Spaces of Work: Global Capitalism and the Geographies of Labour


Noel Castree, Neil M. Coe, Kevin Ward & Michael Samers

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    This book has its origins in a third year undergraduate course entitled ‘Globalization, labour and locality’ co-taught by Noel Castree, Richard Meegan and Michael Samers at the University of Liverpool from 1995–2000. When Noel moved to the University of Manchester in 2000 the intention was still that the trio write what was to have been called Globalization and the Geographies of Labour. However, Richard subsequently proved too busy to take on any more writing commitments, at which point Noel's new Manchester colleagues, Neil Coe and Kevin Ward, kindly and enthusiastically stepped into the breach. So, if the book began its life in Liverpool, it ended it bearing the intelectual imprint of the other city in the North West of England, Manchester! Though the present book is ‘Meeganless’, the four of us nonetheless owe Richard a debt of gratitude for his ideas and encouragement. We are also indebted to the various people who reviewed the synopsis of the book – especially Dick Walker. These reviewers made very constructive suggestions that have made the book better than it would otherwise have been. We also wish to thank the three manuscript readers. We asked two of our postgraduate students (Katie May and Katie Morrow) to read draft chapters with an eye to their intelligibility. The candid feedback they gave us was very useful and much appreciated. David Sadler, whose student days are well behind him(!), kindly agreed to serve as a peer reviewer. The numerous insightful comments and criticisms he made have been a big help and we thank him. Nick Scarle, the School of Geography cartographer, is responsible for producing the many figures and diagrams in the book. We're indebted to him for his sterling technical skills.

    Though this book has been a collective endeavour, each of us has taken responsibility for leading on the writing individual chapters and for editing others. Noel took the lead on Chapters 1 and 9, Neil and Noel on Part One, Neil and Kevin on Part Two, Noel and Michael on Part Three. Though we all accept equal responsibility for the overall product, we're also willing to take individual blame if certain chapters are found wanting! Finally, we'd like to thank our publisher, SAGE, the production team (Seth Edwards, Vanessa Harwood and David Mainwaring) and particularly Robert Rojek. Like so many writing projects, this one took a very long time to come to fruition. Robert's patience has been much appreciated.

    Finally, every effort has been made to seek permission from other publishers to reproduce the tables, figures, maps and diagrammes used in this book. The authors would like to acknowledge Blackwell Publishing Limited, SAGE Publications Limited and Thomson Publishing Services for permission to reproduce material published in their lists.

    List of Acronyms used in the Book

    AFGWUAmerican Flint Glass Workers’ Union
    AFL-CIOAmerican Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations
    AFSCMEAmerican Federation State County and Municipal Employees
    AHCAnchor Hocking Corporation
    AIDAssociation for Industrial Development
    ALGUSAlliance and Leicester Group Union of Staff
    ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations
    BLWBaltimore Living Wage
    BUILDBaltimoreans United in Leadership Development
    CBIConfederation of British Industry
    CEOChief Executive Officer
    CSSAComputing Services and Software Association
    EPEuropean Parliament
    EWCEuropean Works Council
    FDIForeign Direct Investment
    GATTGeneral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
    GCCGlobal Commodity Chain
    GDLPGlobal Division of Labour and Power
    GDPGross Domestic Product
    HDDHard Disk Drives
    HRMHuman Resource Management
    IMFInternational Monetary Fund
    ICEMInternational Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions
    ICFTUInternational Confederation of Free Trade Unions
    IDLInternational Division of Labour
    ILBInternational Brotherhoods of Longshoremen
    ILOInternational Labour Organisation
    ITSInternational Trade Secretariat
    LETSLocal Exchange Trading Systems
    LLCRLocal Labour Control Regime
    MCCMondragon Cooperative Corporation
    MDHCMerseyside Docks and Harbour Company
    NAFTANorth American Free Trade Agreement
    NCLNational Consumers’ League
    NIENewly Industrialising Economy
    NIDLNew International Division of Labour
    OECDOrganisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
    PESOPhilippine Employment Service Office
    PEZAPhilippine Economic Zones Authority
    RACRavenswood Aluminium Corporation
    R&DResearch and Development
    SIGTURSouthern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights
    SMESmall and Medium Size Enterprise
    SSCStop Sweatshops Campaign
    TCCTransnational Capitalist Class
    TELCOThe East London Communities Organisation
    TNCTransnational Corporation
    TUCTrades Union Congress
    UAWUnited Auto Workers
    UDCUrban Development Corporation
    UNCTADUnited Nations Conference on Trade and Development
    UNITEUnion of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employers
    USWAUnited Steelworkers of America
    WCLWorld Confederation of Labour
    WFTUWorld Federation of Trade Unions
    WITSAWorld Information Technology and Services Alliance
    WTOWorld Trade Organisation
    WWWWomen Working Worldwide

    Preface: The Landscape of Labour

    It is of the utmost importance to stress that we live in a world in which capitalist social relations are dominant, the rationale for production is profit, class and class inequalities do remain, and that wealth distribution doesmatter. Ray Hudson, Producing Places(2001: 2)

    Three billion individuals on this planet are wage labourers. They are employed by only 50 million business men and women worldwide. The wealthiest of these business people, like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, command assets equivalent to those of several small countries. By contrast, the people who work for them each command a miniscule fraction of the world's wealth. What's more, they must labour for some 65–80 per cent of their lives if they are to satisfy their everyday needs and wants. Their salaries help to sustain not just themselves but entire families and communities. These wage-workers are young and old, unskilled and skilled, male and female, able bodied and disabled, gay and straight, educated and uneducated, single and married, cohabitees and divorcees. They work in every conceivable economic sector, from farming to manufacturing to services. They exist in every place on this planet, from the most remote Chilean village to mighty cities like Los Angeles and Tokyo. Their pay and conditions of work vary enormously both within and between places, but they have one fundamental thing in common: they sell their capacity to work – their labour power – in return for money. Meanwhile, a staggering 160 million people – a number almost equivalent to the population of Brazil – are currently seeking paid employment. Furthermore, if this vast reserve army of the unemployed is not to grow even larger, some 500 million new paid jobs will have to be created worldwide by 2010. Without these new jobs, population growth will produce unprecedented levels of global, national and local unemployment (ILO, 2001). Finally, as if this were not enough, tens of millions of people are today uprooting themselves from their homeplaces and criss-crossing the globe in search of employment. Labour migration on this scale has not been seen since the turn of the last century and is unlikely to slow down in the near future.

    This book is about the more than half of humanity that works – or is seeking to work – for a wage. It is written for degree students (and their teachers) in the social sciences taking courses on labour in the modern world. If not now, then in the future, this book is thereby about you the reader – just as it about us the authors: for students, like academics, must earn a living and they tend to do so by labouring for others in return for money. Indeed, so ‘normal’ has it become in the modern world for most people to offer themselves as wage-workers that it's easy to forget what a relatively new norm this is. One can work for oneself; one can work for others but for non-monetary returns; and one can work with others in order to produce things that are not exchangeable for coins and notes. In some parts of the world – especially in the South – these forms of non-waged work persist, albeit as islands within a vast sea of paid labour. But the overwhelming reality of work in the twenty-first century is that it entails, in effect, ‘selling oneself’ to an employer for certain daily, weekly, monthly and yearly periods. Most of this paid labour goes on in workplaces separate from the home, though in a minority of cases the latter remains the main site of commodity production.

    Another way of saying this is that we live in a distinctively capitalist world. Though capitalism is by no means new, as a way of producing goods and services it is, today, globally dominant. In capitalist economies, businesses large, medium and small make things with the overriding aim of making money – and more particularly profit. The logic of capitalism is thus not about, say, social equality, human happiness or environmental justice. These laudable things may now and then be a means to the end of making money or even its outcome, but in capitalist systems they are rarely ends in themselves. In this context workers are, in essence, one ‘factor of production’: their services are purchased by employers along with other ‘inputs’ in order to make commodities that can be distributed and then sold to consumers. According to Marxist and neo-Marxist theorists, this means that whatever their other differences wage labourers together comprise a ‘working class’. Globally, this working class is larger than at any point in human history. Certainly, it vastly outnumbers the ‘capitalist class’ that employs it in different workplaces worldwide. So why, it might be asked, do so many wage labourers worldwide work for a pittance in appalling conditions (be it immigrant female garment workers in New York or bonded child farm labourers in Pakistan)? Why is it that others, even when they enjoy better pay and conditions than the worst-off workers, can lose their jobs overnight? Why is it that some workers have to migrate afar simply in order to earn a living wage? And why do paid workers worldwide not unite in a mass movement to improve the circumstances under which all of them labour?

