Neoliberalism, industrial restructuring and labour: Lessons from the Delhi garment industry
The deep capitalist world crisis of the 1970s and the rise of neoliberal globalisation in the 1980s signalled the end of the labour-friendly regime (Silver and Arrighi 2000), which characterised the Keynesian era and was defined by a sort of international ‘compromise’ between capital and labour. In the developing countries, this shift determined the passage from ‘the development project’ to the ‘globalisation project’ (Bair 2005), which has relegated these countries to the role of ‘full package suppliers’ (Gibbon 2001) in global commodity chains. Within the logic of neoliberal globalisation, developing countries compete according to their comparative advantage, namely cheap labour. The way in which this ‘cheapness’ is ensured is heavily based on the segmentation of labour markets on the basis of traditional social structures. Arguably, these structures pre-exist neoliberalism, and they are highly country-specific. With reference to India, which this chapter focuses on, Harriss-White (2003) has highlighted the fundamental role that structures such as caste, gender, space, religion and family labour play in the local accumulation process. Looking at the case of the Delhi export-oriented garment sector, this chapter shows how, today, these structures are also acquiring broader regulatory functions. In fact, Indian garment exporters, who are subject to global competition, make use of the local social structures available to them in order to minimise labour costs and successfully participate in global production. In this way, such structures are further reinforced, and, arguably, transnationalised, as they acquire an even more significant role, not simply within the local economy, but also within the global economy. They contemporaneously mediate the process of working-class formation in the local economy as well as in neoliberal global production, imposing patterns of labour commodification and control which are highly diversified and which exploit the social profile of the workers. This chapter is based on fieldwork findings and observations gathered in India between October 2004 and July 2004. The methodology used is based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Data presented come from the archive of the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), a sectorspecific governmental agency with various regulatory and export-promotion functions. Qualitative accounts are based on interviews with exporters, subcon-
tractors and other agents actively involved in the production process, and labour organisations supporting and organising garment workers (mainly the Centre for Education and Communication – CEC, and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions – CITU).