“The aim of my Fellowship is to engage in six months of learning across the boundaries of my own academic discipline of political economy with researchers at two leading international centres in Argentina and Chile. I will observe and acquire novel methodological tools and techniques developed locally in the sociology and anthropology of work and labour, advancing my own research agenda. The intention is to utilise these close collaborations to develop a unique and distinctive comparative methodological approach for working with labour activists to understand the impact of austerity and workplace transformation on labour organisation and mobilisation in these countries.”
In today’s post Dr. Valeria Guarneros-Mesa reflects on the recent electoral victory in Mexico of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. She argues that ‘AMLO’s’ victory is an important win for the Latin American left that is likely to follow a Lula-style “progressive neoliberal” agenda, rather than a revolutionary “Chavista-Bolivarian” one. Valeria also points to some of the likely frailties of AMLO’s project to redistribute wealth and battle corruption, such as the institutional embeddedness of corruption and deep-seated tendencies to “caudillista” leadership. She argues that the best hope for counter-acting these is for MORENA (the coalition led by AMLO) to maintain and strengthen ties with civil society and critical social movements.
By 10:30pm of 1 July 2018, preliminary electoral results started to indicate that Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the winner of the Mexican presidential election. AMLO, the candidate for the Together We Will Make Histoty coalition (composed of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), Social Encounter Party, and the Labour Party) won with almost 53% of the votes, while obtaining a majority in Congress and the Senate. Commentators have underlined the results as a historical moment for Mexican politics and its electoral democracy. The results caused moments of exhilaration and joy for a majority of the population and revived hope in Latin America’s left. But for many others, this was a moment of anguish, disappointment and concern as they envisaged the challenges that a fragmented and violent Mexico will bring, accompanied by the unfounded fear by liberal-conservatives that Mexico will become another Venezuela, another dictatorship.
The immediate comments, after the preliminary results were published, underlined the effectiveness of the electoral democratic institutions in so far as the incumbent party, PRI, and the other traditional parties, PAN and PRD, were recognising their loss and congratulating AMLO for his victory. AMLO’s presence in Mexico City’s Zocalo late that evening was accompanied by words of gratitude that were emotive and fulfilling people’s hope. AMLO’s reiteration that his government was to be ruled by three principles: ‘not lying, not stealing and not betraying the people’ seem to mark a clear distinction against the political corrupt oligarchy of the PRI, PAN and PRD. These warm words, however, did not reassure people who experienced political violence during the day of the election in cities of Jalisco and Puebla States.
AMLO is unlikely to follow Chavismo’s Bolivarian Revolution of the 21st Century. Instead, it is more likely that he follows the steps of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, through redistribution of wealth, while maintaining a ‘progressive’ neoliberal economic approach that promotes global trade and finance with regards to commodities.
Two elements provide an indication to make this a credible argument (but see Financial Times for a contrary view). The first is the fact that the core of the old oligarchy that supported Salinismo began to support AMLO’s candidacy few weeks before the elections. Salinismo (1988-1994) was the presidential period in which neoliberal economic polices reached their peak and when NAFTA was signed.
These new alliances indicate that AMLO obtained their support in exchange of continuation with neoliberalism and to counter the threats that NAFTA’s dissolution cast upon the country’s current economy. His book ‘La salida’ also shows cosmetic modifications to the wave of privatisations in the education and energy sectors introduced in the post-2012 years.
The second is AMLO’s attachment to the corrupt machinery that has permeated Mexican politics. Several individuals supporting his campaign have had records of embezzlement, hence the likely assumption that these common and corrupt practices will begin to infiltrate the good intentions that AMLO’s persona insists to tackle.
The lack of transparency in selecting MORENA’s candidates for several political local posts has been one of the main criticisms against AMLO’s inability to break with clientelism and co-optation. On the one hand, this forms part of the tactics the mafia’s political system relies on and; on the other hand, it breaks with any channels of communication held with social movements that gave birth to MORENA, let alone with those that sit more on the radical spectrum of the Left and which are key to bring into account AMLO’s government and other political and economic institutions.
Civil society and its activism have been considered the main axis to counter the continuation of neoliberal politics and corruption. However, progressive critics sustain that civil society is not ready to scrutinise government. Social movements have used different repertoires of action that include fighting the Mexican state (i.e. Zapatismo and its legacies), collaborating and negotiating with it (clientelism and co-optation) and, more recently, recurring to socio-legal action to sue the state abuses against human rights of indigenous and other marginalised communities.
