Curious Notes on Globalisation, Labour and National Society

by Swatahsiddha Sarkar

Frontier | 18 August , 2016

Globalization, a buzzword, has been variously interpreted and analysed. In its most widest and comprehensive manifestation globalization is understood primarily as an economic process that gradually absorbs the other domains of life like politics, culture, ethics, and morality. As an economic process it advocates the absorption of some policy measures which will revamp the economy of a national society[1] in tune with the terms of global trade and market relations. The policy measures are aimed at opening up of a national economy so that the free flow of capital, technology, goods and services, and labour across national boards could be ensured. Viewed as such globalization thus contributing towards lengthening of connections between places in ‘a novel way’ which were otherwise afar and making the world becoming more deeply interconnected through the churnings of – what has been called as – ‘living  globally’. The turning of a rather economic process into cultural, social and political one depends upon several key factors and forces. These factors and forces – culminating in a new market mantra – are actualized through several agencies like Trans-national Corporations (TNCs), Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and the International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs).

As a matter of fact, the political economy of globalization thus envelops our life and makes us realise how ‘living globally’ can appear to be an all pervasive phenomena across the national board. However, in this thinking, acting and living globally phase encouragement from all side were given on the issues of free flow of capital, goods, services and technology but seldom on the question of labour. Though free flow of labour appears to be a de facto element in any definition of globalization the question of free flow of labour appears to be an uncalled for substance for the discourse of globalization. The flow of technology, capital, goods and services are accentuated in any discussion on globalization. It seems globalization has been largely inhospitable to the principle of free flow of labour. There is very little discussion on the question of free flow of labour. In a certain sense the architects of globalization do not actually want the labour to have a free flow. Much like the issues of technology, capital, goods and services labour is also fundamentally rooted in what constitute a production process. More fundamentally it is in labour where we could locate human being in a far more direct sense. One may not oblivious if a socially concerned perspective demands to situate the concerns of ‘free flow of labour’ as the moot point to initiate a discussion on a rather economic process known as globalization. When one attempts to come out with a ‘return of the social’ kind of interpretation in relation to the question of labour vis-à-vis globalization several issues unfurl as significant. This paper is a preliminary attempt to comment on some such issues which transpire in the way labour encounters globalization.

I

Cheap labour has always been central to the economics of capitalism. This has given birth to huge migration of labour force from East to the West throughout the history. Plantations, mining and the indentured system of labour recruitment all these remind us about how this has happened in world capitalism before globalization of today’s terms has become a fait accompli. Given this as reality when we intend to argue that political economy of globalization is inhospitable to the principle of ‘free flow of labour’ that it advocates and perhaps repeals at the same time do we want to mean that today’s capitalism does not need cheap labour any more? Can the contemporary capitalism flourish without cheap labour? If the answer to this question is a categorical ‘No’ then how it affords to secure cheap labour when it denounces the free flow of labour as a matter of principle? These are troubling questions.

Compared to this if we look at the data set available on global migration we have an altogether different picture. In 1980, the world migrant population, that is, the population made up of those who resided in a country other than their country of birth, was less than 100 million people, or 2.2 percent of the world population (United Nations 2004, 2005). By 2005, the migrant population had increased to 190 million people or 2.9 percent of the world population (United Nations 2006). Thus, on average between 1980 and 2005, the world immigrant population increased by 3.6 million people each year. However, the distribution of the migrant population was uneven, with over 60 percent of the 190 million migrants or immigrants were from the more developed regions of the world. Europe and North America account for 57 percent of the world migrant population (United Nations 2006). Two inferences may be worth noting here. First, that there has been an increase, if not a steady increase in the volume of global migration. Second, that this volume of global migration is not truly global in the sense that much of it is still regionally concentrated. If we further categorize this volume of global migration in terms of the socio-economic background of the migrants we might have a very different picture. In the absence of required data set that could substantiate such an argument we are left only with the option of making credible predilections in this regard.

