Πέμπτη, 8 Μαρτίου 2018

Gender at work

Extract from an academic article that was also published in "Entropia, issue 12 " https://entropia.syspirosiatakton.org/

Gender at work1
Gregoris Ioannou

Gender often impacts on the division of labor, fragments the workforce and assigns gendered characteristics in specific sectors and occupations. These processes are nominally informal, yet as they are operationalized in the labor process, they may become formalized or interact positively as well as negatively with other formal divisions (Dyer, McDowell, and Batnitzky 2010; Johnston and Lee 2012).  Women are underrepresented in middle and higher-ranking positions—as well as trade unions and trade union committees—and are, correspondingly, generally speaking, paid less and overrepresented in low-waged positions (Ioakimoglou and Soumeli 2008).

Despite all the legislation, technocratic policy suggestions and public rhetoric about (the need of) gender equality, there are still exclusively masculine and exclusively feminine jobs and primarily masculine and primarily feminine jobs coexisting with gender neutral jobs in all the industries of the Cypriot economy.2 This is a result of the maintenance and reproduction of patriarchal structures of thought and action and gendered conceptions of the social reality, in which occupational sex segregation prevails and women’s work is socially and institutionally under valued (Perales 2013). Notions of the “proper” or “suitable” occupations for men and women are taken more or less for granted and are thus sustained and reproduced from generation to generation (Ness 2012). Work sex segregation is immensely entrenched, as beyond the social conventions about what jobs women should do or what occupations they can do, gender roles may even become the product of worker agency (Huppatz and Goodwin 2013), or attain the form of a subjective career choice reinforced by self-expression ideals (Cech 2013).

Gender inequality, gender roles and gendered ideological frames are subject to historical change and in fact throughout the 20th century and especially in its second half gender relations in Cyprus underwent significant transformation. There has been an obvious improvement of the social position of women facilitated through their mass entry into the labor market (Christodoulou 1992), the increasing international influences and most specifically the path toward entry in the EU, which has brought legislative and institutional changes and the changing mentalities and lifestyles prevailing by the last quarter of the 20th century. However, traditional values and social conservatism remain strong and so does one of the basic axioms of the patriarchal mode of thinking—sex work segregation.

The gendering of specific occupations in most industries is a “taken for granted” phenomenon. My informants were puzzled, probably thinking that there was something wrong with me, when I asked them why there are no men cleaners or secretaries and why there are no women builders or technicians. These questions seemed kind of strange or even childish. Employers, managers and trade unionists responded by pointing out the lack of women applicants for such “men’s jobs” and vice versa and when asked why they thought this was so, they resorted to various social stereotypes about the abilities and qualities of the genders.

            Men do not clean well.3
            Customers do not like to have men cleaning their rooms.4
            Women cannot endure the physical burden required in construction.5

The explanations given for the segregation of the genders at work were not restricted to biological attributes, but also included social and sexual explanations.

            Women have to take care of their family and do not have time or ambition for
            If women were employed in construction they would sexually distract the men
            workers who would be staring at their legs and breasts.7

The segregation of the genders at work is only the first step in the gendering process. Once it is established that a specific occupation or work position belongs to men or women, the next step is to attribute male or female characteristics to the job itself.

            Get a lady to clean here.8
            When there is a technical problem in a room I call Mr X [head of maintenance
            department] to send me one of his men upstairs to fix it.9
            I have no problem with my girls. They are conscientious and hard-working.10

Since it is women who do and have always done the cleaning, it becomes customary to refer to the hotels’ or the banks’ cleaners as “the women”.11 “It was the women that started the 1999 strike. They were the stronger card of the trade unions”.12 The division into masculine and feminine jobs is also rationalized and internalized by the women themselves. Many women, for example, referred to biological factors to explain the division into “masculine” and “feminine” jobs. At the same time they said that full equality between the genders has not been achieved although significant progress has been made. Some considered masculine jobs more challenging, but complained that men think of feminine jobs as pointless and boring.13 Thus, occupational sex segregation segments the labor market assigning women to lower wage and lower status jobs, but this also can impact negatively on particular groups of men as well who tend to avoid jobs that are classified as “feminine” reducing the range of their employment opportunities (Moskos 2012).

Discrimination on the basis of gender with respect to upward mobility is present and visible to most workers and this applies to both unionized and nonunionized workplaces.

            There is discrimination. They don’t give money to women. They say, she has
            a man so they do not promote her. . . . I started work here at the same time
            with some men colleagues. They have become chef de partie, I have remained
            a cook B.14

Beyond the classic explanation of male bread-winning ideology and the lack of interest of women in careers, there is also a reflexive stance trying to put the women themselves in the equation.