    These are fundamental questions: they are questions about labour's present condition and future prospects in the contemporary capitalist world. And they are questions we seek to answer in this book. In so doing we want to draw readers’ attention to the profound importance of geography – or rather geographies, in the plural. Labourers do not live and work on a global isotropic plain nor on the head of a pin. Rather, they are located in a landscape of geographical difference and geographical interconnectivity. Workers always live and work somewhere – even migrant workers. As Ray Hudson (2001: 122) puts it, ‘Labour is the most place-based of the factors of production’. So if we are to understand what is happening to workers today we must attend to the importance of place. But equally, in this era when capitalism is an increasingly global phenomenon, we need to appreciate that what happens to workers in one place is incomprehensible without paying heed to inter-relations extending across space. Workers, and the businesses employing them in specific places, are more than ever connected to distant others within a national, international and global space economy. As one commentator argues, today ‘local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away, and vice versa’ (Giddens, 1990: 64). By virtue of these increasingly intense translocal connections workers in different parts of the world may be pitched into relations of competition or cooperation depending on the circumstances. To understand which of these relations comes to the fore in particular cases we need, as this book will explain, to appreciate the importance of geographical scale. Scale is, if you like, the middle term between place and space. It concerns whether and how local (or sub- local) scale events and actions reverberate across space (and vice versa). The capacity to ‘up-scale’ actions from a place or places to larger spatial scales can be an enormous source of power for particular businesses or workers. For instance, transnational companies have the capacity to search the globe for suitable locations for certain of their production facilities. Likewise, the capacity to ‘contain’ actions – like a workers’ strike – within a certain scale (such as the local) can be a powerful weapon for (or against) employers and labourers in pursuit of their respective objectives.

    So place, space and geographical scale are the watchwords of this book. Triangulated, they allow us to map the complex landscape in which contemporary workers live, work and struggle. It is, as we shall see, a landscape riven with elemental paradoxes and dilemmas. These are profoundly geographical paradoxes and dilemmas. To analyse labour in a non-geographical way is therefore, we submit, to miss much of what is fundamental to the everyday lives of workers in this era of global capitalism. Geography must be present in the analysis from the very start: for place, space and scale, we shall argue, both profoundly structure and are profoundly structured by the practices of workers, as well as the practices of the other major social groups and institutions the fortunes of workers are intimately tied to. By insisting on the centrality of our geographical triad to understanding the current condition and future prospects of workers worldwide we are saying that these workers – and those who analyse them – should equip themselves with a geographical imagination.

    Of course, to assert that ‘geography matters’ in this way has become a familiar refrain in the discipline of human geography. But it's also resonated in other fields like sociology, economics and cultural studies in the last few years, where such luminaries as Anthony Giddens, Paul Krugman and Fredric Jameson have embraced the ‘geographical turn’. Accordingly, this book is written for students and teachers of labour issues across the social sciences. It is not, in other words, a narrowly disciplinary book that seeks to police boundaries between ‘geographical’ and ‘non-geographical’ approaches to labour. For we wish to collapse this distinction by making geography a necessary, but not privileged or sufficient, part of any proper understanding of labour in the modern world.

    All this said, it may seem that our writing this book has come too late. After all, in the few short years that have passed between conceiving of and actually completing this volume, a plethora of texts on labour under conditions of global interconnectivity has been published. In geography, following on the heels of Jamie Peck's (1996) Workplace, Andrew Herod has blazed a trail with his (respectively) edited and authored books Organizing the Landscape (1998) and Labor Geographies (2001), added to which is Space, Place and the New Labour Internationalisms (2001), co-edited by Jane Wills. Beyond this quartet of geographically full-blooded labour studies have been others with a more implicit geographic sensibility, like Working Classes, Global Realities (Panitch and Leys, 2001), Labour Worldwide in an Era of Globalization (Munck and Waterman, 1999), Globalization and Patterns of Labour Resistance (Waddington, 1999), The Global Economy, National States and the Regulation of Labour (Edwards and Elger, 1999), Globalization, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms (Waterman, 1998) and Workers in a Lean World (Moody, 1997). Yet despite the existence of these several ‘labour in an interdependent world’ studies, it seems to us that neither singly nor together do they deliver what we hope to deliver in the following chapters. This is so for three reasons.

    First, none of these books are written for degree students or their teachers. They are largely research level contributions. Yet many universities now offer undergraduate and postgraduate modules on the subject of labour's prospects in the twenty-first century. This book seeks to distil the ideas and insights of the fast-growing research literature on this subject and present them in an accessible way. It is not an extended review of others’ research. Rather, it uses this research (and our own) to explain and illustrate what we think are the key issues. It is pitched at final year undergraduates and postgraduate students in the social sciences, and those who teach them. For too long students studying economic geography, economic sociology, international political economy and the like have been taught a lot about production, trade and finance but virtually nothing about workers. In our own discipline Peter Dicken's (2003) excellent Global Shift – a book about transnational companies (TNCs) – is now in its fourth edition. Meanwhile, virtually no student-focussed texts exist about the tens of millions of wage-workers TNCs directly employ, not to mention the mass of labourers employed in medium and small business (SMEs) worldwide. Spaces of Work will, we hope, fill this conspicuous gap in the textbook coverage of workers in an interdependent world. Because we want this book to be highly accessible for students we have self-consciously sought to avoid some traps that, in our view, too many textbooks fall into: namely, cluttering the text with references, rehearsing arcane theoretical debates, and writing in dry, dispassionate, third-person prose. We have also provided carefully selected further readings accompanied by key questions, as well as a glossary and list of relevant websites (these can be found on the web-link for this book: see back cover).

    Second, there is an issue of theoretical synthesis. The new books on local and global labour cited above tend to treat different aspects of labour's existence in isolation. Thus Peck is very good at theorizing local labour markets but says next to nothing about worker resistance. Likewise Herod's Labour Geographies, while excellent on the twists-and-turns of employer–worker struggle, virtually ignores social reproduction, migration and non-union labour organizing. In Spaces of Work, Geographies of Labour we pull these theoretical fragments together to provide a comprehensive conceptual map. Finally, there is a question of empirical coverage. There are some notable biases and blindspots in the research literature on workers in the contemporary world. One of these is an undue obsession with manufacturing, as if this were the only or most important economic sector globally. Another is a tendency to focus on Western workers who, by comparison with most of those in the South or the former communist bloc, are relatively well off. In this book we seek to redress this sectoral and geographic imbalance by presenting a variety of examples and case studies. As we observed above, wage labour exists anywhere and everywhere today and it is thus incumbent on analysts to present something of this promiscuous diversity.

    So far so good, but what about the politics of Spaces of Work? By politics we mean our ethical stance towards wage-workers. We ask this question because it would be dishonest to imply that we take a neutral perspective on labour in this book. All four of us, in our research publications, have sought to apply and develop Marxist, neo-Marxist and institutionalist perspectives on the geography of wage work/ers (see Appendix 1 for an explanation of these perspectives). Consequently, we align ourselves with that broader movement called ‘critical social science’. This puts us on the Left of the political spectrum. As the revolutionary Karl Marx once famously said, the point is not simply to understand the world but to change it. To be ‘critical’ is to offer a negative judgement on something. To ‘criticize’ is a political act because it calls some aspect of our current world into question and thereby implies a set of preferable future arrangements. As such, criticism is always launched from specific ‘normative standpoints’ (Sayer, 1995): that is, value systems held by critics that underpin their assessment of the current state of affairs and their recommendations for desirable future changes. Working in a capitalist world can be a brutal affair, for both workers and their dependents. Our normative standpoint is broadly Marxist in two senses. First, we believe that while wage-workers produce much of the world's wealth they receive very little of it – and that this is wrong. Second, we believe that all wage-workers should be entitled to basic rights and rewards, regardless of place, ‘race’, creed or colour. When and where these elemental entitlements are not enjoyed we argue that a social injustice has been done. As we shall see, labourers in a capitalist world routinely suffer all manner of basic work-related injustices.

