Women, Law, and the Global Economy
GLOBALIZATION, GENDER AND BIOPOWER: TRANSFORMING LABOR ORGANIZATIONS FOR INFORMAL SECTORS
By: Ryan McCready
Paper written in fulfillment of the Northern Illinois University
College of Law Graduation Requirement
Globalization refers to transformations and emerging global trends in the politics, economies, and social life of the modern world in a more or less uniform way. These transformations have allowed for increased movements and penetrations of capital across borders and spreading capitalist forms of production and wage-labor across the globe. The uniformity of this modern transformation is guided by the economic theories of neo-liberalism and implemented by inter-governmental organizations, states and even individuals operating in an increasingly global economy.
The social consequences of globalization, the effects it has on our lives, are beneficial in some ways but it also has its burdens. According to many academics the burdens include declining working conditions, labor standards, and fewer employment opportunities, as well as increasing poverty and inequality. On top of that, some academics have discussed the possibility of an existing “race to the bottom” which suggests that these burdens will continue, becoming greater, as an inevitable result of the neo-liberal paradigm which has developing countries specialize in line with their comparative advantage – often an abundance of cheap labor.
Furthermore, feminist academics analyzing the gendered aspects of globalization have noted how women and families, especially in the developing world, generally suffer globalizations’ burdens to a greater extent than men, and how mainstream economic policies overlook women’s issues by assuming that what is good for men (mostly those working for powerful corporations in the developed world) is also good for women. Globalization is presented as gender neutral but this only covers up its gendered aspects. Feminist researchers, by “‘[g]endering’ the discourse of globalization exposes the discontinuities between the realities of women’s and men’s lives and mainstream scholarly work about global processes” and this produces a better understanding. “Gender is a basic organizing principle in social life, a principle for the allocation of duties, rights, rewards, and power, including means of violence.” This organizing principle is embedded in capitalist societies and means “…women are usually disadvantaged in terms of power and material and status rewards.”
The coincidence of globalization trends and their overall uniformity in line with the socio-political economic system known as capitalism, and its’ aura of inevitability and the power it has to transform societies on a global level has energized harsh supporters and inspired harsh critics. Two such critics, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri in a manifesto called “EMPIRE” describe how capitalism, “…from its inception tends toward being a world power, or really the world power.” They say that capitalism as an empire will attempt to “…regulate human interaction… [and] rule over human nature [-]… [to] rule social life in its entirety, and thus… presents the paradigmatic form of biopower.”
The suggestion that a global empire is emerging through the spread of capitalism, will control human life and society with biopower – whatever that is – and depends upon globalizations’ ominous burdens, is a terrifying notion to those who believe it. This neo-liberal globalization is so terrifying, and objectionable that when nation-states or inter-governmental organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO) gather to discuss global economic policy thousands of people meet to protest their actions.
Having been to one of these protests, and witness to both the repression of protesters by authorities and how quickly and casually these globalization protests could be dismissed as counter-productive by non-protesters, I began to wonder whether labor organizing as a means to address globalization’s burdens is even possible under the dominant neo-liberal paradigm. A bystander mocked protesters as a group of us were walking down the street and it made me consider how, to many, the burdens of globalization, are seen as being beyond our control and influence. That protesting and organizing to address problems of globalization are seen as a problem, and that this dissent – not globalization itself – jeopardizes our collective interests. In this paper I conclude that labor organizing is imperative, that we not give up given the burdens of globalizing under a neo-liberal model, and that neo-liberalism is part of the problem.
This paper also discusses the problems workers deal with at work and asks whether the masculinities of neo-liberalism should make empowering women a major goal or strategy for labor organizers within the informal sectors of developing economies. I conclude that women’s issues are very important in labor organizing. Part one and two of this paper will discuss globalization under the neo-liberal paradigm and some of its’ consequences with the goal of making you exclaim – ‘we have to do something about this!’ In part three I will discuss some ideas for what could be done to advocate for global labor standards and labor organizing and also share a personal protest experience – where I discover that even those who think they are powerless to effectuate change may be tacitly supporting the neo-liberal globalization paradigm. Part four will conclude the paper by arguing for developing new labor organizing strategies in informal sectors with a focus on women’s issues, rather than pinning our hopes on convincing the inter-governmental globalization organizations to implement global labor standards.
II. Part One: Globalization, Neo-liberalism and Hidden Masculinities.
This Part focuses on the relationship between globalization and neo-liberalism. Globalization is a modern phenomenon but it has historical roots in western colonization, and expansion. Technological advances, the opening of once closed economies, and the collusion of states, corporations and of new inter-governmental institutions like the IMF and World Bank have aided this phenomenon. These inter-governmental institutions, along with states and transnational corporations, are guided by the neo-liberal ideology. This ideology, while seemingly gender neutral, is a masculine ideology which allows those at the tops of corporations, and other institutions to claim close to zero responsibility for the reproduction of life and anything not directly related to production and profits.
II.I Gendered History of Globalization
In “Gender, Capitalism, and Globalization”, Joan Acker describes globalization as “the increasing pace and penetrations of movements of capital, production, and people across boundaries of many kinds and on a global basis.” The increasing pace she speaks of can be viewed as an acceleration of western capitalist expansion. Another writer, Thomas Friedman, in his book “The World is Flat” notes how modern globalization is a new frontier in the history of western expansion that he calls ‘Globalization 3.0’. He says that:
“…globalization 3.0 is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time. And while the dynamic force in globalization 1.0 was countries globalizing and the dynamic force in globalization 2.0 was companies globalizing, the dynamic force in globalization 3.0 – the force that gives it its unique character – is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally.
Friedman focuses on ‘individuals’ but this fails to capture the gendered aspects of this expansion. Acker notes that “[i]n the history of modern globalization, beginning with the expansion of England and other European countries in colonial conquest, agents of globalization, leaders and troops, have been men, but not just any men.” As these countries expanded their agents imposed and developed their own brand of masculinity, which during the ages of conquest and settlement, combined elements of violence and egocentric individualism. Furthermore, this dominate brand of masculinity identified with capitalist production developed femininity became identified with reproduction – both in terms of biological reproduction and as a means of reproducing domestic spaces, identities, and Western family structures:
“As European and then American capital established dominance through colonization, empire and today’s globalization, one of the cultural/structural forms embedded in that dominance has been the identification of the male/masculine with production in the money economy and the identification of the female/feminine with reproduction and the domestic.”
This division of production as masculine and reproduction as feminine is a fundamental part of women’s subordination in capitalist societies. It is also contradictory and problematic in that “production is organized around the goals of capital accumulation, not around meeting the reproductive and survival needs of people.” Furthermore, as Acker explains, this division “…was shaped along lines of gender and contributed to continuing gendered inequalities.”
Advances in technology, and the opening of once closed economies has accelerated the expansion of capitalism in modern times. Even part of Friedman’s “… flat-world platform is the product of a convergence of the personal computer with fiber-optic cable with the rise of work flow software.” For Acker, however, this too has hidden gendered dynamics. “… [T]he ‘new economy,’” she says, “is emerging in a form as male-dominated as the ‘old economy.’ The new dominant growth sectors, information technology, biotech innovation, and global finance, are all heavily male-dominated, although women fill some of the jobs in the middle and at the bottom, as usual in many old economy sectors… [and] a primary factor seems to be the identification of computer work with forms of masculinity that exclude women and emphasize obsessive concentration and/or violence and self-absorption.”
The opening of economies once separated from global competition is another component of rapid capitalist expansion. Economist Richard Freeman notes that “…almost all at once in the 1990’s, China, India, and the ex-Soviet bloc joined the global economy and the entire world came together into a single economic world based on capitalism and markets.” So even as the world is ‘flattening’ or shrinking in an economic sense via global integration and technological advances the workforce available to capitalist modes of production which competes on a global scale has increased. Globalization researchers while focusing on this phenomenon, “…working within a masculinized frame of reference,” according to Acker, may have begun using the term ‘globalization’ “as the dominance of neo-liberal capitalism began to be proclaimed in the late 1980s and certainly by the time of the demise of the USSR and communist regimes in other countries around 1989-90. At that time political leaders in the Northern, rich capitalist countries began to proclaim triumphantly, ‘There Is No Alternative’ to their form of capitalism.” The proclamation, that ‘there is no alternative’, is a shared mantra by states, corporations, and inter-governmental institutions.