            We, older women are more submissive. The younger women are more
            demanding. Of course there is discrimination. Why are there not women sous

In the Cooperative Central Bank, one middle-aged female employee explained the “war” she and her colleagues waged in the past for their rights, provoking the intervention of the trade union.Things have improved in the last decade, she admitted:

            ... but not to the extent we want. Patriarchy is still here and the struggle must
            continue.It is up to us the women, to a certain extent.We must not tolerate the
            establishment and must seek with our qualifications and our argumentations to
            rectify the injustice we suffer.16

Gender however, is not only a factor of discrimination and division in the work place. It is  simultaneously a factor allowing and facilitating the creation of work collectivities based on common experiences and common work life circumstances. Gender is in other words not only fragmenting the labor force in the interests of exploitation and oppression, but can also constitute a resource of uniting individual workers, promoting notions of collective identity and commonality of interests based on the real commonality of working conditions and the idea of a shared fate. Women workers who are working together in say the housekeeping or the restaurants department of a hotel sometimes find their gender identity to be a significant element both in their communication and interaction at work and in their construction of social relations of solidarity and coping strategies.17

1. This text constitute part of the chapter 'Gender, Ethnicity, and Age at Work' of the article ''Labour force Fragmantation in Contemporary Cyprus'', which was published in Working USA, The Journal of Labour and Society in 2015.
2. The state and the social partners recognized with considerable delay the seriousness of the problem of the pay gap between men and women (Labor Relations Department 2007), but little was done and with limited success, as it remained as high as 24% in 2010 (Kambouridou 2010; Lambraki 2010; Soumeli 2010) when the Labor Relations Department began a more active attempt to deal with it. However, although it has more recently fallen to 16.4%, it remains one of the highest ones among EU states (Sigmalive 3/11/2014).
3. Case study 2, housekeeper.
4. Case study 3, gousekeeper.
5. Case study 6, foreman. The same explanation was used by trade unionists.
6. This argument was used by both men and women workers in case studies 3, 4, and 5.
7. Case study 7, foreman. The sexual distraction argument was used by some men workers as well.
8. Case study 1, food and beverage manager.
9. Case study 3, housekeeper.
10. Case study 2, housekeeper.
11. Case studies 1, 2, 3, and 4—interviews with housekeepers.
12. Case study 1, head barman.
13. Case study 6, secretary and sales person.
14. Case study 3, woman cook B.
15. Case study 3, woman cook A.
16. Case study 5, middle-aged woman, departmental manager A.
17. Case study 3.


Cech, E. A. 2013. The self-expressive edge of occupational sex segregation. American Journal of Sociology 119 (3):747–89.
Christodoulou, D. 1992. Inside the Cyprus miracle: The labours of an embattled mini-economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Dyer, S., L. McDowell, and A. Batnitzky. 2010. The impact of migration on the gendering of service work: The case of a west London hotel. Gender, Work and Organization 17 (6):635–57.
Huppatz, K.,and S. Goodwin 2013. Masculinised jobs, feminised jobs and men’s “gender capital” experiences: Understanding occupational segregation in Australia. Journal of Sociology 49 (2–3):291–308.
Ioakimoglou, I., and E. Soumeli. 2008. Οι Μισθοί στην Κύπρο: Προσδιοριστικοί Παράγοντες και
Μισθολογικές Ανισότητες. Nicosia: INEK-PEO, Wages in Cyprus: determining factors and wage
Johnston, D. W., and W. S. Lee. 2012. Climbing the job ladder: New evidence of gender inequity. Industrial Relations 51 (1):129–51.
Moskos, M. 2012. How occupational sex segregation shapes low-skilled men’s employment opportunities in Australia. Labour & Industry: a Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work 22 (4):415–32.
Ness,K.2012.Constructing masculinity in the building trades: “Most jobs in the construction industry can be done by women”. Gender, Work and Organization 19 (6):654–76.
Perales, F. 2013. Occupational sex-segregation, specialized human capital and wages: Evidence from Britain. Work, Employment and Society 27 (4):600–20.
Trimikliniotis, N., and C. Demetriou. 2011. Labour integration of migrant workers in Cyprus: A critical appraisal. In Precarious migrant labour across Europe, ed. M. Pajnic, and G. Campani, 73–96. Ljubljana: Mirovni Institut.

Σάββατο, 10 Φεβρουαρίου 2018

Συνέντευξη στον Άστρα (εκπομπή Διαδράσεις) για τα εργασιακά, μετά την απεργία της ΔΕΔΕ

Απορρύθμιση των εργασιακών σχέσεων: Η περίπτωση της ΔΕΔΕ, Φιλοξενούμενος: Γρηγόρης Ιωάννου

εδώ το ηχητικό μιας συνέντευξης-συζήτησης για τα εργασιακά στην ακαδημία και πέραν από αυτή, με αφορμή την πρόσφατη απεργία της ΔΕΔΕ.


