Rebuilding the unity of the “labour front”

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Labour and the Challenges of globalization

Ed A. Bieler, I. Lindberg, D. Pillay

Pluto press London 2008 GROUPE TRAVAIL 1

 

PREFACE OF SAMIR AMIN

Rebuilding the unity of the “labour front”

The linkage between the current scientific and technological revolution (with particular regard to its information technology dimension) and the socio-economic strategies implemented by the dominant forces (and particularly the most powerful segment of the capital set up by the trans-national entities) have brought about far-reaching changes in the organisation of labour and the working world for that matter.

The so-called “fordist” organisation of production that marked a large part of the last century, which was based on the concentration of the big mechanised industries and access to markets seldom differentiated from mass consumption, had therefore specially structured the hierarchies of the working world (mass labour, supervisory staff and management) as well as the new social life in urban settings. This pattern of production had also created the conditions of procedures for collective negotiations (Unions – Employers) at the base of the Welfare State. The then dominant forms of organisation (socialist and communist parties and mass unions), like those concerning the organisation of struggles (strike actions and negotiations, demonstrations and elections) produced in this framework turned out to be efficient and therefore credible and legitimate.

In the developed capitalist centres, the functioning of all these mechanisms had guaranteed a high level of employment (the almost “full-time” employment and social security) and stable income distribution. The limitations of the system – ideologies and patriarchal or even male chauvinist practices, waste of natural resources and disregard for environment – were criticised by women’s movements and ecologists, who progressively raised popular awareness in this regard.

On the other hand, in the peripheries of the global system, this same model could at best be implemented only partially in the “modernised-industrialised” niches immersed in an ocean lightly and especially inadequately integrated into the national set. The political formulas for managing such “dualism” between the modern formal sector and the informal and peasant worlds generally implied an undemocratic “control” and prohibition of direct expression among the dominated classes. The success of the national populism, in which such management found expression, did stem from the overtures it offered through social mobility upstream and the expansion of the new middle classes. Today, this page of history is turned.

The rapid dismantling and latent restructuring of the organisation of the working world now dominate the scene. In the relatively privileged centres, this far-reaching change process is manifested in the recurrence of mass unemployment, job flexibility, casualisation of many employment opportunities, with the resultant resurgence of phenomena of “poverty” (that inspires a language implying a reversion to the 19th Century “charity”) and proliferation of all kinds of inequalities, which in turn have a bearing on the democratic traditions in crisis. But simultaneously, this process ushers in the reconstruction of new forms of labour organisation whose analysis in terms in terms of “networks” constitutes the most obvious expression even if it is sometimes formulated in naïve terms out of inordinate “optimism”.

In the peripheries of the system the integration of peasant reserves in the sphere governed by the principles of neo-liberalism , stagnation or decline of the modernised niches or even their expansion into formats dictated by job flexibility – insecurity result in the gigantic growth of the “informal” system with its deplorable social repercussions (i.e.metropolises of slums…).

This “systemic crisis” calls into question the forms of organisation and struggles of the previous phase, which find expression in the crisis of parties (and of politics), union crisis, fuzziness and fragmentation of “movements”.

Moreover, the globalisation imposes effects directed towards urban working classes in the centres and the peripheries as well as towards the agrarian masses in the latter. If they fail to take into account the interdependency of the conditions that affect one another, the actions taken by the working classes run the risk of being incoherent and, as a consequence, inefficient.

The New Labour Question

Percentages of Total World Urban Population
(Percentages may not add up exactly due to rounding.)

The other side of the challenge: the new agrarian question

The analysis sketched above should contribute to opening this debate. This is because it reestablishes the pertinence of the link between capital accumulation on the one hand and the phenomenon of social pauperization on the other. One hundred and fifty years ago, Marx initiated an analysis of the mechanisms behind this link, which has hardly been pursued since then—and scarcely at all on a global scale.

The response to this challenge certainly holds consequences for the positive alternative policies that the popular movements could put forward as goals for their struggles. However, the success of these responses depends more on the effectiveness of their execution across the movements, who are the only ones capable of making the social forces favour the working classes, than on the intricate quality of the propositions.

The challenge presents multiple aspects that complement one another. It calls upon the unions and the other working class organisations on whom falls the principal responsibility in the reconstruction of the united front which brings together the workers who are stabilised and those who are not (e.g. the unemployed, the marginalized and those working in the informal sector) of the urbanized areas, both in the centres and the peripheries. It calls upon the agrarian movements, the social and the political movements in the societies in the periphery who are confronted with the heavy responsibility to put in place not only policies for rural development, but also to draw up national macro policies that make the claims of the urban workers compatible with the demands of the rural world. It also calls upon all the concerned political forces to respond to the capitals globalised strategies through the reconstruction of an internationalism for the people.

This book analyses the urban challenge through seventeen studies of different cases and questions:situations in the systems centres and peripheries. It commences replies to the following

(i) How the challenge of the “new labour question” should be formulated in the specific concrete conditions of the country studied.

(ii) How the involved segments of the popular classes are responding to these challenges: through passive adjustment or through struggles ? Do these struggles obey to some strategic vision ? Or are simply day to day responses ? What are the lessons from the experiences of organised trade unionism ? What are the reasons for their eventual weakening in the present conjuncture : lack of democracy, pressure on the labour market from the growing mass of unemployed, other reasons? Are there some experiences of struggles of the informal workers ? What are the lessons which can be drawn from these experiences ?

(iii) What more effective alternative strategy could be suggested ?

The complement to these studies regarding the other part of the challenge (the struggle of the farmers) makes up the object of another of the World Forum for Alternatives programmes. This programme poses questions and puts forward several suggestions concerning the goals of the struggle and the alternative politics for the development of the agrarian societies.


Tables de calcul détaillés

 

 

2000

 

 

Centres

Périphéries

Monde

Population urbaine

1.000 90%

2.000 41 %

3.000 50 %

Population rurale

100 10 %

2.900 59 %

3.000 50 %

TOTAL (millions)

Proportions

1.100

18,3 %

4.900

81,7 %

6.000

100 %

 

 

 

Centres

Population %

Périphéries

Population %

Monde

Population %

Classes riches et moyennes

330 10,9 (33 %)

400 13,4 (20%)

730 24,3 %

Classes populaires

21,9 (66 %)

53,6 (80%)

2.270 75,5 %

stabilisées

400 13,1 (60 %)

320 10,7 (20 %)

715 23,8 %

précarisées

270 8,8 (40 %)

1.280 42,9 (80 %)

1.555 51,7 %

Total (Millions)

1.000 33 %

2.000 67 %

3.000 100 %

 

 

1950

 

Centres

Périphéries

Monde

Population urbaine

560 80%

500 30 %

1.060 44 %

Population rurale

140 20 %

1.200 70 %

1.340 56 %

TOTAL (millions)

Proportions

700

29 %

1.700

71 %

2.400

100 %

 

Centres

Population %

Périphéries

Population %

Monde

Population %

Classes riches et moyennes

185 33

125 25

310 30

Classes populaires

375 67

375 75

750 70

stabilisées

318 (85)

187 (50)

505 (67)

précarisées

57 (15)

188 (50)

245 (33)

Total (Millions)

560

500

1 060

 

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