II.II “Corporatocracy” – Power and the Hegemonic Masculinity
Today these institutions, corporations, and centers of power continue to spread their form of capitalism and with it they instill their brand of masculinity. It is one which is identified with production at the expense of reproduction, even though this identification is out of touch with reality. The gender inequalities of the past are continuing these days despite the fact that women are often as much producers as reproducers. With this division, more and more labor power is available to corporations as they spread this masculine brand of capitalism throughout the globe. Together they form a kind of corporate hegemony, a ‘corporatocracy’ where men vie for the most desired form of masculinity: the hegemonic masculinity.
In his memoir, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” John Perkins describes the collusion between the U.S. government, private corporations, and these inter-governmental institutions as part of a ‘corporatocracy’:
“This was a close-knit fraternity of a few men with shared goals, and the fraternity’s members moved easily and often between corporate boards and government positions. It struck me that the current president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, was a perfect example. He had moved from a position as president of Ford Motor Company, to secretary of defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and now occupied the top post at the world’s most powerful financial institution.”
Like Robert McNamara, the men near the top of this ‘corporatocracy’ embody a hegemonic masculinity. As Acker explains, the “[h]egemonic masculinity is the most desired and admired form, attributed to leaders and other influential figures at particular historical times.” “As corporate capitalism developed, a hegemonic masculinity based on claims to expertise developed along with masculinities still organized around domination. Hegemonic masculinity relying on claims to expertise does not necessarily lead to economic organizations free of domination and violence however. Some researchers argue that controls relying on both explicit and implicit violence exist in a wide variety of organizations.”
One such organization is the International Monetary Fund [IMF] which “is a public institution… and does not report directly to either the citizens who finance it or those whose lives it affects. Rather, it reports to the ministries of finance and the central banks of governments around the world.” In his book, Globalization and Its Discontents, former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz explains that the IMF asserts its control through voting arrangements where “major developed countries run the show, with only one country, the United States, have effective veto.” The IMF, he says, “…typically provides funds only if countries engage in policies like cutting deficits, raising taxes, or raising interests rates that lead to a contraction of the economy” in developing nations. In the 1980s, led by free market ideology, both the World Bank and IMF began working together, becoming “…the new missionary institutions, through which these ideas were pushed on the reluctant poor countries that often badly needed their loans and grants.” The Bank gave “structural adjustment loans; but only when the IMF gave its approval – and with that approval came IMF-imposed conditions on the country.” These conditions often make it harder to repay the loans.
As an economic hit man [EHM], working for the ‘corporatocracy’ John Perkins had “…two primary objectives… to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back to his employer MAIN and other U.S. companies… [and then]… to bankrupt the countries that received those loans… so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors…” According to Perkins:
“This is what EHMs do best: we build a global empire… if an EHM is successful, the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens,… we demand a pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control of United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil or the Panama Canal. Of course the debtor still owes us the money – and another country is added to our global empire.” “However – and this is a very large caveat – if we fail, an even more sinister breed steps in, ones we EHMs refer to as the jackals, [or the CIA] men who trace their heritage directly to those earlier empires… And if by chance the jackals fail, as they failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, then the old models resurface. When the jackals fail, young Americans are sent in to kill and to die.”
Perkins’ testimony demonstrates the extremity of these operations. Not only is the economic future of a country at stake with globalization, but the lives of civilians and soldiers embattled over a conflict that is neither of their own. “The IMF, of course, claims that it never dictates but always negotiates the terms of any loan agreement with the borrowing country. But these are one-sided negotiations in which all the power is in the hands of the IMF, largely because many countries seeking IMF help are in desperate need of funds.” All together these institutions and individuals, which make up the ‘corporatocracy’ embody the notion of a hegemonic masculinity.
II.III Neo-Liberalism – The Non-responsibility for Reproduction
As Acker writes, “[t]he new hegemonic masculinity… represents the neo-liberal ideology. The Economist talks about the Davos Man, [named after a town in Switzerland where world business, economic and political leaders meet yearly to discuss the world economy] a term that includes businessmen, bankers, officials, and intellectuals.”It is a model of masculinity whose’ only real motivation is greed and only cares for itself. “R.W. Connell (1998) describes a ‘trans-national business masculinity’ as ‘marked by increasing egocentricism, very conditional loyalties (even to the corporation), and a declining sense of responsibility for others (except for purposes of image making).’ This masculinity also seems marked by arrogance, a passion to control, ruthlessness, and aggression.”
A gendered analysis of neo-liberalism – as it is spread by men who strive for hegemonic masculinity – reveals a glaring contradiction. It is in the contradictory goals of humanity as a whole and capitalism – the former in reproduction and production while the latter only emphasizes production often at the expense of human welfare. Under neo-liberalism the reproduction of life does not factor into its economic analysis. According to Acker:
“The implicit masculine standpoint in the ruling relations from which theories of society have been constructed impedes adequate analysis. For example, unpaid caring, household, and agricultural labor, along with much informal economic activity that maintains human life do not enter the analyses or are assumed to be in unlimited supply. The omission of, mostly women’s unpaid work seriously biases discussions of the penetration of capitalist globalizing processes and limits understanding of both negative consequences and potentials for opposition.”
Furthermore, “The contradictory goals of production and reproduction contribute to another gendered aspect of globalization capitalist processes. This is the frequent corporate practice, on national and global levels, of claiming non-responsibility for reproduction of human life and reproduction of the natural environment.” While implicitly claiming non-responsibility for the reproduction of human life by coming from a masculinized standpoint, the neo-liberal ideology argues “…more open economies are more prosperous; economies that liberalize more experience a faster rate of progress… This line of argument is championed by the more powerful centers of the ‘thinking for the world’ that influence international policy making, including the inter-governmental organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), and also the US and UK Treasuries, and opinion-shaping media such as the Financial Times and The Economist.” In other words, the ‘corporatocracy’ forces liberalization, privatization, and fiscal austerity, under the assumption that reproduction will be provided for.
Joseph Stiglitz describes the neo-liberal policy model as having three pillars. They are fiscal austerity, privatization and market liberalization. Together these policies, according to Acker, strip away old controls and implement new ones to propel a process of ‘freemarketization’:
“‘freemarketization’ or the reduction of old state and contractual controls with the substitution of other controls, and the potential commodification of almost everything are other aspects of present changes. The old controls that have either disappeared or are under attack include those that protected local/national firms and industries, enacted welfare state supports and constrained capitalist actions to oppose unions, to endanger workers’ health and safety, or to pollute the environment. New controls… regulate new categories of workers, constrain opponents of unlimited corporate freedom, or reinforce neo-liberal ideology, such as mandates in the U.S. that impoverished single mothers must work for pay without regard for the welfare of their children. Organizational restructuring, downsizing, new forms of flexibility and new forms of employment relations are parts of free-marketization,” - and these changes are interrelated and shaped by neo-liberalism.
According to the neo-liberal line of thought, ‘freemarketization yields progressive trends (which they claim are poverty reduction and falling inequality) and “are due in large part to the rising density of economic integration between countries, which has made for rising efficiency of resource use worldwide as countries and regions specialize in line with their comparative advantage.” However, for many developing countries the comparative advantage lay in an abundance of cheap labor.” Therefore, by maintaining the abundance of cheap labor, by specializing in cheap labor, these countries can develop according to the neo-liberal paradigm, though only so far as the comparative advantage will allow.
In reality however, this specialization in cheap labor does not yield the progressive trends that neo-liberals claim it does, and neither is specialization in cheap labor a viable way of supporting reproductive labor. Stiglitz claims that the IMF policy of forcing fiscal austerity, privatization and liberalization on developing nations was the real flaw. “The problem…” he says, “… was that many of these policies became ends in themselves, rather than a means to more equitable and sustainable growth. In doing so, these policies were pushed too far, too fast, and to the exclusion of other policies that were needed.”
