repertoire of actions. Seidman shows how the building of a strong labour movement in the export industries and the strengthening of national labour laws are, rather, the sine qua non of labour empowerment. We are beginning to see the emergence of an old/new transformation agenda that is fully cognisant of uneven development and the complexity of the politics of scale in today's world.

Today, the new global labour studies is a thriving transdisciplinary field with a range of substantial texts emerging in the last decade (for example: Munck 2002, Harrod and O'Brien 2002, Silver 2003, Bronfenbrenner 2007, Webster et al 2008, Bieler et al 2008, Stevis and Boswell 2008). The global is well-established as the terrain on which wage labour confronts, negotiates and deals with capitalism. The agency of workers is a given and few of these studies are burdened with an unrealistic Northern-biased industrial relations optic. These are all grounded studies and do not, on the whole indulge in a proclamatory leftism. We are now probably entitled to say that there is a NILS/new global labour studies field of study or problematic. The question is why did this revival occur some 20 odd years after the first coming of NILS? The answer surely lies in the ongoing waves of struggle between labour and capital and a certain revival of labour's fortunes in the late 1990s after the waning of neo-liberalism's hegemony as the one right way of thinking where there was no alternative in theory or in practice.

Polanyi problematic

In the early to mid-1990s labour globally was reeling under the impact of a hegemonic neo-liberalism and its 'free market' politics. The much-touted slogan of 'there is no alternative' had real purchase insofar as counter-hegemonic strategies were thin on the ground. In this period the mid-1940s work of Karl Polanyi was (re)discovered to provide a rationale for the counter-globalisation movement emerging towards the end of the decade. When the 2001 second edition of The Great Transformation appeared the Foreword was given over to none other than Joseph Stiglitz, former Chair of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, Chief Economist at the World Bank and Nobel Economics Prize winner. Stiglitz found support in Polanyi for his own critique of market fundamentalism: 'Polanyi explodes the myth of the free market: there never was a truly free, self-regulating market system' (Stiglitz 2001:xiii). The market economy could not be seen as an end in itself, it was part of society and should serve human ends. Polanyi was seen to offer good advice and a return to 'basic values' for enlightened managers of capitalism, such as Stiglitz, who wanted to save globalisation from itself as it were, 'before it is too late' (Stiglitz 2001:xvii). The contemporary relevance of Polanyi for those who seek to construct a post-Washington Consensus is thus clear enough.

Second, it seems clear that Polanyi's counter-movement thesis will be attractive to those challenging globalisation 'from below'. As Silver and Arrighi (2002:1) put it: 'Polanyi can be read as providing a basis for optimism about the early twenty-first century, by his emphasis on the strength and inevitability of the self-protective tendencies of "society"'. It is not some far-out adventure, tilting at windmills as it were, but 'swimming with the current' when the various elements of the counter-globalisation movement engage in its contestation. Protests against environmental degradation, the hypocrisy of 'free-trade' policies, or workplace closures may find a unifying thread in Polanyi's 'double movement', whereby society resists its dissolution by a self-regulating market. Polanyi even offers discursive legitimation: it is not the seemingly quixotic anti-globalisation movements that should be seen as 'utopian', but rather the socially disembedded self-regulating market that Polanyi describes as a utopian goal, in the sense that it simply cannot be achieved. So, from below as much as from above, all concerned with globalisation and its discontents can learn much and enrich their projects through engagement with Polanyi. Where Polanyi throws up a challenge to both is in terms of their shared Eurocentric Enlightenment assumptions. Challenges to the self-regulating market are [as?] likely to come, for Polanyi, from reactionary backward-looking forces as from 'progressives'. It is well to remember that, for Polanyi, Nazi Germany as well as Franklin Roosevelt's US New Deal and Stalinism were all equally protective reactions by society to the international capitalist crisis of the 1930s, caused by unbridled free market economics.

In terms of progressive alternatives to the dominant order, what Polanyi offered was a simple and direct understanding of socialism which is relevant today, even (or especially?) after the collapse of 'actually existing socialism': 'socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilisation to transcend the self-regulating market, by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society' (Polyani 2001:242). This is a theme that resonates with many grassroots movements seeking to democratise development and the political process. It strikes a chord with all those counter-globalisation movements that aim at contesting the commodification of knowledge, nature and life itself. That a critical supporter of globalisation such as Joseph Stiglitz can see merit in this political perspective to counter market fundamentalism can only be welcomed. In my view, the fairly minimalist definition provided by Polanyi may serve as a principled thread to unify all those social and political forces striving for social transformation.