However, mobilisations’ multiple repertoires of action to counter the state in intermittent ways are not including mechanisms of scrutiny and oversight that the political system requires to minimise impunity, beyond the state’s own reforms to its judicial and prosecution systems. Although this type of experience from civil society is not inexistent (for example, Artículo 19 or Instituto de Acción Ciudadana para la Justicia y Democracia), it is quite fragmented and too small to counter the great machinery of state corruption.
AMLO’s administration will encounter another challenge with regards to its leadership. As all good charismatic leaders in Latin America, the figure of a single, strong ‘caudillo’ is a formula that all political leaders instinctively pursue. This has been observed from Simon Bolivar fighting Spanish colonialism, to Fidel Castro’s communism and Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. AMLO will be no different, especially as his leadership derives from this same understanding. The problem is that this type of leadership suffers from the Lionel Messi curse of overperformance, observed in the 2018 World Cup match Argentina vs Croatia, where the latter won by 3-0 as the whole Argentine team was relying on Messi to score.
If MORENA and its coalition are to be able to transcend, a cadre of multiple leaders must be prepared to relay AMLO. It is precisely this lack of shared leadership that has led ‘pink tide’ front-runners Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales to organise referenda to make constitutional changes that allow presidential re-elections and prolong their periods in office. Centralisation of power, while a new successor is appointed, is likely to become a tactic to which AMLO may recur to if his admnistation is not watched closely.
Finally, if AMLO’s administration is to transcend, it is because it is not left alone, the internationalisation of what is happening at the grassroots level, within and against the state, must be recognised. His administration has not only to maintain open and transparent channels of communication with social movements, civil society groups and ordinary citizens and build a shared leadership; but also, initiatives that prompt these grassroots to contribute to the broader ‘transnational social class’ -which has aimed to challenge decisions that tend to benefit the traditional neoliberal oligarchy -shall be encouraged by his administration.
If his coalition is genuinely wanting to become a motor of historical transformation, as opposed to just ‘the left of the institutionalised right’, relationships with other international Left parties, which have been more genuine to include grassroots and establish links with social movements, (i.e. Corbynism and DiEM25) have to be consolidated, alongside the emblematic Latin American spaces created by the World Social Forum and Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas-People’s Trade Agreement. A recognition and acceptance of international groups’ criticisms against the state’s human rights abuses and violence, must be included in his government plans, which unfortunately have been a moot topic in AMLO’s campaign.
Valeria Guarneros-Meza is Reader in Politics and Public Policy, De Montfort University and a CURA member.
Since mid-2000s theories of network governance in public policy have been criticised for overlooking power relations and conflict in everyday practice. The workshop seeks to build upon these criticisms through the discussion on urban/peri-urban infrastructures. This topic is timely as several world regions are facing continuous pressure generated from clashes between global capitalism and the environment across urban and quasi-urban localities and which involve continuous relationships between state and non-state actors throughout several stages of the policymaking process. However, local specificities have rendered these relationships diverse despite the first impressions of similarity that global contextual factors portray.
Building upon debates from an interdisciplinary perspective (public policy, geography, anthropology, law, sociology), the discussion of the workshop will depart from a methodological framework that touches upon issues on participation and human rights, conflict, social movements, expertise-depoliticization and the role of the state. The workshop aims to bring together academics who study these topics in Latin America and Europe.
The workshop has two main objectives, to:
- Analyse critically the current practices of governance in contexts of infrastructural investment in Europe (urban infrastructures) and Latin America (peri-urban, neo-extractivist infrastructures).
- Exchange methodologies and methods of data collection which could tease out the study of the complexities, scales and dimensions involved in participation and conflict that may result from, or are comparable to, the implementation of infrastructures.
The workshop’s speakers aim to create a novel dialogue based not on the comparison of similarity but on the potential learning from comparing difference. Some questions which may be guiding discussion are:
- How are (large) infrastructures coexisting alongside inequality and conflict/ violence?
- How do types/scales of conflict between state, businesses and community groups develop?
- Through what practices, connections or bridges are the urban and peri-urban (semi-rural) interweaving? Are these characterised by multi-scalarity?