II.IV Part One Conclusion
The neo-liberal model of economic development is imposed on developing countries from the outside by intergovernmental organizations like the IMF and World Bank, through conditional loans and structural adjustment. These institutions are publicly funded by governments in advanced countries for the benefit of a few within the ‘corporatocracy’. This ‘corporatocracy’ has developing countries specialize in their comparative advantage, but this advantage often comes at the cost of poor labor standards and working conditions for those at the bottom. The next section discusses the ‘Race to the Bottom’ theory, as just one consequence of neo-liberalism, to explain that the neo-liberal policy models do not improve these conditions but rather depends on poor working conditions in the developing world.
III. Part Two: Consequences, the ‘Race to the Bottom’ and Global Labor Standards
This part looks at the consequences of the ‘corporatocracy’s’ commitment to the neo-liberal ideology and its’ policy models. The neo-liberal approach to globalization has developing countries specializing in line with their comparative advantage which is often an abundance of cheap labor. However, this may have created a situation where developing countries are forced to maintain their abundance of cheap labor to stay competitive in the global economy which researchers have called the ‘Race to the Bottom’ theory. The theory explains how neo-liberal policies fail to address the burdens of competition in the new global economy, such as rising poverty and inequality, and increased informalization of the labor market. This part ends with some examples of what working at the bottom is like.
III.I Consequences – Poverty, Inequality, and Declining Labor Standards
“[t]hose who vilify globalization too often overlook its benefits. But the proponents of globalization have been, if anything, even more unbalanced. To them, globalization is progress; developing countries must accept it, if they are to grow and to fight poverty effectively. But to many in the developing world, globalization has not brought the promised economic benefits. A growing divide between the haves and the have-nots has left increasing numbers in the Third World in dire poverty, living on less than a dollar a day.”
Rather than fighting poverty, the neo-liberal policy model recommendation increase poverty and raise inequality both between nations and within nations. However this is not easily discoverable since the World Bank is “the near-monopoly provider’ of this kind of information.”
Another economist, Robert Wade questions the World Bank’s claim in 2001 that poverty has decreased in the past 20 years: “No ifs or buts,” He says, “I now show that the Bank’s figures contain a large margin of error, and the errors probably flatter the result in one direction.” On the poverty issue Wade argues that the Bank’s figures have a large margin of error. One compelling reason is the “often-cited comparison between 1980 and 1998 - 1.4 billion in extreme poverty in 1980, 1.2 billion in extreme poverty in 1998 –is not valid.” The bank introduced a new methodology in the late 1990’s which makes the figures non-comparable. Further sources of error bias the results downward, so the number of people in poverty seems lower than it really is; and the bias probably increases over time, making the trend look rosier than it is. This is how the individuals and institutions that comprise the ‘corporatocracy’ justify their adherence to the neo-liberal model. Through opinion shaping media they claim to be fighting poverty but actually their conclusions are based on faulty data that underestimates the cost of living.
Among the reasons for the statistical downward bias according to Wade are that “the Bank’s international poverty line underestimates the income or expenditure needed for an individual (or household) to avoid periods of food-clothing-shelter consumption too low to maintain health and well being.” As a more masculine model, neo-liberalism under values the cost of the reproductive labor required to maintain a healthy standard of living. If one looks only at the Gross National Product [GDP] of a nation then you are not getting the full story. John Perkins, the ‘economic hit man,’ notes how easy it was to justify huge loans using statistical data. Commenting on the “deceptive nature of GDP” he writes that he “…discovered that statistics can be manipulated to produce a large array of conclusions…” These conclusions, that poverty and inequality are falling; serve only the individuals and institutions of the ‘corporatocracy’ in their quest for hegemonic masculinity.
Wade also questions the neo-liberal claim that inequality is falling: “several studies that measure inequality over the whole distribution and use either cross-sectional household survey data or measure a combined inequality between countries and within countries show widening inequality since around 1980.” “The conclusion is that the world inequality measured in plausible ways is probably rising, despite China’s and India’s fast growth.”Additionally Wade says “…absolute [rather than relative] income gaps are widening and will continue to do so for decades.” Furthermore, Wade suggested that “China’s growth in the 1990’s is probably overstated… Even the Chinese government says that the World Bank is overstating China’s average income.”
According to Wade “The neo-liberal argument says that inequality provides incentives for effort and risk-taking and thereby raises efficiency.” But the truth “…is that this productive incentive applies only at moderate levels of inequality. At higher levels, such as in the United States over the past 20 years, it is likely to be swamped by social costs.” These social costs are not often attributed to the neo-liberal model that view inequality as a force behind development but inequality is a barrier to growth and human welfare. “Higher inequality within countries goes with: (1) higher poverty; (2) slower economic growth, especially in large countries such as China, because it constrains the growth of mass demand; (3) higher unemployment; and (4) higher crime.”
Higher inequality within a country can have drastic social effects, but higher inequality between countries could also be problematic for the global economy. Higher inequality between countries “…above moderate levels may cut world aggregate demand and thereby world economic growth, making a vicious circle or rising world inequality and slower growth.”The issue of whether inequality is good for the economy overlooks the human dimension of globalization. Inequality has effects on the people living all over the world but these effects are often given less weight than the effects that neo-liberalism has on businesses trading on a global scale.
Thus the burden of inequality leads to further burdens. This is not only problematic for nations and individual people, but also for businesses trading on a global scale. John Rapley writes about inequality in his book Globalization and Inequality: Neo-liberalism’s Downward Spiral and “argues that neo-liberalism has skewed income distribution, thereby causing a rise in political instability and volatility.”He notes that by now many neo-liberal economists are beginning to doubt the validity of the thesis that inequality is good for growth. Rising poverty and inequality are not the only consequences of the corporatocracy’s’ commitment to neo-liberalism. The neo-liberal model also causes labor standards to deteriorate as more employment shifts to the informal sectors of the economy in both developing and developed nations.
Meanwhile labor standards in the south are deteriorating; “…the data for Latin American countries suggest a fall in labor standards during the last two decades. Tokman (1997) has estimated that 90% of the new jobs created in Latin America between 1985 and 1995 were in the informal sector. This informalization, together with evidence on the increased casualization of workers, can be regarded as an erosion of labor standards…” One response to the problem of eroding labor standards is to implement global labor standards, but this too is problematic in that it could encourage more informalization of the work force. Furthermore, the ‘race to the bottom’ theory explains how improving labor standards jeopardize the comparative advantage of developing countries.
III.II The “Race to the Bottom” – The Global Labor Standards Debate
Some have suggested implementing global labor standards to address the problem of declining labor standards and working conditions, but even if they are implemented the new standards will not help those working in the growing informal sectors. This section will discuss the ‘race to the bottom’ theory in two forms. The first form is described as a competition between north and south, which does not support implementing global labor standards. The alternate form is described as a competition between southern nations, most notably Mexico and China, and this description supports the implementation of global labor standards. But even if global labor standards are implemented more needs to be done to help workers improve conditions in the informal sectors.
In the context of global competition between developing nations, the ‘race to the bottom’ theory complicates the discussion on whether to apply minimum labor standards across the globe, since it is seen as jeopardizing developing counties’ comparative advantage. According to the ‘race to the bottom’ theory, countries that forgo improving working conditions to maintain their comparative advantage cause other countries, with which they compete, to do the same.
The ‘race to the bottom’ theory describes how “countries, as a matter of national policy, or enterprises within them, as a matter of practice may abuse labor rights, and thereby cheapen labor or make it more docile and attractive to investors. In this fashion, nations or firms may gain competitive, so-called comparative advantage.” Thus, abusing worker’s rights is encouraged by the neo-liberal model’s emphasis on having developing nations specialize in their comparative advantage of cheap labor. Nations can turn a blind eye towards labor rights violations to gain an advantage over other nations. Meanwhile corporations are already benefiting from contracting and subcontracting to increase informalization, or in other words – to increase capital penetrations into the informal sectors.