    However, over and above basic rights and rewards the question of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for workers gets more complicated. And much of the complication is attributable to geography. As we will argue, what happens to workers, and what workers do in response, is ineluctably context specific – that is, conditional on how place and space (which is to say, geographical scales) articulate in particular cases. It therefore follows that one ‘cannot make absolute determinations’ (Herod, 2000b: 1788) about the current conditions and appropriate future actions of specific workers in specific localities. The corollary is that it is misguided to offer criticism of diverse cases on the basis of universal, rigidly held normative standpoints, just as it is inappropriate to make generalizations about the likely fate of workers in the modern world. And yet several of the authors we have mentioned above – all of whom are critical social scientists – have at various points given in to the temptation to make sweeping judgements about labour. Peck, for example, ends Workplace with an apocalyptic vision of hypermobile multinationals playing workers in different places off against one another in a ‘war for jobs and investment’. Likewise, Munck and Waterman's (1999: x) opening gambit in Labour Worldwide in the Era of Globalization is that workers are ‘undoubtedly in difficult straits’. Such blanket judgements are, in our view, unsupportable. They tend to be based on limited evidence and they often presume that a universal standard of what's ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for workers can be applied worldwide. In the penultimate chapter we confront this problem of how one judges the in/justice of workers’ circumstances head-on by arguing that geographical scale is the key. Determining what is just and unjust for workers must depend on the scale – sub-local, local or supralocal? – at which justice is being sought.

    Knowledgeable readers will have noticed that we've made no mention of the classic Marxist idea that wage-workers need to instigate a revolution to topple capitalism. Though in Chapter 8 we consider cases where workers are organizing internationally and globally against capital, the possibilities of replacing global capitalism – and thus wage labour along with related un- and underemployment – strike us as immensely slim. This is partly because of the scale of dilemmas confronting workers, which we explore in Chapter 9. David Harvey, one of the most uncompromising Marxist critics writing today, has recently pleaded for an ‘optimism of the intellect’ (2000: 17), even when circumstances seem unpropitious for progressive change. Though sympathetic to Harvey's injunction not to cave in to reformism, we feel that many workers have considerable ‘wiggle room’ within the confines of capitalism to improve their situation. Using this wiggle room to an advantage is a fundamentally geographical project. In Chapters 6–8 we pinpoint the different elements of this wiggle room and argue that agitating within – rather than against – global capitalism does not mean that wage-workers have somehow ‘sold out to the enemy’. Even Marx, capitalism's most penetrating critic, didn't see this now dominant system as an unmitigated evil. For millions of workers a more just post-capitalist future might be preferable to a frequently unjust capitalist present. But in the meantime, it's important to locate opportunities for progressive change within the existing system. There is simply too much misery and injustice in this world (as we show in Chapter 5) for labour to pin its hopes on some utopian global project to slay capitalism. Much can be done in the here-and- now.

    All this said we do not think that writing a textbook about labour will, in any direct way, assist labour's cause! For years, Left-wing social scientists have been trying to find the means to ‘connect’ with those disadvantaged, excluded or otherwise marginalized groups they normally study. In light of this, our frank admission that few, if any, of the people this book is about will ever read or learn from it might seem distinctly ‘un-Left’. Unless, that is, we remember that there are many roads to political change, some of them less direct than others. In this case, our primary audience is you: students who will one day become (if you are not already) wage-workers and perhaps even represent other employees. If Spaces of Work does any political work at all, then, it will be pedagogical. And why not? After all, students are typically the largest audience Left-wing academics ever reach in their lifetimes. If this book gives you pause for thought – if it makes you think hard or think differently about the plight of workers in a capitalist world – then it will have done something useful. Even if, in writing this book, we as authors are merely seeking to understand the world of labour, in so doing we might just help some of our student readers to one day change it.

    NCa, NCo, MS, KW


    A Note on Geographical Terminology

    In this book we use several geographical terms to describe the spatial scale of events and processes. In order to avoid confusing readers, Figure 0.1 summarizes the vocabulary deployed and indicates the different spatial scales referred to. As the figure indicates, we use the terms ‘international’, ‘transnational’ and ‘supranational’ as synonyms, while using the more general term ‘translocal’ to encompass relations that link workplaces to any or all larger geographical scales.

    Figure 0.1 Scales of analysis: A geographical vocabulary
  • Glossary

    This glossary offers short definitions of many of the key terms used in this book. Though some terms are defined in the text, we repeat them here for the sake of completeness. The definitions are specific to this book and are not necessarily those put forward in the wider literature listed in the bibliography. For fuller definitions readers are referred to both The Dictionary of Human Geography, 4th edition (Johnston et al., 2000), and The Blackwell Dictionary of Social Thought (Outhwaite et al., 1994). Full details of any references cited in the glossary can be found in the book's bibliography.


    A specific and increasingly dominant mode of producing goods and services. Within capitalist societies commodities are produced for profit under conditions where competition among rival firms induces rapid technical innovation and unemployment. To describe something as ‘capitalist’ is to say that it's partly or wholly caught up in processes of economic competition, innovation and profit-seeking.

    As political economists like Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard-Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith have shown, capitalism is a crisis prone economic system. Change is a constant in capitalism and disequilibrium the norm. Why is this? The three things comprising the ‘logic’ of capitalism – namely, growth, competition and innovation – are contradictory. The necessity for growth and the forces of competition together compel leap-frogging innovations within and among industries. New products appear daily – mobile phones, solar powered houses, wide-screen TVs, car valet services, or genetic tests – and existing products are constantly improved (witness how established automotive models are constantly restyled by their manufacturers). However, there are two problems with this process. First, competition among firms leads not only to innovation and growth but to economic ‘wastage’. Some firms fall by the wayside as their economic rivals make better and/or cheaper commodities. These firms may close down or be swallowed up by others. Second, competition also leads, in many industries, to a tendency to reduce or hold steady the numbers and salaries of workers. Witness, for example, how ‘smart machines’ have come to do so many tasks previously undertaken by paid workers. Consequently, there is a structural tendency within capitalism to generate unemployment and to hold down the incomes of consumers (since workers are also buyers of commodities).

    Because of these two internal contradictions, capitalist societies suffer periodic ‘crises of over-accumulation’. Here production facilities and labourers lie idle in a condition where there is a glut of commodities. These crises can be local/regional, national, international or global. It very much depends on the number and type of firms within the capitalist system that are affected at any given moment (see Harvey, 1985: 128–35).


    A generic name for those people who own the means of production and who employ workers to undertake certain jobs in return for a wage.


    A very complex term that normally refers to the differences between people in terms of their economic circumstances. Class has both objective and subjective dimensions. In the first sense it refers to people's location within the class structure of society. In capitalist societies there are two major economic classes – employers and employees – but in turn both are divided into class fractions. In the second sense, class refers to people's own awareness and definition of their class. Often, an individual may consider themselves to be a person of a certain class, when this is quite at odds with their objective class position. In recent years, some analysts have talked of an ‘under-class’ in capitalist societies, consisting of the long-term unemployed, the under-employed and the very low paid. In both its objective and subjective dimensions class is never isolated from non-class axes of social difference, like gender. Though we can identify class analytically, in practice it intertwines with other social relations.

    Class Consciousness

    The awareness of members of a class that they belong to a class group. This consciousness may exist at the level of class fractions or of classes as a whole (class-for-itself).


    The ‘subjective’ dimension of class whereby an individual becomes conscious of their class position and sees themselves as a member of a wider class group (class-in-itself).

    Class Fraction

    A specific part of a wider class-in-itself. Class groups are internally divided by skill level, income, occupation and so on. These various axes of differentiation have a fuzzy order that produces an array of class fractions (for example, lower-middle class, upper-working class, etc.).


    The ‘objective’ dimension of class that defines an individual's class position regardless of whether or not the individual understands or acknowledges it.

    Class Position

    The specific class or class fraction an individual belongs to. Individuals can, through education, training, luck or family ties change their class position over time, but this is rarely easy or rapid.

    Concessionary Bargaining

    A process where given sets of wage-workers are on the back-foot vis-à-vis their employers. These workers must thus make concessions – in wages, workplace rights, benefits and so on – if they are to retain their jobs.

