Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Bringing "Globalization" Down to Earth: Restructuring and Labour in Rural Communities

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Bringing "Globalization" Down to Earth: Restructuring and Labour in Rural Communities

Article excerpt

THE FORCES OF CONTEMPORARY CAPITALISM are radically altering the structure of business enterprise, the organization of labour, the quality of life on and off the job and the role of the state in shaping these in Canadian society. The study reported on here attempts to expand upon our knowledge of this transformation through empirical research, in particular research that is situated in a rural community context. This context is terra incognita as far as Canadian social science is concerned.

We situate our study within the broad debate around the implications for labour, and ultimately the wider society, of economic restructuring in Canada. We then examine three case studies of corporate restructuring in rural communities of Southern Ontario. The survey we conducted of the former plant labour forces points to some common and disturbing outcomes of the restructuring process. We interpret these in light of the theoretical debate around the directions of contemporary Canadian capitalism.

The Deindustrialization vs. Renewal Debate

That contemporary capitalism has undergone a substantial, indeed profound, change since the 1960s is a point around which there is some agreement on the right and left, at least in the Canadian context.(1) However, this concordance of views ends when it comes to evaluating the consequences of this process and the policy responses necessary to survive and prosper in this new economic environment. This is where the real debate lies. The following passage encompasses both the unanimity and the fundamental disagreement existing over this issue.

[We have] a society in which firms have been merged and acquired,

downsized, deindustrialized, multinationalized, automated, streamlined,

and restructured. In the process, the rich have gotten richer, the poor

poorer, and the life for the middle class more and more precarious

(Bluestone and Harrison, 1988: 22).

The first part of this statement would likely not attract much of an argument from Canadian neoconservatives. It is the last sentence, summarizing the writers' views of the outcome of this economic process, that is hotly contested.

Few studies dealing with the restructuring of contemporary capitalism successfully link macro-economic developments to a careful empirical analysis of the impact of these developments at the level of the job structure and the quality of work. The landmark studies by Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison (1982; 1988) in the United States were among the earliest and most comprehensive attempts to do this.

At the macro-economic level, Bluestone and Harrison have carefully documented for the U.S. the powerful wave of capital migration by American industrial firms to low-cost countries abroad, stimulated by the much-discussed crisis of profitability that developed around the late 1960s (1982: 148; see also Marchak, 1991; Warnock, 1988). With this new phase in the globalization of American corporations, firms were now replacing domestic manufacturing with manufacturing abroad (Bluestone and Harrison, 1988: 28). The greater reliance on foreign assembly, the "outsourcing" (subcontracting) of components to foreign manufacturers, the introduction of co-production arrangements with foreign firms and the licensing of technology to foreign competitors were all resulting in the "hollowing out" of American industry, they argued (29).

The "de-industrialization" thesis of Bluestone and Harrison and others sparked a vigorous and trenchant debate in the U.S. by the early 1980s.(2) It echoed the potent reverberations of massive plant shutdowns and corporate relocations that affected one state after another in the old industrial heartlands of the northeast and north central U.S. (see Perrucci et al., 1988: 38; "Singing. . .," 1986).

Ironically, despite the relative calm in the Canadian manufacturing sector at the time, Canadian scholars in the political economy tradition had already anticipated their American counterparts with the de-industrialization issue. …

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