With a focus on maintaining a country’s comparative advantage inter-governmental organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the ILO are opposed to the idea of global labor standards, as they could increase labor costs of global trade. “The labor standards at issue are those embodied in the International Labor Organization (ILO) [core] Conventions.” They include the freedom of association and collective bargaining, the freedom from forced labor and discrimination, abolition of child labor, and the right to organize.”These freedoms however are not part of the neo-liberal paradigm; rather they present a problem for a country trying to develop by maintaining its comparative advantage as it increases the cost of doing business.
The debate of whether to implement these freedoms is complicated by increased flexibility in the labor market forcing greater concentrations of employment in the informal sectors while the ‘race to the bottom’ theory makes them politically unpopular. The ‘freemarketization’ of the global economy makes implementing global labor standards unlikely to adequately address working conditions. The concern is that these labor standards would apply only to the formal sectors. As Singh explains, “The question of labor standards for developing countries derives its complexity from the dual structure of these economies. Much of the labor force in the South comprises… the informal sectors.… If labor standards are only to be limited to those working in the formal sector, this would amount to giving greater privileges to those who are already privileged. This would tend to increase social inequality…”
III.III Informalization and the Changing Trans-national Corporate Structure
The informal sectors “[i]n most developing countries, the majority of workers are employed in unregulated, informal activities including urban street vendors, waste collectors, paid domestic workers, contingent agricultural workers, and home-based producers of clothing or other manufactured goods.” “In most countries, women disproportionately work in informal employment. The income workers receive from informal employment is on average, very low, often consigning these workers and their families to a poverty-level standard of living. Since informal employment is largely unregulated, these workers are excluded from labor standards as typically conceived.” Part of explanation has to do with the changing production structure spreading into developing countries.
According to Dan Gallen, of the Global Labor Institute, “[t]he growth of the informal sector since the 1980’s has had two main causes: the global economic crisis, and the way production is being organized by transnational capital. He says that the:
“…modern enterprise is essentially an organizer of production carried out on its behalf by others. Its core includes the management of employees at corporate headquarters and possibly a core labor force of highly skilled technicians. This core directs production and sales, controls subcontracting and decides at short notice what will be produced where, when, how and by whom and from where certain markets will be supplied… Most of the production of the goods it sells and all labor intensive operations will be subcontracted... this type of company will coordinate cascading subcontracting operations which will not be part of its structure but will nevertheless be wholly dependent on it, with wages and conditions deteriorating as one moves from the center of operations to its periphery.”
Furthermore, according to Dan Gallen:
“The deregulation of the labor market is also a strategy for eliminating the trade union movement. Subcontracting is a well-travelled road to evading legal responsibilities and obligations. The fragmentation and dispersion of the labor force, its constant destabilization by the introduction of new components (women, youth and migrants of different origins) in sectors without trade union tradition (computerization, services), the pressure for maximum profits (productivity) together with management intimidation – all these are obstacles to trade union organization.”
According to Acker, “[t]he transnational organization of production builds non-responsibility into the structure of capitalist processes. As corporations such as Nike or Liz Claiborne contact production to firms in other countries, the corporation has relatively few workers of its own, thus few who might demand responsibility. As Applebaum and Gereffi (1990,44) say, ‘contracting means the so-called manufacturer need not employ any production workers, run the risk of unionization or wages pressures, or be concerned with layoffs resulting from changes in production demands.’” Corporate non-responsibility for reproductive labor is not merely an ideological construction, but rather a built in component of the way corporations do business in developing countries. As Gallen explains:
“By cutting down on the hard core of permanent full-time workers, by decentralizing and subcontracting all but the indispensable core activities, and by relying wherever possible on unstable forms of labor (casual, part-time, seasonal, on call and so on), management deregulates the labor market, not only to reduce cost but to shift the responsibility for income, benefits and conditions onto the individual worker. The outer circle of this system is the informal sector: the virtually invisible world of microenterprises and home-based workers. The informal sector is an integral part of global production and marketing chains. What is particular to the informal sector is the absence of rights and social protections of the workers involved in it.”
The changing structure of transnational production and the increased concentration of production in the informal sectors make implementing labor standards less likely to adequately address working conditions in developing countries.
III.IV The “Race to the Bottom” – Returning to the Labor Standards Debate
The difficulties surrounding the problem of the ‘race to the bottom’ are compounded further by the question of which inter-governmental organizations should enforce global labor standards. The International Labour Organization - in the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, stated explicitly that labor standards should not be used for protectionist purposes. It also suggested that these basic principles and rights should not in any way affect the comparative advantage of any country. It is significant that the core conventions do not include minimum wages as that might have been regarded as distorting a country’s comparative advantage.” The ILO uses the logic of neo-liberalism and enters the debate favoring the maintenance of a developing country’s comparative advantage; essentially this approach could exclude the countries with the worst labor standards and working conditions from any inter-governmental efforts to improve those conditions.
In any case the ILO is unable to use any sanctions against offenders, and advanced countries would prefer WTO implantation since the WTO “has a dispute settlement mechanism (DSM) and the ability to impose sanctions.” “The international labor movement, especially in the core of high income countries, and sometimes supported by western governments, have proposed including labor standards conditionally in WTO and other trade agreements. The proposal is referred to putting a “social clause” into related trade agreements.”
This ‘social clause’ is aimed at preventing developing countries from maintaining poor working conditions in an attempt to remain competitive, but it may benefit the economies of already wealthy nations especially if the ‘race to the bottom’ describes competition between North and South. James Heintz, in “Rethinking Global Labor Standards: Controversies, Constraints, and Possibilities,” says that:
“Opponents of the idea of global labor standards often draw on international trade theory to make their point. The argument goes as follows. Developing countries have an abundance of low-wage labor, but a shortage of other factors of production, such as capital equipment or a technologically savvy workforce. Their competitive advantage therefore lies in low-wage production. In this context global standards compromise the competitive position of developing countries with an abundance of low-skill, low-wage labor. Moreover, such protections shield workers in more affluent economies from global competition. The end result will be more protected jobs in rich nations and fewer economic opportunities in poor countries.”
This would in effect benefit the North at the expense of the south. If the ‘race to the bottom’ describes competition between Northern countries and Southern countries the global labor standards of the ILO could favor advanced countries over developing ones without improving conditions. This contradiction makes global labor standards a poor response to the problem of the ‘race to the bottom’ if this holds true.
Northern Trade unions have led a concerted campaign at the WTO for instituting higher labor standards in developing countries. While higher labor standards could provide workers in developing countries with a mechanism for addressing poor conditions, the absence of these standards could allow developing countries to become more productive in the long run as productivity rises and wages remain stagnant and thereby threaten employment in the North. Conversely, improvements in labor standards could have the effect of reducing employment in developing countries. Hence, “Developing countries have, however, resolutely opposed any discussion of labor standards at the WTO regarding these as thinly veiled protectionists devises.” Furthermore, developing countries may have a difficult time improving standards and be subject to trade sanctions under the WTO. Thus, when the ‘race to the bottom is described as being a race between the North and the South, it is dismissed by the WTO as unfair to developing countries.
The alternate description of the ‘race to the bottom’ problem is that the race is between Southern nations. According to Ross, “There is good reason for representatives of laborers in low-income countries to favor the social clause… the standard argument against a social clause view competition in world trade as between workers in the rich North against the workers in the poor South… Contrary to the conventional view, the fiercest competition in many of the world export markets is… a South-South competition.” This would undermine the WTO’s position that implementing global labor standards are counterproductive in improving labor conditions. And despite the dominant perception that the ‘race to the bottom’ is between the North and the South “There is evidence that South-South competition may already be a race to the bottom.” In his assessment Ross compares the U.S., Mexican, and Chinese apparel imports and argues that China and Mexico are locked into such a race. This description of the problem would support a response to the issues of falling labor standards and working conditions in the form of global labor standards.
