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The Politics of Labour and Development – Call for Papers – 2011

2 December, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Global Labour University is pleased to announce a call for papers  for the 2011 conference on “The Politics of Labour and Development” to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from September 28 to 30, 2011.

The global economic crisis has had a particularly hard-hitting impact  on working people, their families and communities throughout the  world. What is more, they also face an environmental crisis that is  closely linked to the economic crisis. Together, these crises have  intensified the dispossession of the commons (including both local resources and public goods such as health and education), the
informalisation of labour, unemployment, national and global social inequality, and the “slummification” of cities.  Declining  biodiversity, climate change and pollution are evidence of the impact of the crisis on the planet itself. Environmental degradation  threatens viable livelihoods and endangers public health. Meanwhile the market imperatives get defining power over daily life, business interests tighten their stranglehold on the state logic and power is transferred to supranational institutions with limited democratic accountability, simultaneously narrowing electoral choices, and increasingly restrictions on protest.

Labour, as a key social force of the excluded majority, has a crucial role to play in countering the destructive logics of capitalism.  The
politics of labour is about altering the balance of power away from capital and unelected bureaucracies toward labour and broader  society.  The politics of labour is also about overcoming the multiple relations of power and oppression, including the economic, political, gender, ethnic and cultural, that contribute to and reproduce the power of the few and the subordination of the many. This has the following dimensions:

1)      The workplace imperative: Labour’s attempts to reverse the declining wage share and extract as much of the social surplus created
through mobilisation for higher wages and better working conditions, as can be seen in the recent strike wave in South Africa and other
parts of the world. This is especially important as rising inequality has devastating effects on society, as more and more people are pushed to margins of production and consumption patterns.  For example, this includes issues of the distribution of productivity growth, minimum wages and basic income grants as well as policy issues of taxation and redistribution.

2)      New forms of power or leverage: With rising unemployment and increasing numbers of workers pushed into precarious forms of work, traditional sources of power are eroded, but new forms of power are being explored, often by the most marginalized and sectors traditionally ignored by labour movements.  Labour’s links to other social forces is crucial here.  This also raises questions about who  constitutes the working class, with wider understandings of labour increasingly finding salience in innovative movements around the  world.  The development of transnational linkages and networks is also an important dimension to the development of new forms of power and leverage.

3)      The policy imperative: Labour’s attempts, often in alliance with other groups in civil society, to pressure governments to  increase the social wage (public health, education, transport, housing, etc.), increase employment and change economic (and slowly  environmental) policy accordingly.  For example, what would a “green new deal” look like? We also encourage papers that look at the
conversion of industrial production into alternative forms of production and consumption as well as papers looking at ecological  issues. What are the most effective ways to develop pro-working class policy?  Corporatism seems to have spread, rather than declined, in the neo- liberal era: what is its balance sheet?

4)      Political parties, alliances and trade union organizations,  and political power: Labour’s attempts to directly alter the balance  of state power, either

a.      through alliances with ruling political parties,
b.      through the reorganization of trade union organizations and  strategies,

c.      through the development of alternative organizations and alliances with other movements in civil society, or

d.      through building movements that refuse to participate in the state, but are willing to pressure it for reforms.


This raises questions about the role of labour—as a reforming force,  as a legitimating function that hindersmore radical challenges to  state power, or as a central actor in building an alternative to the  destructive logic of capitalist development.  The nature of political alliances and forms of mobilizing are vital issues that are being experimented on in various regions of the world (e.g., many movements
in Latin America, South Korean marginalized workers, etc.). It also raises questions about international approaches to global governance.

5)      The economic imperative. Within the neoliberal framework, competitiveness becomes more aggressive and self-destructing through currency manipulation, quantitative easing, wage dumping, trade barriers, devaluation etc. Is there space for economic policy
nationally and internationally that avoids the disadvantages of a competitive race to the bottom or a retreat in isolated economic  nationalism?

6)      Alternative forms of production, consumption and redistribution: This raises questions about what are alternative forms  of production and consumption.  For example, worker cooperatives,  microcredit/microfinance projects (including its problems for informal sector workers), local agricultural production, and solidarity economy alternatives have emerged around the world.

We welcome submissions for papers on any of these themes.  While we encourage submission of papers that broadly fit into the themes, we  will also consider papers that do not fit directly into one of the  themes as long as they address the broad focus of the conference. The  GLU encourages policy orientated research and therefore welcomes  submissions that not only analyses the problem, but also offer some  policy initiatives and solutions for debate.

Please send a one page abstract (which includes your methodological  approach) by January 30, 2011 to Pulane Ditlhake at Glu.SouthAfrica@wits.ac.za and Michelle Williams at michelle.williams@wits.ac.za



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