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Immaterial and industrial labor

On false binaries in Hardt and Negri's trilogy

Sylvia Yanagisako

At the core of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's thesis that a new global form of sovereignty has replaced a previous imperialist geography is their claim that the capitalist mode of production has undergone a shift from a modern era in which “industrial labor“ was hegemonic to a postmodern era in which “immaterial labor“ has become hegemonic. In this article, I argue that capitalism in Europe (let alone other areas of the world) does not conform to this model. I draw on the history of Italian manufacturing and on my ethnographic research on the silk industry of northern Italy to question the analytic usefulness of their distinction between “industrial“ and “immaterial“ labor and to show that the latter has always been crucial to industrial production. I conclude that Hardt and Negri's attempt to expand the definition of productive labor to include the “multitude“ unwittingly parallels an emerging discourse that serves to legitimate transnational hierarchies of labor.

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Georg Picot and Arianna Tassinari

Reform of the labor market has long been an important and controversial policy area in Italy, and it was one of Matteo Renzi's core concerns when he took up the leadership of the Democratic Party. This chapter recounts the main changes in Italian labor market policy since the 1990s before discussing the Jobs Act, which started as a highly publicized reform project concentrating on changes to public employment services and unemployment benefits, but which the left strongly challenged when dismissal protection was later weakened.

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Mobilizing for the petro-nation

Labor and petroleum in Ecuador

Gabriela Valdivia and Marcela Benavides

This article analyzes the struggles of the petroleum labor movement against the neo-liberalization of the petroleum industry in Ecuador. Though originally focused on defending collective bargaining rights, since the 1990s the movement has put forward a populist, nationalist critique of the state's governance of petroleum. The article traces the roots of the movement and focuses on two contested terrains of petroleum politics, refineries and oilfields, to examine labor's role in resource governance. The article argues that by strategically joining concerns over class and nation, over a number of administrations from the 1970s to the 2000s (from populist, military juntas, to neoliberal), the petroleum labor movement became a defining actor in petroleum governance.

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Underground waterlines

Explaining political quiescence of Ukrainian labor unions

Denys Gorbach

In order to explore factors conditioning the political quietude of Ukrainian labor, this article analyzes ethnographic data collected at two large enterprises: the Kyiv Metro and the privatized electricity supplier Kyivenergo. Focusing on a recent labor conflict, I unpack various contexts condensed in it. I analyze the hegemonic configuration developed in the early 1990s, at the workplace and at the macro level, and follow its later erosion. Th is configuration has been based on labor hoarding, distribution of nonwage resources, and patronage networks, featuring the foreman as the nodal figure. On the macro scale, it relied on the mediation by unions, supported by resources accumulated during the Soviet era and the economic boom of the 2000s. The depletion of these resources has spelled the ongoing crisis of this configuration.

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Tobias Schulze-Cleven

The German model of labor relations is once again attracting significant attention, even if assessments of its health and economic consequences diverge. This review article clarifies debates about German labor relations and illuminates their significance for theorizing the political economy of wealthy democracies. It demonstrates how four different narratives about German practices from the late twentieth century continue to shape contemporary disagreements. While these older interpretations of the German model have been updated, their original assumptions about particular structural effects remain at the heart of current disputes, sometimes hiding as much as they reveal. This article argues that it is time to move beyond inherited abstractions and focus more on the contemporary agency of labor relations actors.

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Virtually a Historian

Blogs and the Recent History of Dispossessed Academic Labor

Claire Bond Potter

A contemporary history of higher education in the United States is being written on the Internet. Academic bloggers interrupt and circumvent the influence of professional associations over debates about unemployment, contingent labor, publishing, tenure review, and other aspects of creating and maintaining a scholarly career. On the Internet, limited status and prestige, as well as one's invisibility as a colleague, are no barrier to acquiring an audience within the profession or creating a contemporary archive of academic labor struggles. At a moment of financial and political crisis for universities, these virtual historians have increasingly turned their critical faculties to scrutinizing, critiquing, and documenting the neoliberal university. Although blogging has not displaced established sources of intellectual prestige, virtual historians are engaged in the project of constructing their own scholarly identities and expanding what counts as intellectual and political labor for scholars excluded from the world of full-time employment.

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Peiliao

Gender, Psychologization, and Psychological Labor in China

Jie Yang

This article examines the psychologization trend in China by analyzing peiliao (companion to chat), a 'profession' promoted among laid-off women workers since the mid-1990s. Unlike other psychological caregivers who empathize or sympathize through imagining the situation of another who suffers, job counselors encourage those who become peiliao to invoke their direct experience of unemployment in their current care work. Such job training not only reinscribes these women's pain, but also naturalizes their psychological labor as part of their moral virtue, which downplays its social and economic value. The article suggests that peiliao and other psychologizing processes in China, rather than depoliticizing social struggle, constitute a new arena for politics in which marginalized women's psychological labor is exploited both to advance market development and to enact the therapeutic ethos of the ruling party.