Anita Chan, in her article “A ‘Race to the Bottom’: Globalization and China’s labor standards” also questions the description of the ‘race to the bottom’ as competition between North and South. She quotes one observer as saying “‘in the ‘race to the bottom’, China is defining the bottom.’” She argues that “…competition… is largely among countries in the developing world.” The competition between China and Mexico has both locked in to a desperate situation where any improvements that increase costs jeopardize their comparative advantage. China’s system is keeping wages in Mexico down, the “pressures are tightening on Mexican enterprises to more vigorously compete with China’s long working hours and bargain-basement prices.”This description would support implementing global labor standards; however these standards are still unlikely to help improve conditions for workers in the informal sectors.
III.V Working at the Bottom – Examples of Injustice
Meanwhile, China is defining the bottom when it comes to labor standards. The “...reasons why Chinese wages can be kept so competitive compared to other countries…, it has an almost inexhaustible supply of cheap labor from the countryside…, the decentralization and deregulation in wage-setting under China’s economic reforms has enabled local governments to turn a blind eye to labor exploitation… and the Fourth fundamental reason is the hukou system.” The hukou system is a pass system which “… works in similar ways to the pass system under South Africa’s former system of apartheid.”
Anita Chan, in “Labor Standards and Human Rights: The case of Chinese Workers under Market Socialism” included a letter from workers of the Guangdong’s Zhaojie Footwear Company to illustrate the horrible and dehumanizing conditions workers face:
“The company docks our pay, deducts and keeps our deposits, beats, abuses, and humiliates us at will.
Those of us who came from outside the province only knew we had been cheated after getting here. The reality is completely different from what we were told by the recruiter. Now even though we want to leave, we cannot because they would not give us back our deposit and our temporary residential permit, and have not been giving us our wages. This footwear company has hired over one hundred live-in security guards, and has even set up teams to patrol the factory. The staff and workers could not escape even if they had wings. The only way to get out of the factory grounds is to persuade the officer in charge of issuing leave permits to let you go. A Henan worker wanted to resign but was not allowed to by the officer. So he climbed over the wall to escape, but was crushed to death by a passing train. Although it means forfeiting the deposit and wages and losing their temporary residential permits, each year about 1,000 workers somehow leave this place.
Being beaten and abused are everyday occurrences, and other punishments include being made to stand on a stool for everyone to see, and to stand facing the wall to reflect on our mistakes, or being made to crouch in a bent-knee position.
The staff and workers often have to work from 7 a.m. to midnight. Many have fallen sick… it is not easy even to get permission for a drink of water during working hours.”
On the other side of the world conditions are no better. Elvia Arriola, in “Voices From the Barbed Wires of Despair; Women in the Maquiladoras, Latina Critical Legal Theory, and Gender at the U.S.-Mexico Border” collected many firsthand accounts of the terrible conditions, and low pay workers deal with. Maquiladora worker, Julia Gonzales says: “It is not possible to live on what the maquiladoras pay and this has made it so many women workers cannot take care of their own children. With such little pay, they are not able to provide food that their children need.” Julia’s story is all too common for workingwomen on the border, and is a prime example of just how little importance reproductive labor has in the eyes of the ‘corporatocracy’.
III.VI Part Two Conclusion
The race to the bottom describes how, through sub-contracting, and the informalization of the labor force could spread throughout the globe as capitalism becomes more and more global. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” There is more truth in those words, if one considers the concept of bio-power- a form of power which “…regulates life from its interior…,” and which individuals embrace and reactivate of their own accord. Understanding this form of power enables us to step back and consider how by doing nothing about these injustices we tacitly accept them and are thus powerless to counteract a global-capitalist empire.
IV Part Three: A Way Out of Empire – Suggestions for Reorganization
This section argues that the increasingly global power of the ‘corporatocracy’ is dispersed to individuals in different walks of life, and infusing them with a desire for hegemonic masculinity. To counteract this it is necessary to empower women within their productive and reproductive roles, to encourage the reproductive role of men, and develop new customs for providing for the reproduction of life. Those working in deplorable conditions, like those mentioned in part two, can develop communities capable of redirecting the bio-politics of the ‘coproratocracy’ through union organizing. Meanwhile those in the developing world in closer proximity to the corporate power centers can demand greater responsibility for the reproduction of life. This section begins with a discussion of the ‘free-rider’ problem of union membership and the need for protest. It discusses how some state welfare programs have been successful in breaking the cycle of poverty in Latin America by empowering women, and men within their reproductive roles. I conclude with examples of successful cross-border organizing, informal sector organizing, and how a new worker’s movement is erupting in China.
Protesting and the boycotting of consumer goods have already been successful in counteracting corporate non-responsibility, as Anita Chan explains:
“[t]he loudest and most persistent criticisms regarding the decline of labor standards as a result of a globalized economy have emanated from NGO-led consumer boycott campaigns…these NGOs are pressuring multinational corporations such as Nike over minimum wages, work hours, health and safety conditions. Although these groups are small and lacking resources, they have made inroads in raising the awareness of consumers. In response, an increasing number of multinational corporations are attempting to pre-empt being targeted by rushing to draw up their own corporate codes of conduct”
This kind of non-violent, direct action is necessary, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. because, “[l]amentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”Still, I’m sad to say from personal experience, despite MLK’s arguments against attitudes such as the “outside agitator” idea, the devotion to “order” over justice still persists.While attending a protest at the G20 in Pittsburg, a meeting of Finance Ministers, and central bank governors from twenty countries, a local citizen voiced his outrage at us protesters as being outsiders and “free-loaders.”
“Free-loaders, Us?” I said, and dismissed the statements, but the idea of a “free-loader”, or “free-rider” is a term relevant to union organizing. The “free-rider” problem is where a collective good lobbied for by a group allows some individuals to enjoy the benefits of that good without incurring a cost.In “The Free Rider Problem and a Social Custom Model of Trade Union Membership”, Allison Booth suggests that the problem could be overcome with her “Social Custom” model of union membership, where union membership need not be compulsory or the collective good excludable.  As she explains:
“…within a community, there is a set of rules and customs that are obeyed by individuals because of the loss of reputation within the community (a sanction) if the custom should be disobeyed. Reputation is assumed to be desired by individuals.”
By supposing “…that the union provides a single excludable good for its members: reputation from belonging to the union and not being a ‘scab’,” Booth, viewing people as rational utility maximizers, shows how the free-rider problem could be overcome since the reputation is exclusive to group members. Unions, in formal or informal sectors, should develop a social custom within its members as being more than self-responsible but responsible for reproduction, both women and men, while activists in developed countries demand the same from corporations and states. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King voiced his disappointment in moderates who would not “…reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom.” The time is now! “[J]ustice too long delayed is justice denied.” And in the new global capitalist empire of the ‘corporatocracy’, none of us are outsiders. We have the power to change this, but if we accept this injustice, if we believe we are powerless, then we tacitly accept the rule of the ‘corporatocracy’ and embrace its’ bio-powers as our own.
IV.II Take back the Bio-Power
Negri and Hardt, in “EMPIRE” use French philosopher Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower to describe how the capitalist empire, or in Perkins’s term – the ‘corporatocracy’- may be regulating life:
“… the new ‘biopolitical nature of the new paradigm of power…bio-power is a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it. Power can achieve an effective command over the entire life of the population only when it becomes an integral, vital function that every individual embraces and reactivates of his or her own accord… The highest function of this power is to invest life through and through, and its primary task is to administer life. Biopower thus refers to a situation in which what is directly at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself.”
This form of power however does not stop with the ‘corporatocracy,’ rather it is only an institutional apparatus that employs part of it. The other part is us; those individuals outside the ‘corporatocracy’ who often live in poverty and towards the bottom of the inequality spectrum, but who nevertheless have taken up the project of crafting ourselves in its image – the so called “Davos Man” who longs for hegemonic masculinity. As one Foucaudian scholar says, “…in neo-liberalism, one saw the emergence of formulae of power that not only postulated, but also sought to create, certain forms and spaces of self-government, self-regulation, and self-responsibility.”