- Are ideas and meanings the way forward to understand why states in the global south and north favour a corporatist agenda?
- Is situated agency the way forward to address the problems or working solutions that infrastructural investment underline across the north-south and urban-rural divides? What are its limitations?
- What are the meanings and values that frame environmental governance alongside (large) infrastructures?
To book a place please contact Valeria Guarneros-Meza email@example.com by 1 May 2017. Catering will be provided on both days.
|Thursday 11th May||Location: Hugh Aston 2.32 & 2.33, DMU|
|2.30pm – 2.45pm||Welcome/Registration
|2.45pm – 4.45pm||Session 1: Knowledge creation and infrastructures|
|Discursive constructions of noise and air: the environmental politics of airport expansion in France and the UK Prof. David Howarth (University of Essex) and Prof. Stephen Griggs (De Montfort University)|
|Energy landscapes in peri-urban areas: notes on Concepción, Chile Dr. Vanesa Castán Broto (University College London)
|4.45pm – 5.30||Wine reception|
|Friday 12th May||Location: Hugh Aston 2.32 & 2.33, DMU|
|9.30am – 11.00am||Session 2: Re-politicisation and citizen participation in urban infrastructures|
|Re-politicisation and civil society expertise in the UK’s high speed rail megaproject, HS2 Dr Dan Durrant (University College London)|
|Impact of citizen participation on drinking water and basic sanitation governance and management: Regional Analysis of Four Case Studies in Latin America Dr Ernesto Isunza Vera (CIESAS-Mexico/Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona)|
|11:.30am – 1.00pm||Session 3: Disobedience, conflict and violence (Chair: TBC)|
|Performing democratic engagement in climate disobedience actions in Europe Dr. Graeme Hays (Aston University)|
|Conversing with Goliath: Participation, mobilisation and repression in neo-extractivist infrastructures, Mexico Dr.Gisela Zaremberg and team (Facultad Lationoamericana de Ciensas Sociales, Mexico)|
|1.00pm – 2.00pm||Lunch|
In todays post, Adam Fishwick offers an overview of the main arguments and highlight some of the key empirical findings of research published recently in Geoforum. Co-authored with Ben Selwyn, the article discusses alternative models of development that go beyond the neoliberal and statist paradigms that dominate debate, and is based on two cases– the cordones industriales in 1970s Chile and empresas recuperadas in Argentina today – of “labour-centred development”.
The rise of the ‘Pink Tide’ of progressive left and left-of-centre governments in Latin America briefly offered us a set of seemingly new alternative models – from buen vivir in Ecuador to ‘Socialism in the 21st Century’ in Venezuela to ‘growth with equity’ in Argentina.
Yet with the stagnation and apparent collapse of these models, critics on the Left have begun to highlight the many underlying contradictions that the Pink Tide failed to address.
Whilst the ‘neo-developmentalist’ strategies adopted throughout the region have seen a growing level of state intervention favouring increased growth in domestic industrial sectors and some social welfare improvements, they have embedded deepening relations of exploitation, blocked and co-opted social movements that brought these governments to power, and sustained a socio-economic order over-written by neoliberal macroeconomics.
Put simply, the statist strategies of the last decade have – despite limited gains in distribution, welfare, and industrial restructuring – made little progress in overcoming many of the regressive features of the neoliberal development strategies of the 1980s and 1990s.
From this starting point, then, we offer a critique of Elite Development Theory (EDT) as it informs the neoliberal and statist political economy paradigms in Latin America (see Selwyn 2015, 2016 for a wider critique of EDT in development studies). Second, we present two cases of what we term labour-centred development (LCD) in its nascent forms.
Regarding the first, elite development theory can be identified with two dominant trends that run parallel to and have to some extent informed the last three decades of Latin American development.
The emergence of the Washington Consensus formalised in the 1980s and 1990s much of the emerging practice of development across Latin America, bringing with it a firm commitment to reducing states’ welfare spending and the removal of ‘labour market inflexibilities’. The result was a sharp reduction in redistribution towards the labouring classes and the direct and indirect repression of their capabilities to mobilise collectively across Latin America.
The response of Statist Political Economists to this position offered a stark challenge to the Washington Consensus that, for many, offered a real alternative model for development.
