Neo-Liberalism and Labour within the Context of an 'Emerging Market' Economy -- Turkey

By Cam, Surhan | Capital & Class, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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Neo-Liberalism and Labour within the Context of an 'Emerging Market' Economy -- Turkey

Cam, Surhan, Capital & Class

Introduction: the promises of neo-liberalism

In recent decades, free marketeers have conducted a worldwide campaign against state interventions in economic affairs. In this process, commentators such as Beckler (1982) and Piatier (1984), depicted protectionist trade policies as the basic problem of developing countries. Barro & S ala-i-Martin (1992) and Meyer (1998) also contended that a structural convergence between the Third World and industrialised economies would inevitably require the liberalisation of international trade and investments. In addition, according to Heller (1984) and Vickers &Yarrow (1988), for example, transferring the ownership of public enterprises to the wider stratum of society by privatisation, was the universal imperative of common sense in order to invigorate the entrepreneurial spirit.

For pro-market scholars, flexible employment relations were crucial for a viable employment structure in the age of globalisation. Despite the lack of convincing evidence, it has been argued that growing interaction among different cultures began to change consumers' consumption patterns almost on a day-to-day basis. Mahon (1987) stressed that in order to cope with the volatile demands of consumers, companies frequently needed to alter their products, but not all workers had sufficient skills to cope with changing production systems. Therefore, Blyton & Morris (1991) asserted that promoting temporary employment was the only way forward, if unsustainable levels of labour costs were to be avoided.

The 'excessive' power of trade unions became a specific subject of the critique, combined with an ambiguous ideology of conflict of interest between workers and consumers. Sarfati & Kobrin (1988) and Saunders & Harris (1994) argued that the reluctance of trade unions to relinquish job security policies, and their pervasive 'obsession' with vested interests, were not only pushing up labour costs for employers but commodity prices for consumers as well. Accordingly, promarket commentators vilified trade unions, particularly those operating in the public sector, as opportunists taking advantage of the statutory regulations and collective bargaining position. Referring to the 'political compromises' of state managers, Pierson (1991) contended that the privatisation of public sector organisations would produce significant contributions to a 'well-balanced' union power.

In spite of the challenges to job security and organised solidarity, however, the proponents of the neo-liberal project posited that the working class in developing countries would derive the most notable gains from 'market solutions'. As far as Rojas (1999) was concerned, the internationalisation of poor economies in general would improve employment prospects in the Third World. From this point of view, foreign investment, in particular, was seen as an effective remedy for unemployment in less affluent nations. Markusen & Venables (1997) suggested that international capital inflow to such countries would culminate in job opportunities by sparking off new economic activities in industrial sectors. Neo-liberal literature was also embellished with promises regarding employees' earnings in 'emerging market' economies. Slaughter & Swagel (1997) and Williamson (1998) endorsed the idea that the integration of less affluent nations within the world economy would boost production technology and make for increases in wages and salaries as a result of growing labour productivity.

Furthermore, it was argued that 'market solutions' would undermine conflicts between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In this account, privatisation would not only invigorate the entrepreneurial spirit by dispersing the ownership of public enterprises to the wider stratum of society (Vickers & Yarrow 1988), but would also deliver mutual benefits for employers and employees in particular, by distributing company shares to employees (Heller 1984).

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