Worker Resistance in Global Supply Chains, Wildcat Strikes, Transnational Campaigns, and International Accords

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mark ANNER, Penn State University, USA
Proponents of a race-to-the-bottom argument would suggest that production goes where wages are lowest, but that argument cannot explain why China continues to dominate apparel production while its wages are four times higher than in Bangladesh. At the same time, those who suggest that production goes where logistics are the most efficient and economies of scale are the greatest (as in China) cannot explain why Vietnam is one of the fastest growing major apparel exporters in the world, or why Honduras is the largest Latin American exporter.

 Where apparel production has concentrated in the last decade has as much to do with labor control regimes as with wages and other economic factors. This article first argues that there are three main labor control regimes in the apparel sector: state-party control; market despotism; and repressive employer control. In then argues that labor control regimes, and the political context upon which they are based, shape patterns of worker resistance. Specifically, the three systems of labor control are conducive to three patterns of worker resistance: wildcat strikes, international accords, and transnational corporate campaigns.

The article explores these arguments by examining patterns of resistant among apparel in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Honduras. Workers in global value chains are finding new strategies to addresses harsh working conditions in global supply chains. These strategies are shaped not only by the exigencies of hyper-competitive global production regimes, but also by state structures and local market conditions. The highly statist system of Vietnam with its party-controlled official unionism has engendered a powerful wildcat strike wave. The weak state and harsh, despotic labor market conditions in Bangladesh have pushed activists to pursue international accords. Hegemonic labor control in Honduras built on a political regime that is permissive of factory-level repression has motivated labor organizing and transnational corporate campaigns.