But the progressive claims of these statist approaches are problematic. Alice Amsden (1990), for example, describes how South Korean state-led development relied on ‘the world’s longest working week’ and ‘cheap labour’, also noting how ‘labour repression is the basis of late industrialization everywhere’. And, in his comparison of Brazil, South Korea, India, and Nigeria, Atul Kohli (2004) notes the significance of strict workplace discipline.
Recent state-led development in Latin America can also be seen in this light. Although led by left and left-of-centre governments, it often remains reliant on the restriction of workers’ mobilisation in the service of a state-led national development strategy.
Alternatively, then, we propose a view on development that directly privileges the agency of labour in pursuing and constructing what we term labour-centred development:
‘the core concerns for LCD analysis are not those of capital (how to secure accumulation), but those of labouring classes. These include workers’ ability to reproduce their wage labour outside work (i.e. to earn enough wages and have enough time to secure the basic necessities of life and to engage in culturally-enhancing activities such as socialising and education), extending to more free time (shorter working days) and more decision-making ability within the workplace (to reduce the burden of work)’ (Fishwick & Selwyn 2016)
We distinguish our perspective from the two strands of EDT inasmuch as we perceive the interests of the labouring classes as the starting point for alternative strategies of development. We highlight the often invisible and obfuscated dynamics of labour’s collective action and its role in producing unique developmental dynamics from within what Michael Lebowitz (1992, 2001) has termed ‘the political economy of the working class’.
Second, the two cases of LCD we discuss are drawn from distinct contexts – the revolutionary moment of the Allende government from 1970 to 1973 in Chile and the deep crisis and recovery of the Argentinian economy from 2001 to present – but both are demonstrative of the capability of labouring classes to construct real alternatives from below.
In assessing these cases, we highlight four factors: (1) growth and productivity (2) employment data (3) workplace organisation (4) production priorities. In each of these we analyse the contributions made by workers themselves, as well as the limitations that derive not from the internal failings of these cases of LCD, but from capital mobilising against them.
The cordones industriales in Chile were a powerful example of LCD that emerged under the socialist government of Salvador Allende in the early 1970s. Comprised of a small occupied factories and large plants incorporated into the state-led nationalisation programme – the ‘Area of Social Property’ – they saw workers organise against a growing employer boycott to establish new forms of control over process of production and distribution.
Mobilising under the Communist Party-inspired ‘battle for production’ slogan, they revitalised output and productivity levels in a range of leading industrial sectors, transforming work, the workplace, and the priorities of production in the process.
Drawing on examples from the textile sector with data gathered from a range of trade union publications and political pamphlets from the time, we show how large and small plants saw increased levels of output under workers’ control, raised employment and wage levels, and even the establishment of facilities aimed to support workers and their families.
Strict Taylorist and paternalist management hierarchies were rapidly replaced by participatory forms of organisation, with workplace assemblies and councils building on the participation programmes promoted by Allende to produce genuine worker participation and control over decisions ranging from output to supply and credit to production priorities. Factories even transformed their produce in direct service of the poor communities and neighbourhoods from which their workers came and which surrounded these workplaces.
Nevertheless, despite these embryonic forms of LCD, pressures both from the socialist government of Allende and pressures from outside restricted the expansion of these strategies. And, on 11 September 1973, they were directly targeted as nascent ‘Soviets’ by the military as it violently reversed many of the gains that had been achieved in these years.
The empresas recuperadas in Argentina are a crucial contemporary example of LCD, in which several hundred workplaces have been transformed into legal and semi-legal cooperatives by workers pushed to the brink of unemployment. Often established following a long period of struggle with first the original owner and later the state, these enterprises first emerged en masse in the aftermath of the 2001 financial crisis in the country.
Typically involving workers with little or no political experience or affiliation, the transformations to work and the workplace have been profound – from the introduction of equitable pay to cooperative networks of financing and supply to the transformation of work.
Drawing on a range of sources and data gathered by the Open Faculty Programme in Buenos Aires, we show how, in recent years, there have been some significant improvements in productivity and output under workers’ control, how wages and employment have improved in most these workplaces, and how, most importantly, workplaces have been transformed.
There has been an increase in democratisation on the factory floor, whilst the introduction of job rotation and new divisions between labour processes and the organisation of the working day have ‘humanised’ these workplaces. Links established between the factories and the neighbourhoods, moreover, have had a tangible impact on the lives of the labouring classes across these communities, as well as contributing to the defence of factory occupations.
