Capital-Labour Relations and Indigeneity in the Popular Economy

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Angus MCNELLY, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
In Latin America and across the world Bolivia is heralded as a country with an indigenous president and a progressive constitution that recognises the plurinational nature of the country. Whilst the government’s agenda of ‘indigenous autonomy’ has rightly attracted the interest and excitement of scholars and activists alike, it affects only a handful of indigenous people in a country which is mostly urban. The city of El Alto in particular – the larger albeit younger twin of La Paz – is seen as the ‘Aymara capital’ of the Andes and is home to large numbers of indigenous people, the majority of whom are forced into the labour market. Some have celebrated the colourful markets that characterise the city as a popular economy, marvelling at the ingenuity of Aymara comerciantes [traders] and the integration of indigenous practices and beliefs into their enterprises. The expression of indigeneity within a capitalist urban environment, they argue, has formed not-quite capitalist forms of production and distribution. However, I suggest the informal, precarious forms of this work reveals the ways in which capitalist relations have been embedded within pre-existing social relations as part of a dialectical struggle between the forces of the market and subaltern subjects eking out a living in an uncertain environment. Through analysis on labour markets statistics I demonstrate how these Aymara forms of commerce and production fit nicely into the precarious, unregulated world created by neoliberal reforms some three decades ago. Far from being non-quite capitalist, labour relations in El Alto have assumed a hidden form and are still very much constrained by the same logic as capital-labour relations in the rest of the capitalist world.