Thus neo-liberalism, as the ideology of what is probably already a global empire – the ‘corporatocracy’– is infusing persons all over the globe with a desire for masculinity, but this exists in a context where the role of women is still tied to reproductive labor, health and human welfare, and where reproduction of life is both directly at stake and seen as secondary to the masculinized drive towards wealth and power. Tied to this masculinity, although it creates a “self-responsibility,” is the notion of corporate “non-responsibilty” for reproduction, and thus it is our responsibility to take up a “self –responsibility” for empowering reproduction. Hardt and Negri say that our “…political task… is not simply to resist these [biopolitics but] to reorganize them and redirect them toward new ends…[to] one day take us through and beyond ‘Empire.’”This also means making men more responsible for reproduction. In an empire where “…women [are] often as much “producers” as “reproducers,”men should take a more prominent role in providing for reproduction.
IV.III Empower Women
In Latin America, state welfare programs, such as Mexico’s cash transfer program and Familias en Acción [FA] in Columbia, are already using women’s empowerment as strategy for reducing poverty, although anchoring the program in traditional gender roles. The main objectives of these programs are to “… increase human capabilities of poor households… and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.” And thus far these programs are succeeding in their objectives. In “Social Policy for Poor Rural People in Colombia: Reinforcing Traditional Gender Roles and Identities?” María A. Farah Quijano explains that:
“The FA programme addresses the issue of poor women’s empowerment by giving them the option of receiving, managing and controlling cash benefit vouchers from the state.” “[It] gives cash subsidies to the poorest households with the object of providing an incentive for improving frequency and duration of attendance within education, and the health and nutrition of children from the poorest households, indigenous communities and families displaced as a result of violent internal conflict,… it is based on mothers, as FA gives them, and not fathers monetary benefit. Furthermore, mothers are the family members who bear the primary responsibility for carrying out the programme obligations.”
Quijano writes that while the program is anchored in traditional conceptions of women, most notably their role as mothers, and in this way it has re-traditionalized women as for those who participate, “…the success of their role depends upon the gender division of both reproductive and productive activities.” But she goes on to say that “…there are also cases in Paipa [Columbia] which illustrate different gender trends, such as husbands and wives making decisions together on domestic issues, men carrying out some domestic activities and care for children without help of wives, and women abandoning men.” Although these examples are compelling examples of women’s liberation, the program itself has achieved these only by empowering those women who already had such inclinations, but were only prevented from doing so by their lives before they entered the program. Or as, Quijano puts it, “…FA has built on changes in gender relationships which were already under way before the programme started, due to wider developments in the local economy.”
Labor in the informal sectors should also have the strategy of empowering women. Within the bio-political nature of the global economy “…under situations where the models of selfhood are imposed from outside, a certain self crafting is required…,” empowering individuals and groups in the realm of reproduction, for both men and women, is not only the best way to improve health and well being, it may also be a useful strategy for labor organizing in the informal sectors. And in turn, as a method of empowering women, in the informal sectors, women might be able to make their own empowerment their own goal. One example of this is those instances where mothers in the FA program better themselves and “realize that marital violence is an issue they do not have to accept, but which can be modified”
Furthermore, the program is flexible enough, in giving some men the option of taking on the program’s responsibilities that the reproductive role of men has increased in some households. One single father beneficiary was elected as a group’s spokes person, and according to Quijano, “… [m]any women admire him and say they would like to have a husband like him.” This shows a widening view of the role of fathers in reproductive labor, and these are the views unions should encourage in building social customs in the communities they wish to organize.
IV.IV Organize Informal Employment
Bishwapriya Sanyal in “Organizing the self-employed: the politics of the urban informal sector”, writes about the political implications of the urban informal sectors, or UIS, and highlights how sex roles can be helpful in pulling people together as an “axis of commonality”:
“The emergence of a growing number of poor women’s organizations in developing countries indicates that sex [or gender] can be a unifying factor, particularly when socially determined sex roles restrict the access of women to economic opportunities in the formal sector.”
Sanyal goes on to describe how the formal and informal sectors are not as separate as their titles suggest. Rather “[t]he two segments are neither disconnected nor distinctly different. For example, UIS firms often serve as subcontractors to firms in the formal economy.” And the informal sectors are “…not limited to any one type of activity, such as petty trading, but covers a heterogeneous set of activities, including repair work, light manufacturing, transport services and house-building. The only commonality among these diverse activities is that, in the UIS context, they are not legally established and hence are not subject to state regulations.” However, governments and USI are not so antagonistic to one another in all circumstances. Sanyal says that governments have begun “…devising policies to facilitate income and employment within the USI.” This shows how states may play a role in helping workers in the informal sectors.
Furthermore, according to Dan Gallin of the Global Labor Institute, organizing the informal sector is not only possible it, “serves the interests of the majority of workers worldwide” :
“Admittedly, the heterogeneous nature of employment relations, the difficulties of locating and contacting workers in informal employment and – in some instances – obstacles created by legislation make organizing difficult. However, unions also often underestimate the capacity of informal sector workers to organize themselves. Organizing in the informal sector is not missionary work amongst an amorphous and passive mass of individuals. On the contrary, it depends on the ability to reach out to groups of workers who are survival experts and therefore, in many cases, extraordinarily dynamic and resourceful.”
Gallen cautions that the informal sectors are not a transitory phenomenon as once thought but may be here to stay.That being so, organizing them to demand better pay and conditions must be a vital part of labor union strategy if they are to fight poverty and inequality effectively and if they are to play a unifying role in redirecting bio-power towards peace and justice. Not only must they empower women, and redefine masculinities to include a care for reproductive labor, the must also create new links across borders.
In “A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation-State” Masao Miyoshi describes the difficulty traditional, nationally concerned unions have with creating such links across borders. He says:
"[t]he transnational class is self-concerned, though aggressively extroverted in cross-border movement. Labor unions, which might be expected to offer assistance to workers, on the other hand, still operate within the framework of a national economy. It is at present simply unthinkable that transnational labor unions will take joint actions across national borders, equalizing their wages and working conditions with their cross-border brothers and sisters"
Despite Miyoshi’s pessimism there is hope. In “Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Organizing: The Guatemalan Maquiladora Industry and the Phillips Van Heusen Workers’ Movement”, Ralph Armbuster-Sandoval discusses a successful cross-border organizing campaign that overcame a history of labor repression in Guatemala, where workers overcame their distrust of North American Unions, and organized despite the new mobile nature of capital. As Armbuster-Sandoval explains:
“… capital mobility, especially in the highly mobile garment industry, where production facilities and factories can be easily moved. … [W]hen confronted with labor rights violations and labor organizing campaigns, The Gap and Phillips Van Heusen threatened to leave El Salvador and Guatemala, respectively. Both companies eventually backed down, but other garment manufacturers have simply cut their contracts with their overseas producers and moved to new countries.
Futhermore, there had been a history of “…repressive state-labor relations [that] also undermined the possibility of labor organizing. For example, Rigoberto DueĖas, Assistant General Secretary of the Confederación General de Trabajadores de Guatemala, stated, ‘the [Guatemalan] military attacked the labor movement over the last 35 years and it jailed and tortured many of its key leaders. These activities did not eliminate the movement, but they did drive it underground and left it very weak.’” This too was overcome, but also the workers had to get over their distrust of North American unions due to “…the long history of the AFL-CIO’s activities in Latin America.” As Armbuster-Sandoval explains:
“In the early 1960s, the AFL-CIO established the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) with funding from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and several multinational corporations. Over the next 25 years, AIFLD divided militant and left-leaning labor unions and established conservative unions and federations that supported U.S. economic and foreign policies in the region. For example, in El Salvador, it directly undermined labor federations that opposed its policies, bribed labor leaders, and labeled the Unidad Nacional de Trabajadores SalvadoreĖos a “guerrilla organization controlled by the Frente Farabundo Marti para Liberación Nacional (FMLN)”. These activities… created [a] lingering suspicion of the AFL-CIO in Latin America and [were] an important barrier to the establishment of cross-border labor linkages between U.S. and Latin American labor unions.”