At its most basic the Polanyi problematic was based on the notion of a 'great transformation' at the start of the nineteenth century leading to the dominance of free market principles. But this social transformation led to a counter-movement through which society protected itself from the effects of untrammelled free market expansion. History thus advances in a series of 'double movements', according to Polanyi, whereby market expansions create societal reactions. We can posit that the emergence of 'globalisation' in the last quarter of the twentieth century represents the belated fulfilment of the nineteenth phase of human history characterised by 'an attempt to set up one big self-regulating market' (Polanyi 2001:70).

According to Polanyi, who was writing during the cataclysm of the Second World War, 'the fount and matrix of the [capitalist] system was the self-regulating market' (Polanyi 2001:3). Polanyi traces the birth of market society as we know it to Britain's Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. Previous societies had been organised on principles of reciprocity or redistribution or householding; now exchange would be the sole basis of social and economic integration. Markets were previously an accessory feature in a system controlled and regulated by social authority. Henceforth the market ruled unchallenged and changed society in its image: 'A market economy can exist only in a market society' (Polanyi 2001:74). Economic liberalism was the organising principle of the new market society where economics and politics were, for the first time, split up. What is remarkable about this economic discourse is that 'The road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous centrally organised and controlled interventionism' (Polanyi 2001:146). As with neo-liberalism in the 1980s, laissez-faire economics was nothing if not planned.

Polanyi's self-regulating market was to be based on the 'fictitious commodities' of land, labour and money. That labour should become a commodity that could be bought and sold was essential to the logic of the market economy. But, as Polanyi (2001:75) argues:
   ... labor, land and money are obviously not commodities. Labor is
   only another name for a human activity which goes with life itself
   ... land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by
   man; actually money, finally, is merely a token of purchasing

Polanyi goes further than Marx to argue that 'labour power' is but an 'alleged commodity' precisely because it 'cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity' (Polanyi 2001:76). This is more than a moral critique of capitalism, however, because Polanyi goes on to argue that trade unions, for example, should be quite clear that their purpose is precisely 'that of interfering with the laws of supply and demand in respect of human labour, and removing it from the orbit of the market' (Polanyi 2001:186). Any move from within society to remove any element from the market ('decommodification') thus challenges the market economy in its fundamentals.

The self-regulation or self-adjusting market was, for Polanyi, a 'starkutopia' in the sense that it could not be achieved: 'Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness' (Polanyi 2001:3). In modern terminology, the self-regulating market was neither socially nor environmentally sustainable. Neo-liberals today have developed a similarly fundamentalist discourse based on the 'magic of the market'. Central to this identity is the notion that government interference in economic affairs must be reversed and that the individual market agent or 'entrepreneur' should be given a free hand. In this grand schema society does not exist and nature is seen simply as a factor of production. This market system and the associated laissez-faire ideology 'created the delusion of economic determinism' (Polanyi 1947:143).

For Polanyi, in his day, but probably even more so today, 'The true implications of economic liberalism can now be taken in at a glance. Nothing less than a self-regulating market on a world scale could ensure the functioning of this stupendous mechanism' (Polanyi 2001:145). Globalisation, in the broadest sense of the word, can thus be seen as inherent in the free market project. The world, naturally enough from this perspective, becomes just one giant marketplace where everything and everybody can be bought and sold. Social relations are reduced to market relations. The 'opening up' of the world market becomes the raison d'etre of development, with only some token gestures paid to social and human development. What Polanyi analysed for the national level--in terms of a separation of the economy from the social and political domains of human life--is now becoming realised and empowered on the global terrain. Even the proponents of 'globalisation with a human face' in the United Nations and elsewhere simply take this free-market project and ideology for granted.

Polanyi's problematic poses the possibility that history advances through a series of 'double movements'. So market expansion, on the one hand, leads to the 'one big market' we call globalisation today. Yet, as Polanyi argued in his day, and we could argue today, 'simultaneously a counter-movement was afoot' (Polanyi 2001:136) that reacted against the dislocation of society and the attack on the very fabric of society that the self-regulating market led to. The 'double movement' consisted of economic liberalism driving the extension of the self-regulating market on the one hand the principle of 'social protection' on the other hand defending social interests from the deleterious action of the market. This can be through protective legislation or various collective associations such as trade unions for Polanyi. As a new way of life spread over the planet--'with a claim to universality unparalleled since the age when Christianity started out on its career' (Polanyi 2001:136) - so a diverse counter-movement began to check its expansion. This involved specific social classes--directly engaged in the process--but was also a generalised societal reaction. It was largely a defensive movement; it was for Polanyi 'spontaneous' and there was no agreed societal or political alternative involved.