Nevertheless, despite these important gains, pressures on the initial formation of the empresas recuperadas, as well as the ongoing influence of their relationship with the wider capitalist marketplace points to the limitations of these examples of LCD. There have been attempts to overcome these through new networks and institutions, but they remain in their early stages.
To conclude, then, in our paper we show that the paradigmatic perspectives on development fail to capture these important dynamics that can – and, as we show, often do – provide fertile ground for genuine alternative development strategies favouring the labouring classes.
To identify these processes, and to correctly situate and overcome their limitations, we argue for the need to look beneath both the regressive logics of neoliberal development and the ostensibly progressive strategies pursued by states. By identifying the independent practices of workers in seeking to shape their own world around them, we can begin to identify how a real ‘political economy of the working class’ can emerge in theory and in practice.
Adam Fishwick is a Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Public Policy in the Department of Politics and Public Policy and a core member of CURA at De Montfort University.
This post was originally published on the ‘Progress in Political Economy’ Blog and has been re-published here with their permission.
In the Americas austerity programmes are nothing new. Neither is the loss of sovereignty concerning economic and social policies. Think of Mexico’s debt crisis in 1982 which set off a range of structural adjustment plans focusing on spending cuts and privatization in the region, or think of Argentina in 2001, and the similarities to European crises and “crisis management” will jump to your eye. Or think of Chile, where the Pinochet dictatorship was representative of a liberalization laboratory deeply dependent on austerity measures and its repressive framing. Its imagery of necessities has carried on until today.
Now, there is talk of “intelligent austerity” supposedly needed to confront the structural reduction of growth in the region, based on the “end of the super cycle of raw commodities” (CEPAL). “Intelligent austerity” is supposed to avoid excessive cuts that would affect growth and thus taxes. The UN Economic Commission on Latin America (CEPAL) has warned that the cuts in (public) investment could lead to exactly that. So, austerity is once again on the table in Latin America.
One interesting example for renewed budgetary restraints on the national and the municipal level, considering the fall of commodity prices, is Colombia where one must ask what implications austerity politics has for the current peace process between the government and guerrillas. Three points can be made:
Firstly, the peace process hasn’t affected austerity measures even though original causes of the conflict have likely been exacerbated by cuts to public spending (extreme inequality, rural isolation, violent appropriation of land, missing life perspectives). Because of the fall of commodity prices of raw materials so central to Colombian the export structure, the cabinet has agreed to reduce the investment side of the national budget by 10 %. To combat the fiscal deficit is its central concern, especially since a fiscal balance-regulation was introduced in 2011; the Banco de la República’s high interest rates focus on inflation control. In 2016, the Santos government also tried to cut running costs by introducing an “Austerity Plan” for its own public administration personnel.
Secondly, austerity measures have not seriously undermined the exorbitant security budget. The armed conflict, interestingly enough, has never been presented as the costly undertaking it is, even though the expansion of the military budget between 2002 and 2015 in absolute terms is diametrically opposed to austerity – if you took the latter literally. The internal defence budget alone has revolved around 9 billion Euros since 2012 which are fed into the military fighting of guerrillas annually. Additionally one might consider costs of infrastructure damage. This makes it far more costly to maintain the war than to end it, even though the allegedly high payments to demobilized guerrillas were one point used by those opposing the peace deal subjected to referendum in October 2016. With this and other arguments focusing on the threats that FARC fighters represent to parts of society, the campaign for a ‘no’ vote succeeded . However the campaign leader, Álvaro Uribe, never mentioned that during his government term demobilized paramilitaries formerly involved in illegal economy were awarded ample support for setting up legal businesses.
Third, the politics of austerity deeply embedded in Colombian politics affect the chances for what we might call “sustainable” peace entwined with social justice. A transformative idea of peace which by definition encompasses social justice is hardly possible with an economic austerity policies, with so many people earning only minimum wage or being in long-term displacement with no realistic perspective to return to their villages. It is remarkable enough that the FARC guerrilla agreed to the peace process on the terms that the economic model as such would not be put under scrutiny. The agreements on agrarian reform might be far reaching but in a context favouring large-scale export focussed agrarian industries, where smaller producers under pressure and public investment is cut, reality will rather cement the extreme rural inequality co-produced by decades of forced displacement and violence directed at grassroots campesino movements.