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Steve Kwok-Leung Chan

English abstract: Thailand is a popular destination for irregular labor migration from Myanmar. Among some three million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, more than half are undocumented. Undocumented migrant workers rely on brokers to smuggle them into Thailand. Some undocumented migrant workers are lured, tricked, and forced to work but they are not rewarded with a reasonable wage. A conceptual framework of the shadow sector of labor migration is formulated in this study, which attempts to explain why ethnic minorities in Myanmar are socially categorized by the level of their deprived citizenship. Those low in the hierarchy of categorization are likely to fall into the shadow sector of the labor migration process. Ethnic minorities from areas of insurgency are exposed to a high risk of human trafficking.

Spanish abstract: Tailandia es un destino popular para la migración laboral irregular de Myanmar. Entre unos tres millones de trabajadores migrantes birmanos en Tailandia, más de la mitad son indocumentados. Los trabajadores migrantes indocumentados confían en intermediarios para pasar de contrabando a través de la frontera a Tailandia. En este estudio se formula un marco conceptual del sector paralelo de la migración laboral que trata de explicar por qué las minorías étnicas en Myanmar se clasifican socialmente por el nivel de su ciudadanía privada. Aquellos que se encuentran en la jerarquía de categorización baja probablemente caigan en el sector oscuro del proceso de migración laboral. Las minorías étnicas de las áreas de la insurgencia están expuestas a un alto riesgo de trata de personas.

French abstract: La migration irrégulière de main-d’oeuvre et la traite d’êtres humains sont des sujets récurrents des études migratoires, mais le sujet le plus traité jusqu’à présent concerne le mouvement Sud Nord. La Thaïlande, en tant qu’économie en développement de l’Asie du Sud-Est, est une destination prisée pour la migration de main-d’oeuvre irrégulière myanmaraise. Parmi les quelques trois millions de travailleurs migrants birmans en Thaïlande, plus de la moitié sont sans papiers. Les travailleurs migrants sans papiers comptent sur les intermédiaires pour passer clandestinement la frontière de la Thaïlande afin d’y rechercher un emploi. Certains travailleurs migrants sans papiers sont attirés, trompés et forcés à travailler sans la récompense d’un salaire raisonnable. Un cadre conceptuel du secteur parallèle de la migration de main-d’oeuvre est formulé dans cette étude qui tente d’expliquer pourquoi les minorités ethniques du Myanmar sont classées socialement par leur niveau de privation de citoyenneté. Ceux qui sont au bas de la hiérarchie de la catégorisation risquent de tomber dans le marché parallèle du processus de migration de main-d’oeuvre. Les minorités ethniques des zones de l’insurrection sont exposées à un risque élevé de traite d’êtres humains.

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Patrik Vesan

This chapter analyzes some of the major labor reforms implemented by the Renzi government in 2015 in relation to youth employment, with reference to the Jobs Act. The strategy pursued by the executive has been to concentrate on combating the segmentation of the labor market by liberalizing individual and collective dismissals and by introducing a new type of contract, which offers a generous incentive for new permanent hires. The main goal of this strategy is to decrease the divisions between insiders and outsiders in the hope that this measure will encourage employers to stabilize workers, especially the younger ones, and invest in the development of human capital. Such a strategy, however, rests on weak foundations, which might call into question its effectiveness and with it the stability of Renzi’s leadership.

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Building Dignity?

Tracing Rights, Discretion, and Negotiation within a Norwegian Labor Activation Program

Erika Gubrium, Leah Johnstone and Ivar Lødemel

Within a Norwegian labor activation program for social assistance, we explore how the presence of a work-oriented ethos shapes and changes the balance of rights, discretion, and negotiation available to and marking the interactions between service providers and program participants. We trace connections between changed delivery interactions and heightened shame or enhanced dignity for participants. Two themes emerge, the first related to an imagined institutional trajectory of progress attached to labor activation in which participants were offered “more” and the second to whether participants and caseworkers had a meaningful voice in co-negotiating the terms of activation. Unrealistic optimism and an institutional focus placed on individual participants’ new responsibilities fueled a longer-term negative impact. Descriptions of enhanced rights, new possibilities for negotiation, and reported feelings of shame and frustration depended both on the participant’s distance to the labor market and on the point at which respondents were interviewed.