Παρασκευή, 11 Αυγούστου 2017

Interview to the newspaper Yeni Bakis

Gregoris Ioannou. Interview to the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Yeni Bakis

Is the federation idea now dead or not?

The idea of federation is certainly not dead. However after the collapse of the negotiation process at Crans Montana, the federal model as a potential arrangement has suffered a major blow. This is because the failure to reach an agreement has resulted in a number of things. First it has strengthened the idea that the problem is unsolvable. Second it has led to further disappointment and exhaustion of the forces believing in a federal solution within the Greek Cypriot community. Third in the context of justifying the failure and managing the aftermath in a damage control operation, Anastasiades’ government has encouraged the re-establishment of a nationalist atmosphere, whereby anybody disagreeing with the official Greek Cypriot narrative is being seen as suspect of holding a pro Turkish stance.

At the level of the international and local political system dynamics things are even worse. The international community in general and the UN in particular will begin to re-conceptualize the Cyprus problem less as an issue that needs to be resolved and more as a frozen conflict that needs to be bypassed while dealing with other issues related to it. This will inevitably push through a process of further normalization of the de facto situation without however regulating it in total as this will require again an agreement. The dynamics in the Greek Cypriot political system have also become more negative towards the federal prospect as previously ambivalent forces begin to orient themselves towards the management of the status quo as a goal and not only as a means. The open and tacit opponents of a federal solution were strengthened in the last parliamentary elections in 2016 and these comprise effectively all the political parties except the two major ones, AKEL and DISY. In addition to that there are also some tacit opponents of a federal solution within AKEL and many more within DISY. On the other hand there is a substantial section of the Greek Cypriot society both at the level of the most party elites and at the level of the population that remain indifferent and their stance is and will be shaped by the context and the framing of the situation as it unfolds.  

So the question whether the prospect of federal solution has died cannot be conclusively answered today although we can safely say that it has been very severely injured. What is worse is that it seems that there is no political force that is strong and determined enough to break the impasse that has been created. Although AKEL is standing its ground very well, neither it nor its presidential candidate Stavras Malas seem to have the power and will to fully step outside the Greek Cypriot – centric narrative and lead a counter hegemonic movement that can produce a paradigm shift. Anastasiades and DISY have lost all credibility with respect to the Cyprus reunification project in the last year while the rest of the political forces and candidates are staunch and open status quo supporters. Thus prospects indeed look dim in the next years.     

What is the Greek Cypriot perception of the failure in Crans Montana? Who do they hold responsible for failure?

The official narrative promoted by the government is that the whole blame rests squarely on Turkey’s intransigence and maximalism and that Akinci was irrelevant in the negotiations. This narrative is used by the rejectionist forces in the Greek Cypriot community instrumentally to claim that it is what they have been saying all along and now Anastasiades comes to their words. AKEL, without challenging this narrative in the sense of a frontal attack on it, adds that while that may be the case, Anastasiades is to blame for his tactics in the negotiations and for his sincerity since Mont Pelerin 1 as his stance was characterized by reluctance to proceed to say the least. While the official narrative was initially accepted by the Greek Cypriot public opinion to which Anastasiades has been focused all along, in less than a week after Crans Montana it has suffered severe blows as more information came in and the availability of alternative interpretations increased in the public sphere. As the EU and the UN refused to support in any way the official Greek Cypriot narrative, while in fact insinuated that if one was to move beyond the notion of “collective failure” then the finger was not to be pointed to the Turkish side, the pro-solution forces in the Greek Cypriot community begun to criticize Anastasiades in harsher terms.

The difficult position in which Anastasiades found himself, despite having the biggest communication team and the friendliest media that any government had for decades, was revealed with his recent conflict with Eide. After Eide’s interviews what was previously unofficial and indirect became quite formal and direct. Although balanced and careful, Eide spelled out that the Greek Cypriot side was the more reluctant one to proceed to a compromise agreement. This was heard by the Greek Cypriots since this was also in line with what they had seen in Anastasiades’ stance in the last nine months. What is being counter-argued by DISY loyalists and mild rejectionists alike is that there were slim chances of such a compromise agreement being approved in a referendum. Thus the discussion is shifted to an evasion of responsibility position though reference to secret and questionable premature polls and hypothetical scenarios away from the actual developments on the negotiating table.

And what comes next in your opinion?