    Cross-Class Alliances

    Temporary combinations of different classes or fractions of classes to pursue a mutually beneficial goal. Alliances are formal and explicit and usually arise in order to pursue specific goals. They can be forged at a variety of geographical scales.


    A polite term for the process whereby firms radically rationalize their production activities by shedding jobs, reducing plant, selling off parts of the firm and so on.

    Economic Sector

    A grouping of firms that produces the same general types of commodities (for example, the manufacturing sector). Economic sectors are closely interrelated and in practice it is often difficult to distinguish them.

    Employment Relations

    The social relationships that form between workers and employers surrounding the sale, purchase and use of labour power. These relations can take a variety of forms, from friendly and consensual to antagonistic, depending on the firms and workers in question.

    Exchange Value

    The monetary value derived from the sale of a commodity. Commodities can be fixed (for example, a factory) or unfixed (for example, a car). According to some Marxist theorists, firms tend to value places less for their use value and more for their exchange value. This does not imply that places are literally for sale! Rather, it means that firms will be preoccupied with the profitability of locating production in one place versus another.

    External Labour Markets

    The sale and purchase of labour power where those outside a firm, workplace or economic sector can access – actually or potentially – certain jobs (see internal labour market).


    An organization that produces commodities. Firms come in many shapes and sizes, from transnational corporations to local businesses. A firm consists of one or more workplaces.

    Geographical Scale

    This is the historically variable scale at which specific sets of social relationships and institutions are arranged. Social relationships and institutions do not pre-exist the scale of their expression. Rather, their scale is part of how they work. Many social relationships and institutions work at and through a variety of scales, while others are highly scale specific. Geographical scale differs from cartographic scale. The latter provides a fixed metric within which things can be located and represented (as on a map). By contrast, geographical scales are socially and temporally variable. They are the geographical ‘medium’ that both enable and constrain how individuals, groups, social relations and institutions function. In this book we talk of ‘sub-local’, ‘local’, ‘national’, ‘regional’, ‘international’ and ‘global’ scales. However, these are not given in nature and the ‘content’ of these scales cannot be pre-determined.

    Geographical Divide-and-Rule Strategies

    A process where certain firms or regulatory institutions play off workers in different places against one another for jobs and investment. This process is sometimes known as ‘whipsawing’ or the ‘race to the bottom’.

    Geographical Imagination

    A way of thinking that stresses how place and space – that is, geographical scales – are woven into the very fabric of social relationships and everyday life.

    Geographical Strategies

    The explicit use of geography by firms, workers, regulatory institutions or actors in civil society in order to further their agendas. These strategies can, for instance, involve workers expanding the geographical scale of a strike in order to bring more workers into the struggle.


    A complex term that admits of no single definition. Generally, it has been used to refer to a increase in some or all of the following: the intensity, extensity, impact and velocity of social, economic, cultural, political and financial relationships between different places worldwide. In this book we forego using the term as an analytical category and focus instead on the way the concept has been used by and against workers.


    A concept first developed by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci argued that social power is most effective when it does not take the form of physical force or coercion. Hegemony describes a process whereby dominant social groups pursue their agendas through subtly limiting the terms of debate with subordinate groups. Hegemony is about the forging of consensus about specific sets of ‘acceptable’ practices and behaviours by dominant and subordinate groups. The precise nature of hegemonic ideas, norms and habits varies historically and geographically.


    A generic name for any act of commodity production or a grouping of firms undertaking the same types of commodity production (for example, the hotel industry).

    Informal Work

    Work (usually paid) undertaken outside the normal rules, regulations and norms of the formal economy.

    Internal Labour Markets

    The sale and purchase of the labour of workers within a workplace, firm or economic sector. Internal labour markets involve workers already employed in a workplace, firm or economic sector rather than those coming in from the outside. Thus a shop floor worker in a factory may be promoted to a supervisor. These labour markets are thus partially ‘sheltered’ (see external labour market).

    Just-in-Time (JIT) Production Methods

    During the 1980s US, Japanese and European firms introduced what are known as just-in-time production methods. These involve reducing component stockpiles to almost zero and reorganizing the production process so that parts arrive at the assembly factory just before they are needed – or ‘just in time’.


    Both the act of work and the name for people who do that work. In this book labour is mostly used in the second sense, referring specifically to capitalist workers. Until a few years ago, labour analysts tended to assume that workers were adult males (the so-called family ‘breadwinner’). However, this classic image of workers is now badly outdated. Capitalist workers today are male and female, old and young. There are several varieties of labour that are capitalist and non- capitalist depending, as follows:

    • The self-employed are just that: they work for themselves and their dependents:
    • Household or domestic work is similarly controlled by the worker or their family/co-dependents and involves no monetary payment.
    • Volunteer work, as the name suggests, is typically non-renumerated but, unlike domestic work, normally performed outside the home.
    • Communal work involves a community organizing its collective labour to achieve certain agreed ends; it can be paid or non-paid.
    • Non-monetized work involves an individual, individuals or groups exchanging non-monetary goods in payment for work done (so-called ‘payment in kind’).
    • Monetized work involves an individual, individuals or groups exchanging money in payment for work done.
    Labour Demand

    The requirement for a certain quality and quantity of workers among employers. Labour demand varies over time and across space and between firms and economic sectors.

    Labour Market

    The buying and selling of labour power. This usually occurs at the local scale (see local labour market). However, if one abstracts from local labour markets and aggregates the number and type of labour market exchanges at any given moment one can talk about the labour market. This is not a market in the physical sense (as when one talks about buying fruit from the village market).

    Labour Market Intermediaries

    ‘Intermediaries’ act as a bridge between employers and workers. Through their activities they attempt to match labour demand with labour supply, providing a range of services to employers and to workers. The US economist Paul Osterman (1999: 134) classifies intermediaries into three types: (i) ‘one-on-one’ intermediaries that passively accept job orders from firms and match these orders to those who have registered with the intermediary (such as the local job centre in the UK); (ii) intermediaries who are more active and aggressive in attracting employers ands workers (such as the traditional temp agency); and (iii) intermediaries who bargain with both parties, using their position in the labour market to change the way labour is sold within it (such as high-end job search companies). In his work in Silicon Valley, Benner (2002: Table 3.2) distinguished between three different types of labour market intermediaries based on the way they were organized:

    Organization typeExamples
    For-profit sectorTemporary staffing agencies
    Online job search sites
    Membership basedUnion-based initiatives
    Membership-based associations (such as coops)
    Public sectorJob centres
    Voluntary organizations (such as those who organize work for ex-service men and women)
    Labour Movement

    The various workers and worker organizations who, together, actively try to advance worker interests at a variety of geographical scales. The labour movement is organized around trade unions primarily, but an increasing number of non-union bodies are now important too.

    Labour Power

    The capacity to undertake work. In capitalist societies, workers sell their labour power to employers for certain periods of time.

    Local Labour Market

    Labour markets do not exist on the head of a pin. Rather, they are normally local in geographical scale. This means that the supply of workers and the performance of work takes place within a circumscribed area on a daily basis. This is partly because workers must return home at the end of each working day.

    Local Scale

    The relatively small geographical scale at which daily life is acted out. Synonymous with place, the local scale is not fixed in area. What's ‘local’ will vary in size and content from situation to situation.

    Locality Dependence

    Those social relations, institutions and practices that necessarily have an exclusively or partly place-based dimension to them.

    Local Growth Coalitions

    Alliances between place-based workers, firms and institutions to either defend existing jobs and economic investments or else attract new ones.

    Labour Supply

    The specific quantity and quality of workers who make their labour power available for purchase by employers. Labour supply, like labour demand, is highly variable temporally, spatially and among firms and sectors.

    Living Wage

    The amount of money needed to ensure the basic physical and social reproduction of a person and their family/dependents. Living wages vary with the cost of living.

    Living Wage Campaigns

    Organized grass-roots attempts to get states and firms to raise the wage minimum to a ‘living wage’ level.


    The relatively small geographical scale at which daily life is played out.


    A term used in human geography and sociology to refer to the specific combination of people, infrastructure, industry, consumption practices, etc. that make up a place. A locality cannot be understood simply with reference to what happens at the local level. Instead, localities are understood to be the product of how local events combine with processes and relations operating over a broader space.