Taken in its broadest sense, Polanyi's notion of a social counter-movement could be seen as an incipient theory of counter-hegemony. That is certainly the argument of Michael Burawoy (2003), for whom Polanyi provides a necessary counterpart to Antonio Gramsci's influential theory of capitalist hegemony. For Gramsci (1971), modern 'Western' class orders are able to impose 'hegemony' over society as a whole, with consent being as important as direct control or repression. It is through the organs of civil society--such as the churches, schools, trade unions and the media--that capitalist hegemony is constructed and maintained. Gramsci, in practice an orthodox communist, saw the proletarian party as the agent of counter-hegemony. For Polanyi, on the other hand, who had broken with communism and was more influenced by the socialist Guild and Christian socialist traditions, it was a social reaction to the market that would spur a counter-hegemonic movement. Not only the subaltern classes but also powerful capitalist interests would be threatened by the anarchy of the market and would thus react. For Polanyi,
   This was more than the usual defensive behavior of a society faced
   with change; it was a reaction against a dislocation which attacked
   the fabric of society, and which would have destroyed the very
   organisation of production that the market had called into being.

Today, as Stephen Gill puts it,

We can relate the metaphor of the 'double movement' to those sociopolitical forces which wish to assert more democratic control over political life, and to harness the productive aspects of world society to achieve broad social purposes on an inclusionary basis, across and within different types of civilisation. (Gill 2003:8)

Movements struggling for national or regional sovereignty, those seeking to protect the environment and the plethora of movements advancing claims for social justice or recognition, are all part of this broad counter-movement. In different, but inter-related ways, they are bids to re-embed the economy in social relations. Challenging the movement towards commodification they seek to 'decommodify' society and reassert moral and cultural values. Against materialism and market-determined values, the social countermovement generated by neo-liberal globalisation brings to the fore the democracy of civil society and the social value of all we do. As Polanyi put it for his era, 'The great variety of forms in which the "collectivist" countermovement appeared [was due to] the broad range of the vital social interests affected by the expanding market mechanism' (2001:151).

From a labour studies perspective Polanyi's problematic has much to offer. It has been taken up by Eddie Webster and co-authors in Grounding Globalisation amongst others in a bid to revitalise the new international labour studies from a transformationalist perspective. It is a broader, less necessitarian analysis of capitalism and its contradictions than that provided by traditional Marxist accounts. It provides a clear rationale for a broad front of all those social forces opposed to the detrimental effects of the free market on society. In the current period we see the likes of Joe Stiglitz coming to the fore in terms of offering rational ways of moving beyond neo-liberalism. More specifically it allows us to discern and analyse a distinct type of labour struggle which is different from the classical Marxist model. As Beverly Silver puts it:

By Polanyi-type labour unrest, we mean the backlash resistances to the spread of a global self-regulating market, particularly by working classes that are being unmade by global economic transformations as well as those workers who had benefited from established social compacts that are being abandoned. (Silver 2003:20)

An historical materialist analysis of workers North and South now has a powerful lens to capture an alternative dynamic to the classical capitalist expansion and generation of an industrial working class. However, we do need to question whether some much older materialist tropes might not have some relevance today, especially after the collapse of actually existing neoliberalism as a hegemonic project.

Uneven development

Now, after the virtual collapse of the global neo-liberal regime following the banking crisis of 2008 many voices, including some from within the power structures, tell us that there is, indeed, an alternative. Amongst those alternatives there is a gathering pace for a 'return to Marx'. Clearly the dramatic reversals of fortunes for global neo-liberalism bring back to the fore the classical Marxist analysis of capitalism and its inherent contradictions. The notion that the capitalist cycle could continue forever upwards has had a rude awakening. Polanyi's prediction of a 'stark utopia' and disaster if the market was left to its own devices was also proven correct. Marx's detailed analysis of financial capital and the crisis in Volume III of Capital is now receiving renewed attention. The pathologies of the post-1990 financialised capitalism are being addressed through calls for greater regulation. But as capital is both decimated and becomes more centralised so it will unleash greater exploitation on the workers of the world and the raw material-producing countries of the South. In this context of crisis/destruction/ renewal a grounded and truly global socialist transitional programme will find real popular purchase.

