Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work


Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance

9781788115254 Edward Elgar Publishing
Edited by the late Rob Lambert, formerly The University of Western Australia and Andrew Herod, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Geography, University of Georgia, US
Publication Date: 2017 ISBN: 978 1 78811 525 4 Extent: 352 pp
Since the renaissance of market politics on a global scale, precarious work has become pervasive. Divided into two parts, the first section of this cross-disciplinary book analyses the different forms of precarious work that have arisen over the past thirty years. These transformations are captured in ethnographically orientated chapters on sweatshops; day labour; homework; unpaid contract work of Chinese construction workers; the introduction of insecure contracting in the Korean automotive industry; and the insecurity of Brazilian cane cutters. The editors and contributors then collectively explore trade union initiatives in the face of precarious work and stimulate debate on the issue.

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With the renaissance of market politics on a global scale, precarious work has become pervasive. This edited collection explores the spread across a number of economic sectors and countries worldwide of work that is invariably insecure, dirty, low-paid, and often temporary and/or part-time.

The first part of this cross-disciplinary book analyses the different forms of precarious work that have arisen over the past thirty years in both the Global North and South. These transformations are captured in ethnographically orientated chapters on sweatshops, day labour, homework, Chinese construction workers’ unpaid contract work, the introduction of insecure contracting into the Korean automotive industry, and the insecurity of Brazilian sugarcane cutters. The case studies all shed light upon how the nature of work and the workplace are changing under the pressures of neoliberal capitalism and what this means for workers. In the second part the editors and contributors then detail some of the ways in which precarious workers are seeking to improve their own situations through their efforts to counter the growth of precarity under neoliberal capitalism, efforts that involve collectively exploring forms of resistance to work restructuring and the failures of traditional trade unions to fully engage with precarious work’s growth.

Illustrating the impacts of the expansion of precarious work, this book will appeal to students, academics and those generally interested in the issues of the global economy, the reworking of labour markets, the impacts of neoliberal capitalism and ethnographies of the working poor in various parts of the world.
Critical Acclaim
‘The anthology’s backbone is its ethnographic perspective that allows the reader to follow the articles not only from the particular circumstances of specific workers to international webs of relationships, but also to the impact of neoliberal capitalism on the very Earth itself. This switch in perspective is necessary for ethnography to expand beyond a collection of local experiences to highlighting similar conditions upon which to build solidarity. Geographically diverse, representing research from five continents, the authors do an outstanding job of relating how precarity impacts workers in a myriad of ways that are both relatable and situated in their own contexts. . . . All social scientists and students can benefit from this book, as its multidisciplinary nature calls us to remember that there is no discreet geography without economics, labor, or sociology, and vice versa.’
– Misty Luminais, International Social Science Review

‘Precarious work is on the rise in the Global South and North alike. This important volume provides interesting examples about the hardship of long working hours, poverty wages and dangerous employment conditions. And yet, workers are not only victims but also agents with possibilities of resistance. The book points to the potential of a cross-border movement of the dispossessed based on a re-imagined role of the labour movement. A must read for everyone interested in resistance to capitalist exploitation.’
– Andreas Bieler, University of Nottingham, UK

‘As the world becomes increasingly global, labor’s response must be as well. As “standard” employment declines, and workers come to see “flexibility” as a four-letter word, the future of the labor movement hinges on the ability to develop creative responses to precarious labor. Anyone interested in stimulating examples of what is happening to employment and ways to challenge precarious work needs to read Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work.’
– Dan Clawson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US

‘All in all, the chapters of the volume provide insightful material ‘about how different forms of precarious work are linked to specific institutional changes in the labour market and laws governing it but also how they are linked to each other’. . . Situated in the field of Global Labour Studies, the volume goes beyond one of the most central weaknesses of the discipline: its optimistic bias. By systematically including cases in which trade failed or chose not to engage in the organization of precarious workers, the contributions pave the way to a deeper understanding of the challenges within this field.’
– British Journal of Industrial Relations

‘A clear and engaging global overview of the extent and nature(s) of precarious work and the link between such precarity and neoliberalism is provided by the editors’ Introduction. . . I would thoroughly recommend.’
– Journal of Industrial Relations

‘The text will appeal to scholars and students of employment and workplaces, of labour movements, and of broader trends in the restructuring of capitalist relations of production. It is also highly accessible for readers with a general interest in the contemporary politics, economics, and cultures of work. Geographers will find many resonances with contemporary debates in the discipline, not least of which are those tracing the rippled effects of the global financial crisis and the unfolding immigration crisis.’
– Svenja Keele, Geographical Research
Contributors: L.L.M. Aguiar, M.J. Barreto, S. Chauvin, J. Cock, B. Garvey, M. Gillan, D. Hattatoğlu, A. Herod, L. Huilin, K. Joynt, R. Lambert, P. Ngai, J. Tate, M. Thomas, E. Webster, A. Yun


1. Neoliberalism, Precarious Work and Remaking the Geography of Global Capitalism
Andrew Herod and Rob Lambert

Andrew Herod and Rob Lambert

2. The Growth and Organization of a Precariat: Working in the Clothing Industry in Johannesburg’s Inner City
Katherine Joynt and Edward Webster

3. Bounded Mobilizations: Informal Unionism and Secondary Shaming Amongst Immigrant Temp Workers in Chicago
Sébastien Chauvin

4. Homebased Work and New Ways of Organizing in the Era of Globalization
Dilek Hattatoğlu and Jane Tate

5. Constructing Violence and Resistance: The Political Economy of the Construction Industry and Labour Subcontracting System in Post-Socialist China
Pun Ngai and Lu Huilin

6. Nature and Insecurity in South Africa
Jacklyn Cock and Rob Lambert

7. At the Cutting Edge: Precarious Work in Brazil’s Sugar and Ethanol Industry
Brian Garvey and Maria Joseli Barreto

Andrew Herod and Rob Lambert

8. Organizing Across a Fragmented Labour Force: Trade Union Responses to Precarious Work in Korean Auto Companies
Aelim Yun

9. Closures and Openings: The Politics of Place and Space in Resisting Corporate Restructuring
Michael Gillan and Rob Lambert

10. Sweatshop Citizenship, Precariousness and Organizing Building Cleaners
Luis L.M. Aguiar

11. Global Unions, Global Framework Agreements and the Transnational Regulation of Labour Standards
Mark Thomas

Conclusion: Towards a Movement of the Dispossessed?
Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod


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