    Local Growth Coalitions

    Alliances between actors whose interests are distinctly local in geographical scale. Growth coalitions aim at boosting the economic wealth of a locality and can involve partnerships between local workers, local businesses and the local state, among others. They are sometimes know as ‘cross-class alliances’.

    Non-Local Scales

    Geographical scales at which social relations, processes, institutions and events are organized that include but also transcend the local scale. Non-local scales are socially constructed and also influence the things they ‘contain’.


    This term describes an economic sector dominated by a small number of large firms.

    Physical Reproduction

    Both the biological reproduction of people (through childbirth) and the daily physiological reproduction of people (through eating, sleeping, etc.).


    A highly complex term that, at its simplest, refers to (i) the local scale and (ii) a distinct point on the earth's surface. Places have both ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ dimensions. The former consists of the specific collection of people, buildings, environments and institutions that comprise a place. The latter involves the attachment to place people have as well as their place identities. In both cases, what makes a place in the contemporary world involves a combination of local happenings and non-local events that impact on that place (see locality).


    Any aspect of production, reproduction, consumption or regulation that occurs partly at the local scale but that is not necessarily place-bound.


    Any aspect of production, reproduction, consumption or regulation that cannot ‘escape’ the local or sub-local scale. See locality dependence.

    Power Repertoires

    The ensemble of strategies and tools available to given sets of workers and employers in given times and places. These strategies and tools are used to influence the terms and conditions of paid work and can be used in a consensual or conflictual manner.

    Primary Workers

    A generic category describing those wage workers at the top of capitalist labour markets. That is those who are, variously, highly educated, highly paid, highly skilled, and highly employable.


    A commodity that differs from inert commodities like tables or cars. A pseudo-commodity – like workers – differs from other commodities in two main respects. First, it is not permanently sold to a buyer. Rather, it is temporarily purchased. Second, because it is sentient it cannot be disposed of by its purchasers in any old way. Rather, its use must be negotiated between seller and buyer.

    Real’ commodity

    Any entity – whether physical (for example, a chair) or non-physical (for example, an idea) – that can be sold in return for money. All commodities have both a use-value and an exchange-value. Though all commodities are qualitatively unique, money provides a common measure that allows their value to be compared and their exchange to occur. Some anthropologists have taken a broad view of commodities that includes those in non-capitalist societies. In this book, though, we refer to capitalist commodities only. These are things that are produced with the intention of exchanging them for money and, for capitalists, making a profit.

    ‘Reciprocal Unionism’

    The working of unions with the communities they are part of. The basic principles of reciprocal unionism are: (i) it allows unions to reach those ‘hard to organize’ workers who are not likely to be organized in the workplace; (ii) it allows unions to reach those workers who have felt excluded from trade unions; (iii) finding allies and building networks gives trade unions an important source of support for local workplace organizing campaigns; (iv) it provides a means of building alliances between public sector workers and service users; (v) it provides a mechanism to foster reciprocity between trade unions and community groups; (vi) such coalitions allow unions (and others) to take advantage of state strategies targeting localities for redevelopment and; (vii) community- union place-based coalitions might decide to provide new services.


    The income sent by migrants back to their places of origin or the places where their dependents live.

    Secondary Workers

    A generic category describing those wage workers with relatively well- paid, secure jobs that demand a reasonable level of education, skill and training. Secondary workers are often ‘blue’ and ‘white collar’ workers and, numerically, comprise the majority of workers in capitalist economies.


    A complex process whereby different workers (defined by age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, place, skill level, etc.) end up working in different occupations within and between firms and economic sectors. Segmentation occurs in labour demand, labour supply and workplace practices. It contributes to the production of different class fractions in capitalist societies.

    Social Division of Labour

    The division of jobs and production activities within the wider economy.

    Social Regulation

    The complex process whereby social relationships between people are lent a certain order and regularity. Social regulation is both planned and unplanned, explicit and tacit. It involves set of institutions – from the state to the family – and sets of habits, norms and customs.

    Social Relations

    A generic term used in this book to refer to any form of relationship – direct or indirect, local or non-local – between people. Social relations can be economic, cultural, political, financial or familial.

    Social Reproduction

    The short-and long-term process whereby people undertake the non-biological and non-physiological practices necessary to sustain themselves. The process involves socialization, leisure, education, training, friendships, family relations and a raft of institutions, especially outside the workplace. Social reproduction involves the formation of identities, cultural norms and mores among individuals and groups. In Katz's (2001: 714) words, it ‘entails acquiring and assimilating the shared knowledge, values and practices of the groups to which one belongs by birth or choice’.


    Acts of mutual cooperation between, and loyalty among, workers at a variety of geographical scales. Solidarity is most difficult at the transnational scale between of the socio-geographic distance and difference between wage workers.


    A complex concept that, in this book, refers to the way certain socio-economic and other human relationships are ‘stretched-out’ over geographical scales that are more than simply local. These relationships both constitute space and are affected by it.

    Spatial Division of Labour

    The geographical expression of the social division of labour. Different places are characterized by different clusters of firms and workers.

    Structures of Feeling

    A term coined by the cultural analyst Raymond Williams (1975). It refers to a shared sense of a place among a locality's residents. This sense emerges from the daily routines of life and from shared habits and customs.

    Sunk Costs

    These are a form of costs that cannot be recovered once committed in a particular place. They have no real market value (though they have paper or hypothetical value), and cannot be recouped by selling a part of the plant, capital or equipment to a competitor (Clark and Wrigley, 1995). An appreciation of the concept can enrich our understandings of the geographies of investment, disinvestment, plant closure, and exit from particular industries. Most significant in this context is the insight that sunk costs may restrict the mobility of large, multi-locational businesses. Strategic options such as firm exit and plant closure come to be seen as extreme decisions, most likely taken only after a variety of other possibilities have been exhausted, since the firm will suffer significant financial losses. Bizarrely, in some situations, it may actually be less damaging for a firm to incur losses in a particular place than to pay the costs of closure. In addition to acting as barriers to exit, sunk costs may also act as barriers to entry in certain industries, as when the need for high sunk costs may prove a disincentive to initial investment. But what exactly constitutes a sunk cost? Clark and Wrigley (1995) identify three types, each of which may relate to the embeddedness of production in place-specific labour market conditions: (i) there are ‘set-up’ sunk costs (for example, training of staff for a new facility); (ii) there are ‘accumulated’ sunk costs (the ongoing costs of doing business, for example maintaining business relationships) and; (iii) there are ‘exit’ sunk costs (for example, the pension entitlements of displaced labour).

    Technical Division of Labour

    The division of production tasks within a workplace and firm. When combined, the various tasks make one or more commodities that comprise the firms’ product/s.

    Tertiary Workers

    A generic category that refers to wage-workers on the fringes of capitalist labour markets, such as part-time workers, the low-paid and low- skilled, temporary workers and so on. Tertiary workers typically do not enjoy the rights and benefits of primary and secondary workers.

    Time-Space Compression

    The increase in the number of events happening in any given moment of real time and the reduction in the relative distance between places due to enhanced transport and communications technologies.

    Trade Unions

    Trade unions are worker organizations created to protect and advance the interests of their members by negotiating agreements with employers on pay and conditions of work. Unions may also provide legal advice, financial assistance, sickness benefits and education facilities. In addition, they frequently lobby government and regulatory bodies on behalf of their membership. There are four key types of unions: (i) there are craft or occupational unions that represent workers doing similar tasks (for example, the UK's Professional Footballers Association); (ii) employer-specific unions are established to undertake collective bargaining for workers with a single employer (for example, the UK's Alliance and Leicester Group Union of Staff – ALGUS); (iii) industrial unions exist where the aim is to organize workers in an entire industry without regard to occupational difference (for example, the UK's National Union of Mineworkers) and; (iv) with general unions the organizing pattern is truly collective rather than being based purely on occupation or industry (for example, the UK's Transport and General Workers Union). While these latter unions often have concentrations of members in particular occupations, they aim to represent all workers and are usually conglomerates of separate industrial unions. The distinctions between these different types of unions have become increasingly blurred due to waves of rationalization and merger that have occurred in response to falling levels of union membership across the industrialized world over the last few decades. In particular, more general unions have emerged as organizations and have come together in an attempt to preserve or enhance their bargaining power.