Despite all these barriers to creating linkages with other labor organizers in the United States, organizers were able to come up with a new organizing model:
“[t]he PVH case illustrates that each structural barrier contained its own limitations. [The Sindicato de Trabajadores de Camosa (Union of Camosa Workers)] STECAMOSA developed a strategic cross-border labor organizing model that exploited some of these weaknesses. The model included a committed international trade secretariat, clandestine labor organizing, strong local union membership, trade and consumer pressure, the involvement of solidarity and labor rights organizations, and the manipulation of PVH’s corporate image.”
For example the STEMCAMOSA organizing campaign turned PVH’s own “carefully cultivated ‘socially responsible’ image…” against it at the beginning of negotiations. This choreographed and carefully planned campaign of labor organizing demonstrates the possibilities of creating links across borders and “…cross-border organizing and the negotiation of the only collective bargaining agreement in the Guatemalan Maquiladora industry were achieved.” The good news, according to Dan Gallen is that:
“…informal sector workers are already organizing, partly within existing union structures originating in the formal sector, partly into new unions created by themselves, partly into associations which are sometimes described as NGOs but which are often in fact protounions. International networks of informal sector workers already exist.”
New workers movements are even organizing against poor conditions and wages in China. Paul Mason, in his book “Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global”, uncovers a new underground labor movement erupting in China, “China, where strikes are technically illegal are becoming the strike center of the world.” One worker, Lou Chun-li, a female migrant worker from Hunan, describes how easy it was to strike:
“‘You just pass a tiny piece of paper along the production line with the word ‘strike’ on it, and people strike… ‘We just went onto the shop floor and when it was time to start work, we just sat there and did nothing.’”
“This is what the new Chinese labor movement looks like: lacking money, security and post-school education these young and mainly female volunteers are part of a massive change that’s sweeping the Chinese workforce.” So even at the bottom there is hope. It is our task to organize ourselves in opposition to injustice, to pull ourselves out of a race to the bottom by creating a new solidarity among all the working people of world. The central feature of this new solidarity should constitute a counter power against the “corporatocracy” and demand more for our reproduction.
V. Part Four: Conclusion
Taking globalization in a new direction is no easy task. Partly the difficulty rests on the collusion of states, corporations, and inter-governmental organizations such as the IMF and World Bank and their commitment to neo-liberalism. Together they assume that what is best for the “corporatocracy” is what is best for all, and that what is best for men is also best for women. Undermining these assumptions will be a vital step in redirecting these institutions’ prerogatives away from purely economic interests that maintain the ‘corporatocracy’ and their collusion may prove useful in advancing worker’s interests, women’s interests and even environmental interests.
It is important to realize that globalization is not a new phenomenon but a continuation in a long quest for global domination and has roots in Western expansion and colonialism. It is linked with the expansion of capitalist production which has now become a global model, as former communist countries have integrated with the global community and new technologies streamlined global trade and communication. With this expansion came the division of labor in terms of masculine and feminine. Taking globalization in a more equitable direction will have to undue this division of production and reproduction in face of the realities of modern society where these responsibilities are more often shared. Recognizing the historical context from which modern globalization has emerged reveals its discontinuities with modern society and provides a starting point for discussing where to take globalization in the future.
Neo-liberalism emerged as the dominant economic theory and maintained the gendered division of production and reproduction. Advancing the neo-liberal economic paradigm does not result in a more just and equitable world. Rather globalization has led to a greater divide between the rich and the poor and increased poverty especially in countries which specialize in an abundance of cheap labor. To shed light on these results and the damage it does to communities and cooperation in a global world is a vital step in permitting alternative economic and developmental models to permeate through the ranks of these institutions. From there globalization can take a new direction where the benefits of cooperation between these institutions are more evenly distributed.
The assumption is that neo-liberalism advances growth and development throughout the world through a process of “freemarketization” where state controls and supports aimed at providing for reproduction are dismantled to allow for an unconstrained capital flows. In reality most of the benefits of this economic model concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few powerful men. These men embody the hegemonic masculinity, an exclusive brand of masculinity based on a ruthless quest for power and wealth. They use the institutional structures of the “corporatocracy,” corporations, states, and inter-governmental organizations, to reinforce their power and domination over the global economy. For the vast majority of workers this is an unattainable goal and recognizing that may help workers band together rather than compete against one another.
Neo-liberalism has also set up a “race to the bottom” where countries with the worst working conditions, lowest pay, and workers rights maintain their advantage in cheap labor. Although the “race to the bottom” phenomenon is more accurately described as between poorer Southern countries, the World Bank and other inter-governmental organizations are reluctant to implement global labor standards due to their commitment to neo-liberalism. However, it is important to remember that these are publicly funded institutions that are not accountable to the public. Protest and petitioning can be helpful in making them more accountable as their funding ultimately comes from taxpayers.
Global labor standards would be a worthwhile strategy in overcoming the ‘race to the bottom,’ but the WTO is weary of the idea because they jeopardize a country’s comparative advantage. Therefore targeting inter-governmental with protest is not enough. Protests and boycotts directed at corporations have already been successful in getting corporations to improve the working conditions of their subcontractors. These campaigns are also helpful in creating linkages across borders, and the publicity they generate can help labor organizing across borders. Informal sector organizing has also been most effective when paired with publicizing corporate non-responsibility, and collusion with human rights organizations and other NGOs.
As workers and activists we should empower women in both their productive and reproductive roles to counter the hegemony of the “corporatocracy,” and re-empower men in a new direction of helping to provide for reproduction rather than encourage a quest for hegemony. By developing new labor organizing strategies suited for informal employment and a focus on women’s issues, we can counteract the “corporatocracy” rather than pinning our hopes on convincing the inter-governmental globalization organizations to implement global labor standards. Taking globalization in a new direction may not be easy, but unless we want the world’s workers caught in a vicious ‘race to the bottom’ and competeing against one another in a hopeless quest for hegemony, where women shoulder the burdens of inequality and poverty, it is something that we must do in the next century.
Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt, Empire (Cambridge: First Harvard UP) (2000), available at Angelfire.com. Web. 3 Apr. 2011, available at http://www.angelfire.com/cantina/negri/HAREMI_unprintable.pdf.
Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat (Picador) (2005).
Paul Mason, Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global (Haymarket) (2010).
John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Plume) (2006).
Paul Rabinow, The Essential Foucault (The New Press) (2003).
John Rapley, Globalization and Inequality: Neo-liberalism’s Downward Spiral (Lynne Rienner Publishers) (2004).
Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents. (W.W. Norton & Company) (2003).
Joan Acker, Gender, Capitalism and Globalization, 30 Critical Sociology 17-41 (January 2004).
Ralph Armbuster-Sandoval, Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Organizing: The Guatemalan Maquiladora Industry and the Phillips Van Heusen Workers’ Movement, 26 Latin Am. Persp. 108 (1999), available at, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2634297.
Elvia Arriola, Voices From the Barbed Wires of Despair: Women in the Maquiladoras, Latina Critical Legal Theory, and Gender at the U.S.-Mexico Border, 49 Depaul L. Rev. 729, (2004).
Alison Booth, The Free Rider Problem and a Social Custom Model of Trade Union Membership, 100 Q. J. Econ., 253-61. (Jan. 1985), available at, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1885744.
Anita Chan, Labor Standards and Human Rights: The Case of Chinese Workers Under Market Socialism, 20 Hum. Rts. Q. 886-904, (1998).
L. Cheng, Globalization and Women’s Paid Labour in Asia, 51 Int’l Soc. Sci. J. 217-28, (1999).
Dan Gallin, Propositions on Trade Unions and Informal Employment in Times of Globalisation, 33 Antipode 531-49, (2001).
James Heintz, Rethinking Global Labor Standards: Controversies, Constraints, and Possibilities, 16 Good Soc’y 65-72, (2007).
Rebecca Holmes & Rachel Slater, Conditional Cash Transfers: What Implications for Equality and Social Cohesion? The Experience of Oportunidades in Mexico, Gov’t Soc. Dev. (2007), available at http://epic.programaeurosocial.eu/files/18-ficha-completa-eng.pdf.