From a global labour perspective it is perhaps the so-called law of uneven and combined development which could provide the most useful insights into how capitalism advances in the periphery. According to Trotsky's classic formulation:

The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematism. Unevenness, the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries. Under the whip of external necessity their backward culture is compelled to make leaps. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which for the lack of a better name, we may call the law of combined development--by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey. (Trotsky 1970:23)

On the face of it this is a simple truism telling us no more than the world does not advance along at an even pace (see Elster 1986). However, there is much more that can be made of this insight to elaborate a realistic 'view from the South' on global development. Much as current debates on the politics of scale show how workers can 'jump scales', so Trotsky points to the 'privilege of historical backwardness' and how it facilitates the periphery in 'skipping a whole series of intermediate stages' (Trotsky 1970:24). Ireland's now evaporated Celtic Tiger period of rapid economic growth saw such a jumping of stages insofar as industrialisation had been thwarted through the colonial relation with Britain, and China now shows it on a macro scale as the country becomes the 'workshop of the world'. And in India the uneven incorporation into the dominant order can quite readily be interpreted in terms of a critical theory which first saw the light of day in the times of the great Russian revolution (see Di Costa 2003) as much as a poster child of the great globalisation narrative.

What Trotsky inaugurates from a Russian perspective is a Marxism 'for the South' which breaks with metropolitan conceits. Trotsky had a tendency to confuse modernisation with industrialisation but his emphasis on the contradictions of uneven development was pivotal. While Marx had clung to the view that 'The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future' (Marx 1977:91), Trotsky's view from Russia (though not of Marx's followers there) saw the world differently. The impact of the advanced society on the backward one was seen as traumatic by Trotsky. The contradictions it generated created conflict and instability and thus a political situation which could be explosive.

Economic crises generated in the centre, then as much as now, were felt most profoundly in the periphery. While Trotsky's distinction between objective and subjective conditions would today be considered a binary opposition, it led him to fruitful and imaginative political analysis. In particular, Trotsky argued that as a result of combined and uneven development the class consciousness of the workers in the backward countries would be more developed than that of workers in the advanced country.

An emphasis on capitalism's uneven development allows us to move decisively beyond the platitudes of globalisation theory and the illusion that the system's contradictions could be overcome. With the rise of imperialism in particular--as a political expression of uneven development--it became quite impossible for the periphery to follow the development path of the original industrialising countries. As Justin Rosenberg has argued, Trotsky's theory of uneven and combined development allows us to rethink the international (Rosenberg 2006) in an original way. Classical social theory had invariably theorised society in the singular thus removing the intersocietal element from playing a full role in theorising the nature of development. By reinserting the international squarely into social theory we gain huge insights into the morphology of backwardness. It also allows us to pursue an alternative theoretical approach to development which does not just collapse into globalisation platitudes. Finally, we could argue that Trotsky's approach prefigures current critical social theory concerns to develop a sociology 'beyond societies' (Urry 2002) and an understanding of development premised on 'global complexity' (Urry 2003).

In terms of the laws of motion of the global system in recent years there has been a decisive revival of the theory of imperialism, for a while shelved as globalisation theory ruled supreme. As Ernest Mandel put it some time back 'only if we understand that imperialism brings to its widest possible application the universal law of uneven and combined development can we understand world history in the 20th Century' (Mandel 1970:22). But if in the year 2000 we had wanted to analyse the world around us in terms of the Marxist theory of imperialism we would have been swimming against the globalisation current, a new paradigm that seemingly swept all before it. In fact the last substantive review of Marxist theories of imperialism we would find would be that carried out by Anthony Brewer in 1980 (Brewer 1980). Since 2000, on the other hand, there has been an explosion of interest in imperialism (in its historical and current forms) from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. On the one hand, a resurgent neo-liberal capitalism gave many establishment intellectuals the confidence to articulate an open and unapologetic case for a 'new imperialism'. Thus senior British diplomat Robert Cooper could argue unashamedly that 'what is needed is a new kind of imperialism, one compatible with human rights and cosmopolitan values' (The Observer April 7, 2002). After the Third or 'majority' World made itself felt forcefully in the very heart of global corporate power in September 2001, Max Boot explicitly made 'The case for an American empire' (Weekly Standard October 10, 2001) in response. Bestselling historian Niall Ferguson followed his Empire (2003) on Britain by Colossus--the rise and fall of the American empire (2005) which would argue that, warts and all, imperialism was really no bad thing. From the ranks of mainstream development economists Deepak Lal published In Praise of Empires, Globalisation and Order (2004) in which he places his pro-liberal globalisation arguments behind the new positive reconsideration of empire as strategy for domination.