    Any set of relations, events or processes that implicate two or more otherwise different and discrete places.


    Any set of relations, events or processes that implicate two or more otherwise different and discrete places in different countries. Transnational ties can thus be macro-regional (extending across a contiguous group of countries), international (extending over many countries, not necessarily contiguous ones) or global.

    Transnational Capital Class

    These are the relatively small number of powerful – and well- connected – individuals, working through institutions that they either own or control, who shape the global capitalist system. Leslie Sklair (2001: 1) terms this group as the ‘transnational capitalist class’ (TCC), which he suggests has ‘transformed capitalism into a globalizing project’. The TCC is a part of the capitalist class of firm owners, but also includes regulators of workers and firms. It comprises four key components or ‘fractions’: (1) TNC executives and their local affiliates (the corporate fraction); (2) globalizing bureaucrats and politicians (the state fraction); (3) globalizing professionals (the technical fraction); and (4) merchants and the media (the consumerist fraction). The common characteristic is that these people operate internationally as a normal part of their working lives, and it should be recognized that there is considerable overlap and mobility between the four groups identified above. Together the groups constitute a global power elite. The ongoing hegemony of the TCC does not happen by accident, rather ‘the capitalist class expends much time, energy, and resources to make it happen and to ensure that it keeps on happening’ (Sklair, 2001: 18).

    Transnational Communities

    Defined by ‘the formation and maintenance [across international boundaries] of “community”, based especially on social, economic, and political networks, the construction and expression of identity focussed on the refashioning of cultural forms and symbols, and the reproduction or contestation of social relations including issues of gender and power’ (Vertovec, 1999: 457). Transnational communities are communities with propinquity.

    Use Value

    The practical benefits derived from the uses to which a thing (be it a potentially sellable item or not) can be put by virtue of its physical properties. In geographical terms, places yield multiple use values for those who live and work in them. For firms especially, these use values are directly linked to the question of exchange values.

    Varieties of Labour

    The word ‘labour’ refers to both the act of work and the people who perform it (workers). Work and workers can be broadly divided into six categories: (i) the self-employed are just that: they work for themselves and their dependents; (ii) household or domestic work is similarly controlled by the worker or their family/co-dependents and involves no monetary payment; (iii) volunteer work, as the name suggests, is typically non- renumerated but, unlike domestic work, normally performed outside the home; (iv) communal work involves a community organizing its collective labour to achieve certain agreed ends; it can be paid or non-paid; (v) non-monetized work involves an individual, individuals or groups exchanging non-monetary goods in payment for work done (so-called ‘payment in kind’) and; (vi) monetized work involves an individual, individuals or groups exchanging money in payment for work done.

    Wage Work

    Work undertaken by individuals and groups on behalf of others in return for money. In capitalist societies, wage work involves a class relation between those who sell their labour power and those who purchase it.


    The activity of transforming physical or non-physical things into new products or else modifying, maintaining, moving, gathering or selling existing products. There are many categories of work undertaken in many different kinds of contexts.


    Workplaces are the physical locations where commodity production, sale and maintenance occur. The ‘classic’ workplace is the factory but today this is in no way representative of the variety of workplaces worldwide. We can distinguish workplaces by their physical form and, second, by their workers. In the first case, we can distinguish fixed site workplaces (for example, an assembly plant) from mobile workplaces (like an aircraft). In the latter case, we can distinguish (i) workplaces where all workers have the same employer, (ii) multi-employer workplaces (for example, an airport where airline employees mix with, say, security guards hired by a security firm contracted to the airport authority) and (iii) workplaces with a high fluidity of workers (as in those that employ temporary workers supplied by temp agencies). In the cases of (ii) and (iii) it is very hard for workers in the same workplace to achieve solidarity and mutual bonds because of their varied working arrangements. Together workplaces comprise firms.

    Different Approaches to Theorizing Labour

    As stated in the Preface, this book combines the Marxian and institutionalist approaches to understanding labour. Both dissent from the neo-classical view, which was once influential in the discipline of economics and elsewhere. In this short appendix we outline the characteristics of the three approaches in a basic rather than comprehensive way. For a more detailed discussion see pages 5–13 of Tilly and Tilly's (1998) Work Under Capitalism. Note that each ‘approach’ is, in reality, a cluster of related approaches rather than the homogenous entities we depict here. In this book, we combine facets of the Marxian and institutionalist approaches and are critical of the neo-classical worldview.

    The Neo-Classical Approach

    The neo-classical approach emphasizes the free market as the key mechanism for equilibriating the supply of and demand for commodities. It sees market exchanges as free and equal transactions between individuals with certain needs and wants. So at point E0 the market is in equlibrium. Supply is exactly the same as demand. If there is an increase in supply, as there is every summer for graduates, and demand remains unchanged then the wage rate falls from E0 to E1. The wage rate falls as the number of workers in the labour market increases. The buying and selling of labour is regarded as a commodity exchange like all others. Workers sell their services to purchasers (employers) and both parties get what they want – in theory at least. Thus employers get workers’ capacity to labour for a finite period, while workers get wages that allow them to purchase the commodities they need to live and prosper. This does not mean that all workers are equal. On the contrary, the different skills and abilities of different workers (‘human capital’) mean that they are not ‘worth’ the same. However, whatever their individual market value, from the neoclassical perspective all workers should ‘get what they deserve’. That is, they are paid what their skills warrant in an open market. In the neo-classical worldview, this market consists of millions of individuals engaging in monetary exchanges in a free, unencumbered way. Of course, ‘market imperfections’ can distort this in practice, as well the intervention of non-market forces (like governments). But the essence of the neo-classical view is that the market is a neutral and effective mechanism for matching labour supply and labour demand. Meanwhile, workers are seen as sovereign individuals who are ‘rational’ actors seeking to get the best deal from capitalists. Though this presupposition of rationality is a nod to labour's pseudo-commodity status, the neo-classical perspective nonetheless works with a highly unrealistic notion of labour that ultimately reduces it to a commodity like any other. For an introduction to neo-classicism see Caporaso and Levine (1991: Chapter 4).

    Appendix 1 The Neo-Classical Model of Labour Supply and Demand
    The Marxian Approach

    Marxists are critical of the neo-classical perspective. They see its emphasis upon unregulated labour markets as unrealistic, its notion of ‘rational’ labourers sociologically thin, and its apolitical reading of the market as a distortion. First, as we explain in Chapter 2 of this book, labour markets can never be ‘pure’ because it is people who are being exchanged – albeit for certain daily periods of time only. For example, because workers might want to maximize their salaries, and because employers will want workers to be maximally productive, the buying and selling of workers is a potentially contradictory, tense affair. It is, in other words, a site of struggle not simply free exchange. Secondly, for Marxists the buying and selling of labour is deeply political, which is to say about social power and resistance. Capitalism is an inherently contradictory production system that generates unemployment as part of its ‘logic’. What's more, Marxists regard workers as the origin of profit. In the so-called ‘labour theory of value’, Marxists suggest that the profits capitalists make derive ultimately from the fact that labour is paid less than the value of the goods it makes. This means that the neo-classical idea of the market as a neutral means of exchange hides the exploitation that goes on daily in the workplace. For Marxists, this exploitation pits workers against capitalists in both theory and practice. Contrary to the neo-classical vision of sovereign individuals buying and selling labour power, Marxists see a class politics where group interests condition individual interests.

    Neo- and post-Marxists have sought to add to the basic theory of capitalist labour outlined above. First, since the early 1970s they've argued that many seemingly non-capitalist institutions, like the education system, are in fact geared to perpetuating class inequity such that workers remain ultimately subordinate to capitalists. Secondly, they've also debated whether workers are ‘victims’ of an insuperable capitalist system that offers them few choices but to work for others or whether they have ‘agency’. In the latter case, attention has been focussed on how workers can resist or occasionally take the upper hand, namely from their employers. For more on Marxism see Swyngedouw (2000b).

