Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

The Labour-as-Commodity Debate: Implications for Labour Markets

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

The Labour-as-Commodity Debate: Implications for Labour Markets

Article excerpt

Issue 20(2) of The Economic and Labour Relations Review consisted of a symposium, guest-edited by Yanis Varoufakis and Dimitria Groutsis, updating the perennial debate over the commodity status of labour. The symposium contained a historical overview of ways in which Western writers have thought of labour, from ancient Greece to the present (Theocarakis). As well, it offered a new theoretical analysis of how Adam Smith's writings, foundational both for liberalism and political economy, actually conceptualised the pricing and exchange of labour (Aspromourgos). Based on the 'duality of labour' as simultaneously a commodity and a non-commodity, Bryan argued that changes to the state and to the financial system are forcing workers to become risk-managing 'entrepreneurs of their own lives'. Further articles considered less 'material' aspects of the control of labour power, from the capacity of workers to resist the psychological approaches of human resource management (Shields and Grant) to the relationship between capital and cyber-workers (van den Broek). Defining commodification in terms of de-personalisation and reduced labour rights, three articles explored aspects of the migrant labour experience. Connell canvassed continuities between 'blackbirding' at the turn of the twentieth century and the recent Australian use of temporary Pacific Island labour. Rosewarne examined temporary migration as a facet of globalisation and provided a critique of the argument that remittances contribute to home-country development. Taksa and Groutsis showed how the ILO declaration on the non-commodity status of labour and UN conventions on migrant labour rights were at odds with Australia's treatment of post-war migrants as 'factory fodder', and with recent discourses of migrants as 'business assets'. …

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