From the other side of the political spectrum, Antonio Negri--a longstanding Italian autonomist activist and philosopher--teamed up with US cultural critic Michael Hardt to produce the publishing event known as Empire (Hardt and Negri 2000) in 2000. Within what they consider to be a still-Marxist framework, they incorporated the insights of post-structuralism as method and globalisation as new frame of reference, to produce a millennium-millenarian text. Globalising the Deleuze and Guattari post-structuralist view of the world (Deleuze and Guattari 2003), they theorised a new form of power (bio-power) under a regime of imperial sovereignty characterised by a 'smooth space' very much in the idiom of Thomas Friedman's recent thesis that 'the world is flat' (Friedman 2005). Though clothed in progressive rhetoric (and no doubt intent) the Hardt/Negri rendering of Empire viewed the turn-of-the-century expansiveness of US power as a positive historical moment, to put it in Hegelian terms. Even as it was being launched Empire became less plausible as a new (post) capitalist manifesto insofar as the 'easy' phase of globalisation came to an end and the so-called 'war on terror' was unleashed by the United States on the majority world after 2001.

From a labour movement perspective the key issue interest in the globalisation and imperialism debates is whether the categories of North/ South or core/periphery still have any relevance in the era of globalisation. First of all, there is now categorical empirical evidence that not only has globalisation increased the levels of global inequality but it has also done nothing to reverse North/South inequalities. As Silver and Arrighi put it, 'contrary to widespread opinion, the so-called North-South divide continues to constitute (as it has done through the twentieth century) the main obstacle to the formation of a homogeneous world proletarian condition' (Silver and Arrighi 2001:53). For the workers of the world, life chances are determined more by the place of birth in the global economy than one's social position in the national class structure. So does this mean global labour solidarity is an illusion because it has little objective basis? Not necessarily I would argue if, as part of that political project, uneven capitalist development on a global scale is explicitly addressed. It also means we must be much more aware of the other loyalties and belongings people have. With a persistent global North/South divide and in the midst of a global recession many workers will turn to the interpellation of community and nation over an abstract proletarian internationalism if that is not grounded in the complexity described here.

Finally, an approach based on uneven development and the renewed relevance of imperialism in terms of structuring global social relations points us towards new forms of labour struggle. In a sense we can argue for the continued reproduction of Marx's 'primitive capital accumulation through dispossession' in the current era. Proletarianisation may not always take the classical industrial revolution form but rather a much more brutal uprooting from the land or small-scale production by neo-liberal globalisation. As David Harvey puts it, in a reprise of Rosa Luxemburg's classic theory of imperialism, 'capitalism internalized cannibalistic as well as predatory and fraudulent practices' (Harvey 2003:148). The privatisation of public assets such as water, bio-piracy, the current devaluation of pensions, the removal of health rights and the commodification of everything that can possibly be bought and sold are all impacting directly on labour. It calls for a revival of a social movement unionism which began to emerge as a form of struggle in apartheid South Africa (powerfully articulated in the work of Eddie Webster in particular) in which the factory and the community levels of struggle were intertwined in a decisive break with European-style economistic trade unionism. In this way the new global labour studies returns to one of the key innovations of the NILS in the late 1970s, namely the theorising of novel forms of labour struggles beyond the factory gates and beyond wages and conditions in the workplace.

New paradigm?

In conclusion, I am not going to argue for a 'new' new international labour studies paradigm here. The last ten years have seen a great flourishing of international labour studies even though many new paradigms are still too bound by disciplinary constraints in my opinion. Others are still, somewhat surprisingly, organised in terms of traditional country case studies. But the best are truly opening up new horizons. Beverly Silver (2003) recasts labour studies in a long-term global framework, Eddie Webster and co-authors (2008) ground globalisation in the everyday lives of workers and their communities, while Ursula Huws (2008) shows how global value chain restructuring impacts on workers' strategies. The new global labour studies are now firmly grounded within critical globalisation studies. In the present global order--that is after the 2008-09 collapse of the neo-liberal strategy alternative paradigms of production and governance are being actively explored. The labour movement has recovered its voice and it has articulated grounded and practical proposals to deal with the global disorder.