    The Institutionalist Approach

    The institutionalist approach in economic geography emphasizes the role of institutions in economic life. Institutions are, according to Rutherford (1994, in Martin, 2000), ‘a regularity of behaviours or a rule that is generally accepted by members of a social group, that specifies behaviour in specific situations, and that is either self-policed or policed by external authority’ (p. 91). Such an approach can be contrasted with (non-institutionalist) neo-classical economics (where economic life is seen to depend on the behaviour of ‘rational’ individuals) or the Marxian approach (which focuses on class relations, has a more political stance against capitalism, and tends to be weaker on theorizing the role of institutions). Thus, in both neo-classical economics and to a lesser extent in the Marxian approach, economic life tends to be abstracted from its socio-political and cultural context. Thus, Martin (2000) defines the institutionalist approach in economic geography as responding to this basic question: ‘to what extent and in what ways are the processes of geographically uneven capitalist economic development shaped and mediated by the institutional structures in and through which these processes take place?’ ( p. 79). In answering this question, institutionalist economic geography focuses on four issues. The first is the role of different sorts of institutions. In this sense, it is common to distinguish between the institutional environment (which are the rules, customs, social routines, and socialized work practices, etc.) and institutional arrangements (which refer to the organizational forms such as markets, firms, and labour unions, etc.) that both govern and arise from the institutional environment. Secondly, institutionalist approaches pay close attention to the evolution of the economic landscape (such as ‘path dependence’ and technological innovation). Thirdly, institutional economic geographers tend to focus on the cultural foundations of economic processes. That is the way in which attitudes, lifestyles, work traditions, union structures and so on, contribute to local and regional economic development. A fourth concern is the social regulation and governance of local and regional economies (such as welfare policies and employment or financial regulations).

    But what implications does this have for the study of work and labour? Economic geographers interested in labour markets have taken a strong interest in the role of institutions, precisely because labour and employment are embedded in local, national, and macro- regional institutions. This gives local labour markets distinctive features that in turn both benefit and damage the livelihood of workers. Yet, it is not just institutions that shape the reproduction of labour and employment practices, but labour that shapes the institutional fabric of the space economy.

    Further Reading and Key Questions

    Below are a set of questions and readings relevant to each chapter of the book. All the references below can be found in the book's bibliography.

    Further Reading

    Below are listed essential follow-up readings for the various points made in this chapter:

    • The overall argument in this chapter is given a longer and very accessible treatment in Tilly and Tilly (1998).
    • A succinct explanation of what makes capitalism a distinctive mode of production can be found in Harvey (1985a: 128–33).
    • Peck (1996: 24–6) elaborates on labour's ‘pseudo-commodity’ status and on worker-employer tensions (1995: Chapter 1).
    • Gough (2001) deals nicely with the production–reproduction link.
    • Hudson (2001: Chapters 5–7) is excellent on what divides employers and differentiates workers socially.
    • Peck (1996: Chapter 3) offers a lucid explanation of segmentation.
    • Mann (2001) uses a Los Angeles case study to show how different ‘differences’ among workers can be brought together productively in actions against firms and regulatory bodies.
    • Finally, Storper and Walker (1989: Chapter 6) cover much of the same ground as this chapter, though put less of an emphasis on reproduction, regulation and ‘non-capitalist differences’.
    Key Questions

    Use this chapter and the further readings to answer the following questions:

    • Why, in capitalist societies, do ‘classes in-themselves’ not readily become ‘classes for-themselves’?
    • What are some of the links and tensions between wage work and social reproduction?
    • In what ways do social differences among wage-workers ‘interfere’ with their wider class consciousness?
    • What difficulties do employers confront when trying to hire and subsequently control the ‘right’ workers?
    Further Reading
    • Two very accessible essays on how best to conceptualize places are those by Castree (2003) and Massey (1995a).
    • For more on labour's localness see Hudson (2001: Chapter 8).
    • Storper and Walker (1989: Chapter 5) provide a review of the territorial basis of economic production.
    • Peck (1996: Chapter 4) explains why labour markets and their regulation are necessarily local and locally variable; see also Martin (2001) and Reimer (2001).
    • The essay by Herod (1991) and the subsequent debate (Herod, 1994; Martin et al., 1994) explains very well how and why local identities clash with a wider inter-place class consciousness.
    Key Questions
    • How can places remain unique at a time of heightened inter-place connectivity?
    • For what reasons are the lives of wage-workers and related social groups necessarily local?
    • Why must capitalist production and the regulation of firms and workers ultimately take place at the local scale?
    • What are the implications of the ‘localness’ of labour for class identity and class action?
    Further Reading
    • It is well worth reading Massey's original account (1984: Chapter 3) to learn more about corporate spatial divisions of labour.
    • Peck and Tickell (1995) show how local regulatory processes are embedded in wider institutional forms.
    • For lucid introductions to geographical scale see Herod (2003) and Howitt (2003); the special issue of Political Geography (1997, number 2) provides a rich set of case studies of how scales are socially constructed; finally, Sheppard and McMaster's (2003) collection lucidly explains and illustrates the importance of geographical scale.
    • See Swyngedouw (2000a) for a review of the contemporary re-scaling of the global economy.
    • Jonas (1997) offers a clear account, with examples, of local labour control regimes.
    Key Questions
    • What are the principal categories of inter-place connection and dependency linking capitalist firms and workers respectively?
    • In what ways are corporate spatial divisions of labour changing, and how do these processes affect different groups of workers?
    • In what ways do local labour control regimes necessarily reflect processes operating at wider scales?
    • What kinds of scalar dilemmas do wage workers face in the contemporary world?
    Further Reading
    • Peck (1996: Chapter 8) provides a run through of the ‘hegemonic despotism’ thesis; Greider (1997: Chapters 1–6) paints a grim picture of workers and places competing ruthlessly against one another; Sparke and Lawson (2003) explain how nearby places can unite against rival places for jobs, using a North American case study; finally, Sheppard (2000) explains lucidly why inter-place competition is endemic to capitalism.
    • Hudson (2000: Chapter 3) describes the ongoing problems in the economy and labour markets of Northeast England; Moody (1997: Chapter 5) provides an excellent review of the challenges to workers posed by lean production techniques across the developed world.
    • Allen and Henry (1995, 1997) provide more detail on the ‘downside’ of growth in Southeast England; see Sassen (2001) for a detailed analysis of the highly segmented labour markets in London, New York and Tokyo.
    • Kelly (2001, 2002) provides more detail on the Southeast Asia case study localities; see Cravey (1998) for a study of gendered industrialization in the Mexican maquiladoras.
    Key Questions
    • To what extent is the notion of ‘hegemonic despotism’ useful in representing the fortunes of workers under global capitalism?
    • What processes have contributed to the increased geographic mobility of capital?
    • In what ways are business- and state-imposed mechanisms of labour control interrelated?
    • What challenges does the ‘down-scaling’ of labour market regulation pose to workers and worker organizations?
    • How and why do the mechanisms of labour control employed vary between different places?
    Further Reading
    • Cox and Mair (1988) illustrate how the concept of ‘local dependence’ illuminates our understanding of the politics of economic development in place.
    • Herod (2001: Chapter 2) explains how and why wage-workers have agency; for an introduction to Giddens’ idea of structuration see Layder (1994: Chapter 8).
    • Logan and Molotch (1987: Chapter 3) provide the best definition of the ‘growth machine’ and explain why different interest groups are involved in place-based coalitions.
    • Wills (2002) provides a good introduction to the concept of ‘community unionism’, with examples of differences in how it is defined in particular places, drawing on work in the United States and the UK.
    Key Questions
    • Why do local firms, workers and state regulators sometimes mobilize together to defend their interests in place?
    • How can labour work with others in the local community to assert its agency?
    • What difficulties do unions face when trying to organize different local groups around a single issue in a particular place?
    • What is the rationale for, and what are the limits to, organizing ‘outside’ of the global capitalist system?
    Further Reading
    • For an overview of the volume and diversity of migration flows, see Chapters 4, 5 and 6 in Castles and Miller (1998) and Chapter 6 in Held et al. (1999).
    • All of the chapters in Brochmann and Hammar (1999) provide national case studies of the regulation and control of immigration in a selection of European countries. Chapter 5 in Jacobson (1998) provides a useful review of recent American immigration policies.
    • Most of the chapters in the four-volume set (on Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the Arab region) edited by Appleyard (1999) offer a wealth of excellent case studies of migration within these regions, and to other destination regions. They document the complexity of regulation, migration impacts, and the strategy of workers to improve their livelihoods.
    • Sassen (1995) provides an excellent study of the impacts of migration at the scale of the local labour market, as does Borjas (in Jacobson, 1998) at both the national and the local scale in the United States.
    Key Questions
    • To what extent does labour migration from countries in the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere constitute the bulk of labour migration?
    • Explain why nation-states continue to be the most important regulators of labour migration.
    • Why would states want to encourage the immigration of workers?
    • In what ways does low-skilled labour migration affect the livelihoods of native workers?
    • If professional workers are relatively affluent, why do they migrate?
    • How, and to what extent, does the emigration of workers benefit source areas?
    Further Reading
    • Herod (2001: Chapter 5) offers a full account of up-scaling union activity from the local to the national scales, taking the longshoremen case summarized in this chapter as an example.
    • Waterman and Wills’ (2001) edited collection offers a range of excellent case studies on new initiatives in worker transnationalism.
    • The essays by Herod (1995) and Castree (2000) try to pinpoint what can be learnt from recent transnational worker campaigns that are production-orientated. Are these campaigns unique or can more general lessons be drawn from them?
    • Johns and Vural (2000) offer a lucid account of the Stop Sweatshops Campaign as one example of consumption politics; Hartwick (2000) makes a more general argument for consumption- orientated forms of worker activism; Smith (1996), using Starbucks coffee as an example, shows how commodity consumption can inadvertently perpetuate labour exploitation.
    • Moody (1997) describes the contours of the new social movement unionism; Cohen and Rai (2000) discuss several new international grassroots movements, only some of which are strictly labour movements.
    Key Questions
    • Why is it both desirable and increasingly possible for workers to organize themselves transnationally? What geographical contradictions must be negotiated in the process?
    • What, if any, wider lessons can be learnt about ‘successful’ transnational worker actions from the Ravenswood and Liverpool cases?
    • To what extent can consumption-oriented actions offer an alternative to production-focussed forms of worker transnationalism?
    • Is borderless solidarity necessarily a good thing for contemporary wage-workers?
    Further Reading
    • Harvey (2001: Chapter 9) offers a readable account of the problem of reconciling different geographical scales at which wage workers define their loyalties to one another.
    • Harvey (1996: Chapter 12) writes insightfully on the way the construction of a common rallying-point can help ameliorate ‘negative’ differences.
    • On workers and human rights see Harvey (2000: Chapter 5) and Hensman (2001).
    • Fraser (1997: Chapter 1) presents a lucid account of the tensions and complementarities that arise in the pursuit of economic and cultural justice, as does McDowell (2000); D.M. Smith (2000a and b) offers a general reflection of how to achieve justice in a world of intense socio-geographic difference.
    Key Questions
    • Is it possible to reconcile worker aims and objectives defined at one geographical scale with those defined at other geographical scales?
    • How can identities, ideas or issues serve to protect ‘positive’ worker differences and eliminate ‘negative’ worker differences?
    • Does moral relativism necessarily undermine attempts to improve the livelihoods of contemporary wage workers and their allies?

