Globalization (s) and Labour in China and India  Introductory Reflections

, by  Global Labour Journal, HARRISS John

John Hariss’ introduction to the special issue on Globalization in the Global Labour Journal provides an effective overview and comparison of labour issues in China and India. Primarily, it looks at the different stresses and responses that organized labour and the broader working classes of the two ‘emerging giants.’ Given that the article is an introduction to a special issue on labour and globalization in China and India, it references and compares the other articles in the series. It does, however, also offer its own analysis of the respective challenges through a Polanyian lens. Overall, it outlines a theme that has been common among other contemporary literature on this subject: the paradoxically higher level of social action in the semi-authoritarian China as compared to the freer India. The article asserts a departure from the liberal model based on a social transformation and demands from the organized left.

In surveying the works submitted for the issue, Harriss makes a couple of general observations on labour action in the two examined countries. Chinese worker protest appear to be increasing in frequency and radicalism, a trend that is corroborated by other contemporary literature. Like the Chan (2009) article, because of the nature of migrant workers from different villages working together in industrial villages, there is an increased opportunity for class-consciousness. However, there is no evidence of an organized counter-movement from the workers, but rather a ‘counter-movement from above’ in the form of the government’s development strategy of a ‘Harmonious Society,’ apparently to curb any emergence of a popular movement.

In India, there is a similar dynamic developing. With the crisis of the agricultural economy, the all-too-familiar story of suicidal farmers is touched on briefly. Harriss comments on how there has been a noticed increase in farmer suicides, but asks the important question on why they are resorting to that option, rather than mobilizing. Thirty years ago, when agriculture was still a cornerstone of the economy, the richer landowners and peasants would unite to mobilize for state assistance, but as profitability declined, so did the interest and numbers of richer landowners, therefore eliminating the chance for cross-class mobilization. This leaves farmers on their own and without any options. As for organized labour, while there hasn’t been a huge attack on already in place labour laws, there have been some brutal repressions of workers actions. On the surface, there have been some important concessions like National Rural Employment Guarantee or initiatives to support informal sector workers with formal state assistance.

Central to this paper is the idea of the ‘counter-revolution from above’ in as a reaction to the perceived growing number of potentially revolutionary classes. For China, Hu Jintao’s vision of a ‘harmonious society’ and the social reforms that go along with it is the reaction from the top. For India, reforms are said to be guided by ‘compassion and justice.’ Faced with the threat of a growing number of disenfranchisement among workers competing for less jobs (the Hensman article in this same series quotes 500, 000 in October-December alone in India), and with a continued integration into the global economy, the two examined states have turned to a find ways to mitigate any development of a coherent and conscious Left.

That observation is congruent with the Polanyi’s double-movement. That is to say, primitive accumulation of labour leading to an industrial transition can not happen in the globalized context; there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone to make be employed in the productive sectors, leading to programs like China’s universalized health care and India’s rural employment guarantee. One concrete example of this is the issued of peasants losing their land through economic transformation (be it intensification of agriculture, development, urbanization). When a peaseant is stripped of their land, they are also stripped of their livelihood. The argument advanced in this paper is that the current context of capitalist development means that it is unlikely that they be absorbed into the replacement sectors of growth. Harriss argues that it has become socially unacceptable to not help those peasants resettle. The same goes for re-training centers in China outlined by Chan (2009). Whether it be health care reform in China, or attempts to extend government assistance to the informal sector in India, Harriss asserts that the integration of not only economic, but also social interests in the wake of neoliberal policies have created an interesting dynamic: integration that leads to primitive accumulation coupled with a counter-balance of social policies that reverse the effects of it.

Review of Harriss, J. (2010). Globalization ( s ) and Labour in China and India : Introductory Reflections. Global Labour Journal, 1(1), 3-11.