Globalization and Labour in the Twenty-First Century

Research output: Contribution to journalBook Review

Abstract

Rarely has the acknowledgements section of a book been so revealing, both in terms of the importance of the work to its author; and the personal cost of seeing such a vast project through to its end. That Verity Burgmann resigned from her tenured academic position to finish this book is testament to her academic commitment in ensuring that this compelling and detailed work fulfilled its potential. Compiling a comprehensive overview of contemporary global labour responses to globalisation in the early twenty first century is a daunting undertaking. The core message behind the work is grittily optimistic and motivational; labour resistance to capital is not futile. Showcasing dozens of examples of organised labour challenging capital’s dominion across its ten chapters, Burgmann builds a compelling case for the continued ingenuity, resourcefulness and stoicism of workers around the world.

Utilising both case study examples and theory drawn from a diverse selection of scholars working in the field of international labour relations, the aim of the work is to propose that through critiquing both using an anti-determinist Marxian lens, global workers now, more than ever, demonstrate that they have the resourcefulness to disrupt capital’s hegemony over labour. Bergmann outlines across 261 pages the ways in which globalised capital has developed increasingly serpentine, and sobering, ways in which to find new sources of cheap labour, indenturing regional work forces through the complicity of national governments, augmented by the strictures of international neoliberal organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank. Working with a time frame that starts in 1990 and ends in the throes of riots and marches in response to worldwide austerity policies inaugurated by the 2008 global financial crisis, Burgmann documents the different ways in which international labour has responded to increasing levels of financial inequality, job precarity and worsening working conditions with dexterity and resolve. These include co-ordinated walk outs to disrupt just-in-time production methods across the global block-chain; collaborating with students and other civil actors to raise awareness of disparate worker conditions to brand-shame corporations and worker led creation of co-operatives and communitarian takeovers of failing businesses.
The book makes for a much needed resource for scholars and teachers looking for a comprehensive work that draws together current thinking around labour in the contemporary era. In particular Burgmann argues persuasively about the need to think widely about forms of work. She suggests that despite capital’s attempts to create division through artificial reformations of class, whereby the nominal ‘middle classes’ are exempt from being described as labourers, her autonomist Marxian approach opines that all those who need to earn money to live are workers and so are subject to the same precarity and objectification experienced by all globalised workers, albeit to differentiated extents. This comes to a head in one of the later chapters, exploring the deliberate creation of pools of unemployed workers in order to stifle wage increase demands and calls for improved working conditions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Industrial Relations
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2019

    Fingerprint

Keywords

  • Globalisation
  • Labour
  • Marxism
  • Trade unions

Cite this