It would not be too impressionistic to argue that the ‘complex labour’ – to use Samir Amin’s provenance – constitute the core of this global migration instead of ‘simple labour’ (Amin 2002: 62). On the contrary this ‘complex labour’ is far more costly than the ‘simple labour’. Morover, these managerial and technical personnel (whom we labeled by following Amin as ‘complex labour’) do not take part in the production of surplus value but, rather, have a share in its distribution (Amin 2002: 63). How then one could assess the changing role and complexities of manual unskilled labour (‘simple labour’) in the context of globalization? The mere emphasis on saying that global trend of labour migration has little room for unskilled manual labour does not resolve the query as to why globalization is not in need of them while it encourages skilled personnel to have a free flow across countries despite the fact that they appropriate and do not further the surplus value?

During the heydays of colonialism coercive arrangements of recruitment like indentured labour secured the supply of cheap labour from the periphery to explore enterprises like mining or plantation located at distant places. Now in the decolonized era the same system is neither feasible nor even is necessary to maintain. The globalised world of contemporary time does not have the need to shift the manual unskilled labour as it can now shift the required technology and capital where the cheap labour is concentrated. Furthermore the world capitalism of our time could manufacture, trade and market the product right from the very place wherefrom cheap labour originated. The rapid incursion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the global South is just one mechanism of this hydra headed process. The axial principles of free flow of capital, technology, goods and services are those policy measures/ strategies which could well accelerate the pace of capitalism in the periphery to flourish while further limiting the possibilities of free movement of unskilled labour from global South. Plausibly all these have trivialised the ‘free flow of labour’ issue virtually as a ‘non-issue’ in any discussion on globalization. This serves the purpose of being an inventory of an incontestable excuse following which the so-called developed world could well avoid the unnecessary burden of unskilled labour which may further engender unavoidable political troubles concerning the issues like racism, social security, and human rights. However, this is not to suggest that unskilled labour does not flow outside national societies nor even that unskilled labourers are not keen towards moving beyond the national boundaries. In fact, human migration to eke out a living as a phenomenon is as old as human civilization. The growing incidence of human trafficking in contemporary time across national board is also a case in point that validates the susceptibilities and also the possibilities of the propositions noted above. The argument is that global capitalism needs cheap labour but does welcome only the skilled labour from the global south.

II

We are often being told that in the wake of globalization the nation state is on retreat. That cartographic boundary of the nation states is gradually eroding out and becoming increasingly insignificant. On the other hand, we are also being told that globalization leads towards homogenisation at the cultural level. All these thus create an impression as if the entire diversity of the world is heading towards a notionally existing ‘global village’ where sameness will prevail and all will benefit. It is necessary to pose a serious question here: is globalisation keen towards creating a single world nullifying the national differences? Does globalization want that countries like India or let us say the countries of entire South Asia constitute a single hub? If it is so then obviously there is a retreat of nation state. On the contrary, the global reality in contemporary time, particularly after the ‘Brexit referendum’ in the case of European Union, compels us to rethink this issue with due seriousness. Can we discount the reality for the sake of epistemology? How could we be ignorant of the contentious relations that we as nation states share with our neighbouring countries? How can we rule out that the role being played by the US in such inter-national politics? Is it that the matchmakers of globalization want that the nation states should get rid of conflicts and contentions that mired much of their national politics and wealth? Is it that the conflicts between nation states reduced after globalization? The answers to these troubling questions problematise the rhetorical expressions like ‘the state is on retreat’ or that ‘the cartographic existence of nation states is on the verge of collapse’.

It is not to deny that nation states are not under pressure of economic globalization. It is one thing to argue that the nation sates have to make several compromises in order to accommodate policies of economic globalization and to cope up with the global economic pressure. But it would be a completely different proposition to hold that due to these accommodations and combinations nation state is on the retreat. Not to mention such pressures the national societies have faced earlier even. Is it not that the national societies have responded to colonialism? Is it not like that imperialism has led towards contraction and expansion of national territories? The only difference is that the earlier encounters were not many but were more direct and even physical and the encounters the national societies are now facing are plenty but in most cases they are subtle, indirect and polemical.

