Plenary speakers

Keynote speakers ILPC 2022

Rutvica Andrijasevic 


Just-in-time’ Labour: A Temporal Approach to the Transnational Labour Process

This talk will argue for the need to investigate the temporal dimension of transnational labour process in order to account more fully for the changing nature of capitalist production and related forms of labour control. The argument I put forward is that attention to space in the analysis of the transnational labour process needs to be matched by attention to time. A temporal approach makes visible diverse ways in which capital deploys time to reorganize and expand, and keep labour enrolled within regimes of capital accumulation. To illustrate my argument, I will examine how the so-called ‘just-in-time’ (JIT) model, typical of automobile and electronics manufacturing, is operationalized so as to synchronize the supply of labour to JIT production. Firstly, I will discuss the role played by labour intermediaries in supplying firms with migrant labour to produce ‘what is needed, at the time needed and in the quantity needed’, as per JIT logic. Secondly, I will scrutinize how collective worker dormitories reduce ‘unproductive time’ by merging productive and reproductive spaces and how they function as repositories of migrant labour that enable firms to meet the needs of the fluctuating demands of production. I will suggest that these attempts to transpose JIT temporality onto the world of labouring bodies are best understood as materialization of an ‘economic-utilitarian’ philosophy of time that posits time as instantaneous, simultaneous, and entirely calculative thus unhinging time from the flux of everyday life and from the social relations of reproduction. Finally, when migrant workers reject ad-hoc work scheduling, firms’ commandeering of their off-work time, and relentless downward pressure on wages and working conditions, they assert their ‘temporal autonomy’ and expose that struggle over working conditions is, increasingly, a struggle over time.

Guglielmo Meardi


Segregating Workers on Ethnic Lines: Who does it and why it is a problem

Ethnic segregation at work continues to prosper in advanced economies, despite growing legislative and policy efforts to eradicate discrimination, and the flourishing of business pledges to equality. In the absence of universal protection or in case presence of regulatory gaps, employers can reduce labour costs by exploiting the more vulnerable workers, in a form of ‘price discrimination’ that extracts the most from each demographic group depending on their social resources and on their relative preferences. Yet pay considerations alone would not entirely explain why segregation is so entrenched even at times of overall wage decline, nor the ‘other side’ of segregation, ie the enduring preference for (higher-wage) national/ethnic majority workers when they could be replaced too. Consideration of different aspects of the labour process and of different actors is required for a more fine-grained understanding of when, how and why segregation occurs, as well as to design possible responses to it. In addition, new organisational forms and technologies (platforms, remote working) change the scope of competition between different groups and the opportunities for segmentation. The dynamics of segmentation and of ethnic hierarchies at work in recent decades point at complex and changing workplace politics of (in)equality, which interact with changing migration policies and debates at the macro level, as well as with other changing lines of segregation such as gender. The proposed reflection starts from a reflection on the theoretical debates on segmentation to put forward an updated version of Piore’s seminal work that can incorporate the complexity of different levels, actors and geographies. Illustrative examples are drawn from construction, shipbuilding, and service sectors, in particular from Southern Europe in the attempt to explain why these countries, despite fewer historical legacies of slavery or formal racial segregation than other advanced economies, have some of the most ethnically segregated labour markets.

Ruth Milkman


Beyond Trump: Immigrants and Labor Organizing in the 21st Century

Immigrant labor organizing in the United States has faded from scholarly and public attention in recent years, in contrast to its high profile in the 1990s and early 2000s. Immigration slowed to a trickle after the 2008 financial crash, and efforts to win a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents were blocked by formidable political obstacles even before Donald Trump’s unexpected rise to power.  During his presidential campaign and then in office, Trump promulgated a narrative blaming the misfortunes of U.S.-born whites on low-wage immigrant workers.  This immigrant threat narrative galvanized large segments of the white working class and captivated public and media attention. The immigrant rights movement was thrown into a defensive crouch, while organized labor was preoccupied with declining union density and internal divisions within its ranks.  Immigrant organizing continued in many “blue” cities and states, with some notable successes, but remained modest in scale and largely under the radar.

Under Biden, immigration reform remains elusive, amid a renewed influx of immigrants and refugees. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has made “essential workers,” many of them foreign-born, increasingly visible.  The pandemic crisis has also generated growing public sympathy for workers and unions, helping fuel a notable spike in rank-and-file militancy.  This offers a fresh opportunity to focus attention on the employer strategies and accompanying public policies that caused the reversal of fortune the U.S.-born working class suffered in recent decades, enabling progressives to counter the still-potent immigrant threat narrative and craft organizing strategies that highlight the shared interests of immigrants and other workers.

Pun Ngai


 Contextualizing infrastructural capitalism through the Chinese high-speed rail’s double logic and class conflicts

“It’s a China thing!”-- High-speed rail is portrayed as an epochal project by China’s mass media signifying the rise of China and its superiority of constructing alternative capitalism in the contemporary moment. To conceptualize the capitalist dynamics of the contemporary moment as infrastructural capitalism and their relationship to social and labour conflicts, this paper moves beyond a dichotomous constellation of the logic of capital and the territorial logic of power, and argues that these two logics, in the context of China, are not only closely intertwined, but also work as a double logic attempting to resolve the economic crisis and accelerate China’s fast speed capitalism. In this article, we argue that the Chinese spatial economic system is not an alternative to capitalism but, at best, is a variegated form of capitalism, which we call infrastructural capitalism—a reaction to neoliberal capitalism shaped largely by the dual logic of territorial power and capital. Illuminating the dialectical relationship between the geographies of capitalism and labour, this article highlights the political role of the infrastructural projects in creating invisible social contradictions, resulting in a wide array of affected working-class masses to take individual and collective actions.

Last modified: Saturday, 5 February 2022, 10:52 AM