The fourth point is relevant beyond the context of the Colombian conflict. It’s the punitive take on poverty that represents austerity policies’ flip side in Latin America. It will likely persist even if the peace deal is realized with some modifications due to the referendum: prison populations have grown excessively in the Americas (see the World Prison Brief), i.e. from 126/100.000 inhabitants in 2003 to 231 in 2014 in Colombia or from 156/100.000 inhabitants in 2003 to 214/100.000 inhabitants in 2014 in Mexico. Mexico is another fundamental example where the narratives of security and austerity feed into each other in simbiosis, yet affect only parts of the highly stratified society, while some, close enough to transnational capital flows and political, boast their cars and mansions on social media. It seems quite ironic that often, the latter have been union leaders on the one hand and sons and daughters of those entrepreneurs at least bordering on illegal economy with their negocios.
As UNDP reports for the region confirm, most inmates however, complemented meagre income with what is now called narcomenudeo (small scale selling of drugs) or committed crimes such as theft or robbery. They, as the clients consuming the by-products of the drug economy, seem to sit on the lowest steps of the social classification ladder. What role do these segments of population play for society in countries such as Colombia or Mexico? They fill in the large segment of low-skilled, informal and badly paid jobs whose access to social policies is worse than ever after historical structural adjustment has conflated already selective social security programs. The gruesome numbers of police killings and disappearances underline that these social sectors are denied the most basic rights based on class and racial classifications. Austerity and punitive measures are closely linked and reinforce each other. Arguments against a raise in minimum wage are usually based on austerity and the competitive advantages narrative. But as increases in minimum wage would mostly go into consumption this might even have positive effects on domestic demand. It would break the assumed linkage between reduced spending and more growth. As things stand, they provide a growing social base for illegal economy.
Security discourses in turn legitimize policies which leave out social questions or subsume them under a theme of threat. How this relation of austerity and the production of insecurity for parts of society plays out can be observed in contemporary Latin American.
Alke Jenss is a researcher and lecturer at Bielefeld University, Germany and has worked on insecurity and the state in Latin America.
Adam Fishwick and Heather Connolly report back on a workshop they convened for CURA on Resistance and Alternatives to Austerity.
On 18th May CURA hosted our one day workshop on ‘Resistance and Alternatives to Austerity’ engaging with a range of distinctive – and innovative – strategies that have emerged in Europe and Latin America that are challenging the dominant turn to austerity. Papers delivered during the panel sessions were grouped around three key themes on workplace occupations, migrant workers’ protest, and alternative ‘grassroots’ mobilisation. The day ended with keynote presentations from Lisa McKenzie and Phoebe Moore that illustrated the sheer range of opposition that the workshop presenters touched upon – from working class neighbourhoods in the UK to the tensions over technology in the workplace.
The panels generated lively debate from participants and speakers (some of which was broadcast on social media via #CURAresistance) with debates centring on the viability of bottom-up forms of resistance, on the role of institutional actors and the state, and the possibilities for developing new subjectivities and forms of agency.
In the first panel, David Bailey and Saori Shibata presented findings from their research in ‘low-resistance’ societies of the UK and Japan and argued that only with what they termed ‘militant refusal’ were austerity measures successfully challenged and reversed. Lucia Pradella discussed the centrality of new migrants in resistance within and against the traditional trade unions in the logistics sector in Italy – highlighting the dynamism of new actors in a sector crucial to global capitalism. Nick Kiersey, finally, drawing on his research into anti-austerity protests in Ireland challenged us to think about the possibilities of developing a ‘left governmentality’ in the ‘slow exit’ from neoliberalism and austerity.
In the second panel, Heather Connolly returned to the theme of migrant workers within and against traditional trade unions in France, presenting her research on the Sans Papiers movement in France and the innovative models of resistance it adopted. Adam Fishwick argued that, despite the return of a bleak period of austerity in Argentina, resistance could still be found in what Ana Dinerstein has termed the ‘concrete utopias’ in the country. Focusing on the recuperated factories, he showed how they offered a distinct alternative beyond the constraints of state. To close the panels, Stuart Price presented some of his findings of a workplace occupation in Spain, discussing tensions between the closing of space for protest and the potential/limitations of new, seemingly spontaneous forms of resistance.
