chapter  1
Re-engaging with Agency in Labour Geography
ByAnn Cecilie Bergene, Sylvi B. Endresen, Hege Merete Knutsen
Pages 12

The erosion of the Keynesian welfare state and the intensification of neoliberal economic globalization have inevitably brought issues concerning the welfare and working conditions of labour to the forefront both in the global north and the global south. The era of expanded reproduction, which was characterized by the protection of infant industries producing for an internal mass market and the inclusion of trade unions as important bargaining partners has, since the crisis of the 1970s, been supplanted by a search for profits through accumulating by dispossessing the masses of public goods and benefits (Harvey 2003), and a quest for gains in productivity and for increases in the rate of exploitation to stave off the crisis of Fordism (Lipietz 1982). The new accumulation regime went hand in hand with the rise to hegemony of the neoliberal ideology preaching supplyside policies and competitiveness. States should not protect industries unable to compete in the international market, but rather roll back its interventions in the economy. The emphasis put on exports and attracting foreign direct investments led to efforts to boost the competitiveness of localities, thus triggering a race to the bottom in labour legislation and wages (Chan and Ross 2003, Silver 2003). By dispossessing workers of their legal protection, but also of jobs through relocation, workers become, according to Harvey (2003), the equivalent of a reserve army. Trade unions can thus be held in check, paving the way for the needed rise in the rate of exploitation. This new accumulation regime has provided a common experience for workers worldwide through, for instance, attempts at disbanding unions by casting them as scapegoats for economic recession.