    List of Websites and Other Learning Resources


    This website contains a series of projects looking at non-capitalist community economic development schemes in Australia.

    This is a trade unionists’ website that contains up-to-date stories about worker struggles worldwide.

    This site contains cartoons that satirically depict workers and their employers.

    The site of the International Federation of Free Trade Unions.

    A website devoted to reporting on women workers worldwide.

    The website of the International Labour Organization, a United Nations organization that monitors what's happening to workers worldwide.

    The International Labour Solidarity website. It's dedicated to sharing information about international worker campaigns to defend jobs, improve pay and enhance conditions.

    The Global Alliance for Workers and Communities website. This is an independent organization that reports worker rights abuses worldwide.

    The Global Solidarity Dialogue website run by labour activist Peter Waterman. It's an information exchange site that encourages dialogue on new initiatives in transborder labour solidarity.

    The World Federation of Trade Unions website.

    The Global Unions website that reports on the activities of the several existing international union organizations.

    The home of Labour Notes, a regular report on labour activism worldwide.

    Global Compact website, promoting social movement unionism that links worker struggles with those of communities, environmentalists and others.

    Website of the Global Labour Institute based in Geneva. This pro-worker organization is not tied to any one trade union and takes an ecumenical perspective on worker rights.

    The Mobilization for Global Justice website. This site reports on activities that challenge the power of the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF.

    The Global Trade Watch website. This US-based site advocates socially and environmentally ethical trade among nations.

    The Corporate Watch website monitors the activities of multinational companies.

    OneWorld is a global internet based cooperative formed in 1995 and dedicated to harnessing the democratic potential of the internet to promote human rights and sustainable development.

    The Dutch-based Transnationals Information Exchange site. It also monitors multinational companies and their activities.

    The website of the World Social Forum, a global organization of trade unions, new social movements, NGOs and other groups opposed to the neoliberal version of world capitalism.

    This is a link off the Oxfam website that monitors Nike's employment practices.

    The European Trade Union Confederation was formed in 1973. It now has 78 national trade union confederations from 34 European countries. It lobbies European politicians and decision-makers on behalf of its many millions of members.

    The European Trade Union Institute was formed in 1978 by the ETUC as a bridge between academic researchers and the trade union movement.

    Migration News, a free leading source of monthly information on migration-related news across the world.

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. See ‘international migration’ and especially their annual report ‘Trends in International Migration’ published by their SOPEMI division.

    The website of the United Kingdom Home Office, which contains a range of immigration matters relating to the UK and the European Union.

    The European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations – a general documentation centre containing a range of publications and notices.

    You can register for the New York Times online for free, and then click on the ‘member center’ and then ‘news tracker’ to receive daily notices about stories relating to immigration, migration, and so forth, in the United States and abroad.

    Videos and Films
    • ‘Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti’. This video is about the workers in Haiti who sew garments for Disney. Both videos are produced (and distributed) by the National Labor Committee in New York.
    • ‘Free Trade Slaves’, by Joan Salvat, Stef Soetewey and Peter Breuls. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities and Sciences, c. 1999. This film discusses free trade zones and the accompanying human problems that have arisen with human rights, exploitation of workers and environmental degradation. Filmed on location in Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Mexico and Morocco.
    • ‘Children at Work’. A documentary by Shelia Franklin. Amherst, MA: 1 World Producation, 2000. An examination of the use of child labour worldwide.
    • ‘Something to Hide’. National Labor Committee, New York: Crowing Rooster Arts, 1999. This film illustrates the long and difficult hours that adults and children in developing countries are working to produce brand name American products.
    • ‘Secrets of Silicon Valley’ Snitow-Kaufman Productions. Produced and directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Bullfrog Films, 2001. This film chronicles a tumultuous year in the lives of two young activists grappling with rapid social change and the meaning of globalization on their own doorsteps. Magda Escobar runs Plugged In, a computer training centre in a low-income community just a few miles from the epicentre of high-tech wealth. Raj Jayadev is a temporary worker who confronts the hype of SiliconValley by revealing the reality of an unseen and unacknowledged army of immigrant workers.
    • ‘The Full Monty’ (1997, Twenty-First Century Fox) and ‘Brassed Off’ (1997, Miramax Films). These two commercially successful films were shot in deindustrializing towns in Northern England. In different ways, they recount how the unemployed cope with being thrown out of work. ‘Brassed Off’ is altogether darker, and more tragic than the comedic ‘The Full Monty’.
    • ‘Bread and Roses’ (2001, FilmFour) ( is Ken Loach's film based on the Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles. It focuses on the politics of organizing low-paid, often illegal janitors in an effort to improve their lot.
    • ‘Real Women Have Curves’ (2002, HBO/Newmarket Films) ( This account of a Latino family from East Los Angeles reveals how sweatshop work is part and parcel of every day for millions of US immigrants. It explores the relationship between generations of women brought up to work long hours for low pay, and what happens when the youngest members of the family being to want more from life.
    • ‘Modern Times’ (1936, United Artists) ( Modern Times is a story of the male worker and the dehumanizing effects of factory life. Extremely subversive at the time, Charlie Chaplin blends dry humour with a serious questioning of a critique of the way the industrial system squeezes the life out of individuals in the name of profit.
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