Lisa McKenzie – alongside Stuart Price – brought a powerful visual component to the day, combining images collected in the course of her fieldwork and everyday life in Nottingham and London with ethnographic narratives on working class life under austerity. Her keynote presentation demonstrated the lived realities of austerity from navigating unemployment, to homelessness, to the pervasive class stigmatisation that, in her words, ‘does the work of the policies of austerity’. Running through her talk was a sense of the need to think concretely about the impacts of austerity in order to confront it – to engage directly with the lived, everyday impacts of the assault on the most marginalised and stigmatised communities and individuals. Closing her presentation, two resonant images of young working class men on top of the roof of an elite private school in Nottingham during the 2011 riots and a homeless man under a new luxury development in London neatly captured this sentiment.
Phoebe Moore took us in a different, but related, direction with a vision of the new workplace and the role of technology in reinforcing the lived conditions of austerity, but also in potentially offering ways to confront and resist in uniquely innovative ways. In her presentation, the new techniques in the measurement and management of working life – from worn technologies to new monitoring and surveillance devices – were shown to be a central component of the micro-level practices overseeing workplaces across a range of sectors. But her work also highlighted the means by which this key component of the new discipline of austerity can be confronted. Technology – as much as it represents a mechanism of control in the workplace – was also shown to provide mechanisms for overcoming that control. From the everyday challenging of its use in the workplace, to re-purposing it in practice, to the development of more organised forms of resistance, the potential for subversion was clear.
Overall, the presentations and discussions throughout the day made clear that if austerity is to proceed, it will not continue unchallenged. Drawing on research and expertise in a variety of settings and contexts, the speakers and participants offered a clear sense that the precarious, impoverished futures proposed and practiced by advocates of austerity are not the only future available. Moving forward, the plan from this workshop is to develop a published collection of the papers that consolidates these themes of resistance to the increasingly pervasive practices of resistance, with the aim of continuing collaboration in to resisting austerity.
Dr. Adam Fishwick is Lecturer in Urban Studies and Public Policy and Dr. Heather Connolly Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at De Montfort University, both are core members of CURA.
Following over a decade of relatively high growth rates wedded to redistribution, increased social spending, and the incorporation of labour and social movements into the wheels of decision making, consistent electoral success of the political Left in countries as diverse as Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela had given the progressive ‘Pink Tide’ a growing sense of permanency. Latin America has been heralded by many on the Left – most prominently in Manuel Riesco’s concept of the Developmental Welfare State – as a new model for development that breaks substantively with the neoliberal consensus.
But beginning with the economic and political convulsions in Brazil centred on a deepening corruption investigations linked to the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) and a widespread middle-class dissatisfaction with the government of Dilma Rousseff this is being increasingly shaken. The language and practices of austerity have begun to re-emerge in these states, with Brazil, the largest economy in the region, taking the lead in reducing social spending, unemployment protections, and taxation in a strategic re-orientation in favour of powerful business interests that began as early as Rousseff’s first government after 2012.
The unexpected electoral victory of conservative former businessman Mauricio Macri in Argentina has reinforced the growing clamour that proclaims the end of the informal progressive regional coalition. The first non-Peronist leader to gain office through democratic election since 1983, Macri has come to power with a mandate to address the “mistakes” of Kirchnerism through a new commitment to free-market economic policy. Despite assurances he will sustain some of the popular social policies previously implemented, he now represents the leading edge of the re-emergence of austerity practices.
The phrase “re-emergence” is used deliberately in these contexts as such restrictions on social spending, the rolling back of protections for labour, and the use of varied mechanisms of economic policy to promote regressive redistribution upwards to powerful firms and financial capital are all too familiar. Chile under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet 1973 and Argentina under the post-1976 military dictatorship and the disastrous economic stewardship of Carlos Menem in the 1990s, saw first-hand the deleterious impact of such a constellation of policy measures. IMF Structural Adjustment Programmes, most notably with Mexico in 1995, also consolidated this global counterrevolution in the region and the dramatic reversal of the “populist” redistribution and government spending strategies of the twentieth century.