The argument is that globalization needs national societies as because they constitute its basic units. The matchmakers of globalizations are not at all interested in the dissolution of nation states. On the contrary they do fuel all possible concerns that may contribute towards the growing animosities between nation states to the extent that perpetuation of such inter-state conflicts could not forge solidarity and union among nation states. Would the US want a South Asia, for example, as a single unit in place of the seven separate nation states? However, the global economic and political forces will continue to endorse official platforms like SAARC since such associations of nation states are actually formed to work out amicable strategies to cope with global challenges and not to challenge them. Even the European Union has failed to mark the epitaph of nation states. These associations and fora are platforms for safeguarding their respective national interests through negotiations but not to emerge as a single unit by dissolving their cartographic distinctions. We are aware of how cartographic anxiety constituted the dominant discourse of South Asian politics. We are also aware how dangerous it is to raise an opinion against the wishes of the nation state.

Under the forces of globalization the nation states are left only with the responsibilities of securitization is also not well taken. Keeping pace with globalization we did also experience that nation states are increasingly sneaking into our private life even. Habermas calls this as ‘colonisation of lifeworld’. Focault labels this potentiality as ‘bio-power’ of the modern liberal states where the nation states actually play the role of a Shepherd who looks after all its Flocks. Kalyan Sanyal reminded us about the trend of ‘reversal of primitive accumulation’ that the globalised world is actually in need of in order to sustain itself. Partha Chatterjee estimated Indian reality in the light of these theoretical positions and argued that Indian nation state and its increasing encounter with the global forces ensured through globalization has given birth to a new domain of politics within the nation state itself. This he termed as ‘political society’ that has created a hub of power and politics whose dynamics harp on India’s modern liberal democratic state structure. The point is that the way democratization comes out as an obvious outcome of liberalism and capitalism in a similar way nation states are necessary for the propagation and sustenance of globalization. The permutations and combinations that the nation states have to make while encountering economic globalization is in no way going to weaken its physical existence or political capacity over its subject population.

This brief note raised two curious propositions. First, it attempted to show why free flow of labour could not assume the significance like say free flow of capital or technology despite being a fact that all are considered to be the axial principles of what we know as economic globalization. Second, as to why it is too impressionistic to hold that nation state is on the retreat. In fact, both these questions were addressed in literatures available on the issue of globalization only tangentially. While some literatures have made only passing reference to the question of labour, some others addressed the praxis of nation state rather polemically. It is argued that one comes out with an altogether different picture when attempt is made to scrutinize globalization in terms of unskilled labour and the hard realities of national politics. In so doing it was observed that one needs to be cautious about what is available in literature and what we experience in reality. On this count globalization obviously made modest success in creating an ideological world which is both impressionistic and polemical at the same time. The present note is but a dissecting attempt to scrutinize some of the already existing and widely circulated expert views on the issue of globalization.   (2439 words)

Note
1. Drawing upon Samir Amin (2002) the term ‘national society’ has been used in this brief communiqué interchangeably with nation state.

References

Amin, Samir (2002): Spectres of Capitalism: A Critique of Current Intellectual Fashions. Delhi: Rainbow Publishers.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2006): International Migration 2006, Sales No. E.06.XIII.6.
[http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/2006Migration_Chart/2006IttMig_chart.htm] Accessed on March 20, 2016.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2005): Total Population, Total Fertility Rate. Data retrieved from Population, Resources, Environment and Development. [URL: http://unstats.un.org/pop/dVariables/DRetrieval.aspx] Accessed on March 12,  2016.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2004): International Migrant Stock. Data retrieved from Population, Resources, Environment and Development. [URL: http://unstats.un.org/pop/dVariables/DRetrieval.aspx] Accessed on March 15, 2016.

SOURCE: http://www.frontierweekly.com/views/aug-16/18-8-16-Curious%20Notes%20on%20Globalisation.html

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