Masao Miyoshi, A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation-State, 19 Critical Inquiry 726-51, (1993), available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343904
Maria A. Quijano, Social Policy for Poor Rural People in Columbia: Reinforcing Traditional Gender Roles and Identities?, 43 Soc. Pol’y & Admin. 397- 408, (2009), available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9515.2009.00670.x/abstract.
Robert Ross, Reframing the Issue of Globalization and Labor Rights, Revised from Presentation at the Political Economy of World-Systems 2002 Conference, University of California at Riverside, available at www.irows.ucr.edu/conferences/pews02/pprross.doc.
Bishwapriya Sanyal, Organizing the Self-Employed: The Politics of the Urban Informal Sector, 130 Int’l Lab. Rev. 39, (1991), available at web.mit.edu/sanyal/www/articles/Self-Employed.pdf.
Ajit Singh & Ann Zammit, Labour Standards and the ‘Race to the Bottom’: Rethinking Globalization and Workers’ Rights from Developmental and Solidaristic Perspectives, 20 Oxford Rev. Econ. Pol’y 1, (2004).
Robert Wade, Is Globalization Reducing Poverty and Inequality?, 32 World Dev. 1, (2004).
Anita Chan, A “Race to the Bottom” , China Perspectives, 46 (March-April 2003), available at http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/259.
Richard Freeman, The Great Doubling: The Challenge of the New Global Labour
Market, (2006), available at http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/webfac/eichengreen/e183_sp07/great_doub.pdf.
King, Martin L. Jr.. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, African Studies Ctr – Univ. PA (April 16, 1963), available at http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.
 Joan Acker, Gender, Capitalism and Globalization, 30 Critical Sociology 17-41, at 3 (January 2004).
 Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt, Empire, at 225, (Cambridge: First Harvard UP) (2000), available at Angelfire.com. Web. 3 Apr. 2011,http://www.angelfire.com/cantina/negri/HAREMI_unprintable.pdf.
 Id., at xv
 Acker at 17.
 Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat (Picador) (2005), at 10.
 Acker at 29.
 Id at 25-26.
 Id at 25.
 Friedman at 10.
 Acker at 25-26..
 Richard Freeman, The Great Doubling: The Challenge of the New Global Labour
Market, at 1, (2006), available at http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/webfac/eichengreen/e183_sp07/great_doub.pdf.
 Acker at 21.
 Acker at FN. 4.
 Acker at 26.
 Id. at 29.
 John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, at 23, (Plume) (2006).
 Acker at 29.
 Id., at 30.
 Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents. , at 12, (W.W. Norton & Company) (2003).
 Id. at 12-13.
 Id., at 13.
 Id., at 14.
 Stiglitz at page 44.
 Perkins at 17-18.
 Id., at xx.
 Id., at xxv.
 Stiglitz at 42.
 Acker at 31.
 Id., at 20.
 Id., at 26.
 Robert Wade, Is Globalization Reducing Poverty and Inequality?, 32 World Dev. 1, at 2, (2004).
 Stiglitz, at 53.
 Acker, at 35.
 Wade, at 1.
 James Heintz, Rethinking Global Labor Standards: Controversies, Constraints, and Possibilities, 16 Good Soc’y 65-72, at 65 (2007).
 Stigliz at 54.
 Stiglitz, at 5.
 Wade at 7.
 Id., at 5.
 Id., at 6-7.
 Id., at 7.
 Perkins at 16.
 Wade at 8.
 Id. at 13.
 Id. at 16.
 Id. at 12.
 Id. at 16.
 John Rapley, Globalization and Inequality: Neo-liberalism’s Downward Spiral (Lynne Rienner Publishers) at 6, (2004).
 Id. at 3.
 Ajit Singh & Ann Zammit, Labour Standards and the ‘Race to the Bottom’: Rethinking Globalization and Workers’ Rights from Developmental and Solidaristic Perspectives, 20 Oxford Rev. Econ. Pol’y 1, at 93, (2004).
 Singh at 87.
 Robert Ross, Reframing the Issue of Globalization and Labor Rights, at 8, Revised from Presentation at the Political Economy of World-Systems 2002 Conference, University of California at Riverside, available at www.irows.ucr.edu/conferences/pews02/pprross.doc.
 Id at 86.
 Id. at 96.
 Heintz at 70.
 Dan Gallin, Propositions on Trade Unions and Informal Employment in Times of Globalisation, 33 Antipode 531-49, at 533 (2001).
 Id., at 534.
 Id., at 535.
 Acker at 25-26.
 Gallen at 535.
 Singh, at 86
 Ross, at 2.
 Heintz at 65.
 Singh at 86.
 Id. at 89.
 Heintz 65.
 Singh at 86.
 Ross at 5.
 Id. at 12-13.
 Id. at 16.
 Anita Chan, A “Race to the Bottom” , China Perspectives, 46 (March-April 2003), at 2, available at http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/259.
 Id. at 5.
 Id., at 6.
 Anita Chan, Labor Standards and Human Rights: The Case of Chinese Workers Under Market Socialism, 20 Hum. Rts. Q. 886-904, at 888 (1998).
 Elvia Arriola, Voices From the Barbed Wires of Despair: Women in the Maquiladoras, Latina Critical Legal Theory, and Gender at the U.S.-Mexico Border, 49 Depaul L. Rev. 729, at 766 (2004).
 King, Martin L. Jr.. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, African Studies Ctr – Univ. PA (April 16, 1963), at 1, available at http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.
 Hardt at 23-4.
 Anita Chan, Labor Standards and Human Rights: The Case of Chinese Workers Under Market Socialism, 20 Hum. Rts. Q. 886-904, at 901-2, (1998).
 King Jr. at 3
 King Jr. at 1 and 5.
 Alison Booth, The Free Rider Problem and a Social Custom Model of Trade Union Membership, 100 Q. J. Econ., 253-61, at253 (Jan. 1985), available at, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1885744.
 Id., at 253-4.
 Id., at 255-7.
 King Jr., at 5.
 Id., at 3.
 Hardt at 23-4.
 Rabinow, at xxx.
 Hardt, at xv.
 Acker at 7-8
 See generally Maria A. Quijano, Social Policy for Poor Rural People in Columbia: Reinforcing Traditional Gender Roles and Identities?, 43 Soc. Pol’y & Admin. 397- 408, (2009), available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9515.2009.00670.x/abstract.
 Rebecca Holmes & Rachel Slater, Conditional Cash Transfers: What Implications for Equality and Social Cohesion? The Experience of Oportunidades in Mexico, Gov’t Soc. Dev. at 2, (2007), available at http://epic.programaeurosocial.eu/files/18-ficha-completa-eng.pdf.
 Id. at 18.
 Quijano at 3.
 Id. at 2.
 Id. at 3.
 Id. at 4.
 Paul Rabinow, The Essential Foucault at xxi, (The New Press) (2003).
 Quijano at 3.
 Bishwapriya Sanyal, Organizing the Self-Employed: The Politics of the Urban Informal Sector, 130 Int’l Lab. Rev. 39, at 45-47, (1991), available at web.mit.edu/sanyal/www/articles/Self-Employed.pdf.
 Id., at 47.
 Id., at40.
 Id., at 41.
 Id., at 54.
 Gallen at 532.
 Id. at531
 Id. at 531-2.
 Masao Miyoshi, A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation-State, 19 Critical Inquiry 726-51, at 746, (1993), available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343904
 Ralph Armbuster-Sandoval, Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Organizing: The Guatemalan Maquiladora Industry and the Phillips Van Heusen Workers’ Movement, 26 Latin Am. Persp. 108, at 109-11, (1999), available at, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2634297.
 Id., at 110.
 Id., at 111.
 Id., at 122.
 Id., at 120-1.
 Id., at 121.
 Gallen at 540.
 Paul Mason, Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global, at 2, (Haymarket) (2010).
 Id., at 1-2.
 See Stiglitz, supra note 26, at 12.
 See Chan, supra note 99, at 901.
 See Armbuster-Sandoval, supra note 138, at 122.