What I want to pick up in terms of developing a new paradigm for considering globalisation, labour and development is the question of post-colonialism and the subaltern perspective. Since the attacks on Wall Street and the Pentagon in 2001 and the global events unleashed since then, a new colonial question has emerged. The intrusion of the colonial in the heart of financial and military power led to a return of the coloniser to the postcolonial world. This 'return of the colonial', as Boa Santos puts it, can be taken as 'a metaphor for those who perceive their life experiences as taking place on the other side of the line and rebel against it' (Santos 2007:55). For Santos those suffering from 'radical exclusion and legal non-existence' are the terrorist, the undocumented migrant worker and the refugee. I would propose broadening out the category to embrace the workers of the world who are increasingly being dispossessed, excluded and marginalised by a capital accumulation machine which is based on the concept of a self-adjusting market which cannot exist for any length of time 'without annihilating the human and natural substance of society' as Polanyi prophetically put it (Polanyi 2001:3).

With the re-emergence of the colonial question comes the re-surfacing of race/ethnicity as crucial differentiator of life chances. Amy Choua has shown at a popular level how globalisation does not bring democracy but, rather, exacerbates ethnic conflict (Choua 2003). Free market economics have concentrated wealth in the hands of ethnic minorities and market-dominant minority countries such as the US. From a South African perspective--here standing in for the South--it is easy to appreciate the continuing salience of 'race' as a paramount dividing criterion even though it surprisingly

does not always receive explicit attention. We need to do much more work connecting race, ethnicity and globalisation to understand its complex impact on the world of work. If we were to pay more attention to what Caroline Knowles calls the 'racial geography of globalisation' (Knowles 2003:118) then we would be better placed to understand the racialised grammar of migration, the global sex trade and the differentiations within the emerging global labour market. If colonialism and empire were stories of race, so the post-colonial era and movement cannot sink into racial amnesia as though globalisation has emerged as a race-free zone.

So, what do we mean by post-colonialism? There is, of course, a vast specialist literature here in the area of cultural studies relating post-colonialism to post-modernism and so on (see Mignolo 2000 for an overview). For our purposes I will adopt Robert Young's definition of post-colonialism as a theoretical and political position which 'combines the epistemological cultural innovations of the post-colonial moment with a political critique of the conditions of postcoloniality' (Young 2001:57). It thus defines an interventionist methodology and a critique of existing power structures; marking a continuity between today's struggles and the great revolt against colonialism. In terms of knowledge it turns us towards a very active and liberating 'decolonising of the mind'. Above all it implies a critique of Eurocentrism as the sole model for modernity, rationality, science and human progress. Post-colonialism leads to a decentring of this Eurocentric perspective and encourages thinking from the margins and the (re)emergence of hidden indigenous forms of knowledge. If modernity can be said to be coterminous with colonialism, then the post-colonial era is also a postmodern one and different futures open up a decolonised critical theory which uncovers subaltern knowledges and social practices.

The post-colonial approach is closely mirrored in labour studies in the so-called 'subaltern studies' tradition (see Chaturvedi 2000) which emerged in India and has had some impact in Latin America. Developing Gramsci's notion of the subaltern, Ranajit Guha defines it as 'a name for the general attribute of subordination ... whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way' (Guha 1982:28). The project was not to create a discourse about the subaltern but, rather, to re-present the subaltern as a subject of history. The written record and ruling class accounts are rejected as they seek to reconstitute the insurgents' project of reversing the world. Subaltern identity or will is defined through the characteristic of negation. Thus this approach articulates a different way of thinking about labour history based on a new concept of the historical subject and of popular agency. Subaltern studies have focused on anti-modern subjects such as the peasantry but it can equally be applied to postmodern subjects such as the proletariat and the new working poor. A critical theory of subalternity would contribute to our understanding of contestation in the era of neo-liberal imperialism by workers and the new international social movements.

We are, arguably, in an era of paradigmatic transition or, in Gramsci's terms, one in which the old is dying but the new has not yet been born. The long-term contest between East and West is now leading to the latter losing out as orientalism comes full circle. The North-South contest is seeing increased contestation by the latter, not least in Latin America. As Boa Santos has argued, the new 'emergent subjectivity is a subjectivity of the South, and flourishes in the South' (Santos 1995:186). That subjectivity is a key element and driver of the search for progressive paradigmatic transition. It allows us to break decisively with any lingering Eurocentrism and articulate a global emancipation perspective based on the world's majority populations. This new South is not (just) a geographical region but, rather, more of a cultural metaphor for all the subaltern classes, regions, neighbourhoods and households. This transformation project represents a clear rejection of the imperial universalism of such Eurocentric notions as 'global civil society' and a recovery of the struggles, aspirations and counter-hegemonic projects of actually-existing global civil societies.


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Ronaldo Munck
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