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An international political economy of work

Bringing fresh insights to the contemporary globalization debate, this text reveals the social and political contests that give ‘global’ its meaning, by examining the contested nature of globalization as it is expressed in the restructuring of work. The book rejects conventional explanations of globalization as a process that automatically leads to transformations in working lives, or as a project that is strategically designed to bring about lean and flexible forms of production, and advances an understanding of the social practices that constitute global change. Through case studies that span from the labour flexibility debates in Britain and Germany to the strategies and tactics of corporations and workers, it examines how globalization is interpreted and experienced in everyday life and argues that contestation has become a central feature of the practices that enable or confound global restructuring.

amorphous, ‘vague in referent’ and ‘ambiguous in usage’ (Jones, Amoore_Global_02_Ch1 14 6/19/02, 12:06 PM Globalisation, restructuring and flexibility 15 1995: 1). Indeed, some have concluded that the term should be abandoned to prevent its reification in political, academic and corporate debates. However, it is precisely the amorphous and empty nature of the concept that gives it the capacity to exercise power. It can be filled with multiple meanings and used to legitimate a range of restructuring programmes, from labour market flexibility and mobility, to

in Globalisation contested
The restructuring of work in Britain

flexiblelabour? This conundrum has been discussed at the heart of the globalisation debate, with those who see globalisation as a process proclaiming the convergence of national Amoore_Global_04_Ch3 67 6/19/02, 12:17 PM Globalisation contested 68 capitalisms around a neo-liberal policy agenda (Strange, 1997b), and those who see a nationally defined ‘project’ declaring globalisation to be a ‘myth’ (Weiss, 1998). Neither perspective, however, actually problematises the dichotomous representation of a globalisation ‘outside’ and a national capitalism ‘inside’. As is

in Globalisation contested
Open Access (free)
Unheard voices and invisible agency

social practices of the workplace extends to the practices of homes, sweatshops, supply-chain workshops with a contract workforce, and other ad-hoc and unprotected sites of production. The use of unprotected labour in production for the global economy has led scholars to focus on the increased use of child labour4 and bonded or slave labour in the LDCs (see Bales, 1999; Klein, 2000). In the OECD countries, the growth of precarious and unprotected forms of employment has pushed workers towards forms of individualised flexibility that carry high levels of personal risk

in Globalisation contested
The restructuring of work in Germany

institutions and practices of German capitalism into question. At the heart of the neo-liberal challenge is an appeal to the flexibility and speed of response required by globalisation, and to the rigidity and sluggishness of state-societies that seek to protect their welfare and labour market institutions. In the realms of production and work, embedded social institutions and practices become synonymous with structural rigidities that undermine the potential competitiveness of the labour market through disincentives to work and constraints on business management: ‘Policies

in Globalisation contested
Open Access (free)
An international political economy of work

dynamics of transformation in this way, it becomes possible to make prescribed neo-liberal interventions. When represented as an irrevocable and essential process, that can nonetheless be managed, globalisation becomes a powerful meaning-generating concept that accounts for ‘what is happening’ at the same time as it draws the parameters of ‘what should be done about it’. This book has explored one such representation of globalisation ‘as process’ – the widespread propagation of a discourse of labour flexibility, on which deregulatory interventions are founded

in Globalisation contested
Open Access (free)

programs, management journals and corporate strategy documentation. Here the message is that in order to respond effectively to globalisation it is necessary for production costs to be reduced through the removal of barriers to the free market in factors of production – predominantly in labour. Globalisation is cast as an indomitable process, equated with a shift to new forms of work organisation in line with lean production, just-intime (JIT), teamwork and kaizen. Workers are assumed to move towards more flexible working practices and ‘atypical’ forms of employment such

in Globalisation contested
Open Access (free)
The restructuring of work and production in the international political economy

much. (Works Councillor, German multinational)11 There is a sense in which German employers insulate themselves from politicallysensitive negotiations, conducting these through formal channels. For example, in the introduction of new production technologies that reduce labour input, the works councils have played a role in negotiating the terms of the reorganisation of work and the retirement packages of redundant workers. In another case, a firm sought greater functional flexibility through an ‘outsourcing’ arrangement with an external supplier. Following

in Globalisation contested

’ (1957: 68) that cannot be traded without agitating and disrupting the human and social fabric. The commodification of labour represents for Polanyi the central contradiction of market society, both the ‘core’ and the ‘core weakness’ of its organisation (Block and Somers, 1984: 57). As Polanyi has it: To argue that social legislation, factory laws, unemployment insurance, and, above all, trade unions have not interfered with the mobility of labour and the flexibility of wages, as is sometimes done, is to imply that those institutions have entirely failed in their

in Globalisation contested
Considerations and consequences

, quotas and subsidies; deregulation of the financial and housing markets; the introduction of so-called ‘flexiblelabour practices, casualising the labour market and dramatically extending the precariousness of employment across varied industries; an increased corporeal mobility for both an elite managerial class, and a disenfranchised and displaced underclass; postmodernisation as the cultural logic of post-industrial capitalism, emphasising the mutability and non-essentiality of identity; and an economy that is ever more reliant upon the light-speed communication and

in Time for mapping