Academic journal article Social Justice

On the Borders of Solidarity: Race and Gender Contradictions in the "New Voice" Platform of the AFL-CIO

Academic journal article Social Justice

On the Borders of Solidarity: Race and Gender Contradictions in the "New Voice" Platform of the AFL-CIO

Article excerpt

You work till your bones hurt. You work till your eyes hurt. The engineers make you work till you think you will drop. They really are...always watching and hovering, stopwatch and clipboard in hand. What I regret most is not the pain of working at something so degrading, so meaningless. It is instead the pain of knowing that we, the laborers, are capable of doing so much more, Of living and working in a more meaningful way. Of controlling our own lives, our own resources, our own destinies. That is what I struggle for then. For a job to make full use of my imagination. And to change the world. To make it more just. I dream of a world that lives within its own means. Within limits, free of excesses. The maquilas? Well, you know it's crazy to work so fast all year round to make so many useless things. But I guess as long as americanos want cheap TVs, then there will always be maquilas. But you know at the same time we are exhausting Mexico's resources, especially its workers. We are wasting human lives. I say this is too high a price to pay for a job, food, and shelter.

-- Juana Ortega, RCA plant, Ciudad Juarez, 1982 (Pena, 1997)

What is now the object of contempt -- and in turn fuels fears -- is no longer manual labor pure and simple...but mechanized physical work which has become the "appendage of the machine" and therefore subject to a violence that is both physical and symbolic without immediate precedent.... This process modifies the status of the human body (the human status of the body): it creates body-men, men whose body is a machine-body that is fragmented and dominated, and used to perform one isolable function or gesture, being both destroyed in its integrity and fetishized, atrophied, and hypertrophied in its "useful" organs.

-- Etienne Balibar, "Class Racism" (Balibar and Wallerstein, 1991: 211)

The current phase of neocolonial capitalism is characterized as a regime of flexible accumulation empowered to move unhindered around the globe, to organize the extraction of surplus by coordinating highly differentiated modes of production and rigorously segmented labor markets. These characteristics have forced a reconceptualization of the traditional terrain of class struggle and its privileged subjects. Rather than imagine a labor movement predicated on a solidarity born out of the homogenizing tendencies of capitalist expansion, we are compelled to consider the hyper-differentiating effects of globalization -- the dispersal and fragmentation of sites of production and markets -- as the ground for new forms of political action, rather than as the occasion of their foreclosure. At the heart of this project of re-visioning labor politics is a category of worker historically situated at the margins of development and of "the political": the subaltern workers whose staggering rates of productivity on the glo bal assembly line defy their prior constitution as a "relative surplus population" (Marx, 1990: 786). This category itself masks the history of their colonization and racialization as captive labor, a history haunting the "new" division of labor.

As the traditional compact between organized labor and industrialized welfare states has given way, current global restructuring places ever greater burdens on this class of workers. Ironically, the workers who have historically been accorded few claims to rights as citizens or as beneficiaries of industrialization (women, racial minorities, Third World subalterns, migrants) now occupy the fastest growing sectors of the post-Fordist labor force and have been targeted as the new clients of development. [1] Depictions of subaltern omen of color as the "nimble fingers" generating the hyper-profits of globalized capitalism are now a commonplace in representations of its logic of commodification. The discourse of the fragmented laboring body constructs Third World women workers as uniquely equipped by biological and historical conditioning to withstand the monotony and repetition of high-speed production. …

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