The Pink Tide had ostensibly offered a peaceful interlude in these devastations, first of neoliberalism and now of emergent austerity in Latin America, as well as a return to the policies of redistribution and state support for workers. Backed by neostructuralist ideas and programmatised as strategies of neodevelopmentalism that sought to combine state-led development with an openness to international markets, progressive Latin American governments (from Lula Inácio da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Néstor and Cristina Fernández Kirchner in Argentina to Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia) offered the possibility of growth with increasing equality, social spending to support the poor, and the genuine inclusion of the voices of workers and social movements in the politics.
Yet this distinction from the policies and practices that preceded and followed it have increasingly been shown to be deeply problematic. Alfredo Saad-Filho writing on Brazil has argued that despite the rhetoric of reform there has been little substantive change either to the political configuration of power (represented in the Constitution inherited from military rule) or in the hegemony of neoliberalism and concomitant international economic integration. On Ecuador, Jeffrey Webber goes further to argue that Rafael Correa, despite positioning himself on the radical edge of the Pink Tide alongside Bolivia and Venezuela, has deliberately demobilised the social movements that brought him to power, restoring economic power and privilege across sectors and actors that are the antithesis of his proclaimed project.
So, if not a progressive interlude contrasting the varying strategies of neoliberal and austerity capitalism, what does the Pink Tide and its neodevelopmentalist model represent? It would be too simplistic to dismiss it as a mere fraud. Evidence economic growth and redistribution in leading economies of the region does not bear this out. Declines in poverty through the famous ‘Bolsa Familia’ cash transfers to the poorest families in Brazil under Lula and the universal child support measures introduced by Cristina Kirchner (which Macri has at the moment vowed to retain) provoked a genuine redistribution of wealth towards the lower end of society. Attempts to reverse neoliberal reforms of education in Chile, the prominence of indigenous social movements in Bolivia, and environmental proposals in Ecuador also pointed to the opening up of potential new space for the redistribution of political power.
Instead, these measures must be viewed along a continuum of strategies aimed at managing capitalism. I have developed this line of argument in other areas of my research to date inasmuch as the varied progressive and regressive strategies that comprised the period of import-substitution industrialisation (ISI) during the twentieth century in Latin America represented distinct efforts to intensify exploitation and – most significantly – suppress and discipline labour to this end. The limitations and contradictions of the Pink Tide, identified elsewhere by a growing number of scholars, combined with the apparent ease at which the return to the practices and processes associated with austerity and the neoliberalism of the 1980s and 1990s, imply this progressive turn must be viewed through the same lens.
Significantly, it is by returning to the workplace, the space that at CURA’s launch event last month Phil Taylor described as the “front line” of austerity where managerial strategies seek to squeeze out maximum effort at minimum cost as the epitome of exploitation, that these contradictions can become most apparent. Alongside experience of the harsh disciplining of restrictive economic and social policies, the region has seen some of the clearest examples whereby relatively progressive developmental strategies have served to incorporate workers into intensified social organisations of production with increasing work rhythms.
The archetypical populist regimes of Getulio Vargas in Brazil and Juan Perón in Argentina serve as an important point of reference, offering an ostensible voice to organised labour whilst supporting a transformation of labour processes that deepened exploitative relations of contemporary capitalism – most obviously with the Peronist “Productivity Conferences” of 1954. More closely linked were the developmentalist strategies adopted by Arturo Frondizi in Argentina after 1958 and Juscelino Kubitschek after 1956, which sought to attract foreign capital through a liberalisation of trade and investment regulation that facilitated what I have referred to elsewhere as a “disciplinary modernisation” of industrial production.
In the same vein, the proclaimed progressive strategies of the Pink Tide have gone hand in hand with appeals to foreign investment across modern sectors, to the continued opening up of once-protected sectors to the rigours of international competitive pressures that reposition domestic firms in the global economy and impose regressive technological and organisational changes. It has even led to a return to ‘extractivism’ (most notably in Ecuador) associated with a bygone era of the nineteenth century widely critiqued by regional and international scholars. It is by analysing the changing relations in production of neodevelopmentalism and the Pink Tide, as well as the changes that have occurred before and after, that will make possible a comprehensive understanding of the management of capitalism and the interconnectedness of these periods of harsh restriction and ostensibly progressive social peace.
Dr Adam Fishwick is a CURA team member as well as Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics and Public Policy, De Montfort University