That is always a very difficult but also challenging question. There is definitely not going to be any negotiations before the Greek Cypriot elections. While a lot will depend on who will win this election, this election unfortunately in my opinion, will not be a quasi referendum for either federation or a two state solution in the Greek Cypriot community, like one might say about the last presidential elections in the Turkish Cypriot community. It seems that the Greek Cypriot community will continue to operate in a blurred political environment with the elites preaching solution in theory and not doing anything to bring it about in practice. I believe that unless there are significant developments externally or internally driven, there cannot be an overturn of the dynamics within the Greek Cypriot community even if AKEL wins the presidential elections which is an unlikely, yet the only hopeful, scenario for having negotiations again before the end of Akinci’s term. 

What is most probable to happen is developments on the ground emanating from forces bigger than the Cypriots, such as the EU and Turkey. In the absence of negotiations for a comprehensive solution, what is left to be solved will be effectively the status of northern Cyprus and its relationship with the EU and Turkey, an issue upon which the Greek Cypriots will probably have little say. Thus unless there are overturns, whether positive towards an agreement for the establishment of a federal state or negative towards further tension and militarization related with the offshore gas fields, it seems that the soft partition without an agreement and through the passage of time is the most likely scenario. Having said that, I need to add that in my opinion the formalization of the partition of Cyprus is not a viable solution in the medium term and will not ensure peace in the long term as it will keep the two communities trapped in an antagonistic relation and it will continue to in-breed the destructive nationalisms that have brought us to this mess. 

Thus I believe that what we need to do is to step up bi-communal peace activism from below, strengthen our relationships across the dividing line and increase the pressure to the political elites to come to an agreement. This cannot take place merely through words, protests and votes. What is really needed is the establishment of federal structures from below in different levels, realms and fields and attempt to operate within in them despite and against the existing partition. Pushing that is the limits of the status quo towards the progressive reunification direction not only at the political level but in all the aspects of everyday life. This is already possible in Nicosia and it could be made possible in Famagusta as well if Varosha is opened to Greek Cypriots. If a critical mass of Cypriots manages to cooperate systematically in the economic, cultural and social realms while politically continuing to advocate for a comprehensive federal settlement, not only the idea of federation will remain alive but most importantly the goal of a united Cyprus will be more firmly rooted on a more mature federal consciousness and a lived social experience of a sort of “federation from below”.

Τετάρτη, 12 Ιουλίου 2017

The Cyprus Negotiations: What Went Wrong?

On July 7, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared the end of yet another cycle of negotiations on the reunification of Cyprus, without any tangible result. This cycle formally began on February 2014, but the process now ended really started in 2008 with the initiation of “Cypriot ownership” of the negotiations. This was seen as an alternative to the previous UN-led process that had led to the 2004 referendum on reunification, which was rejected by the majority of Greek Cypriots.
The main idea behind the most recent cycle was that the UN should restrict its role to facilitation of negotiations between the willing parties of Greek and Turkish Cypriots and not assume the coordination of deadlines for action or arbitration on issues on which these parties could not agree. This provoked considerable delay as the parties often proved unwilling to negotiate, let alone proceed with the implementation of actions. It also raised the level of responsibility among the two delegations, because no side could credibly blame the UN and foreign powers of placing impositions on them.
According to the Cypriot ownership framework, the leaders were to agree on all items on the table, endorse their agreement, and support it in simultaneous referenda in their two communities. Hence they were bound to take the entirety of the credit or blame for success or failure. This allowed some progress to be made from 2008-2010, when Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and his Turkish counterpart Mehmet Ali Talat converged on a series of issues, especially constitutional amendment and power sharing arrangements.
Further progress came in 2016 when Mustafa Akıncı, a fervent supporter of reunification who had risen to leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community in 2015, revitalized the negotiations. The opportunities for exploitation of Cypriot natural gas reserves if the island could be reunified also renewed impetus.
However, it soon became evident that the UN had overestimated the significance of this progress and the willingness of leaders to move forward when it attempted to precipitate an endgame last year. In November of that year, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades’ reluctance to proceed became apparent, as did the unwillingness of the governments of Greece and Turkey to make the concessions necessary to achieve peace and also improve the climate for negotiations of their own bilateral issues.
Nevertheless, the UN and Guterres’ energetic envoy to the negotiations, Espen Barth Eide, continued his efforts and called for a new open-ended conference on Cyprus in Geneva in January, expecting Akıncı and Anastasiades—working in parallel with guarantor countries Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—to proceed with agreements on remaining issues, including the readjustment of territory.
The negotiations aimed to agree on security and implementation aspects of the reunification process through the alteration of the Treaty of Guarantees and the Treaty of Alliance between Greece and Turkey, including stipulating the presence of a 950-strong Greek military force and 650-strong Turkish force. These two agreements were signed in 1959, along with the Treaty of Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, which attributed to Greece and Turkey, along with Britain, a role of responsibility with respect to the new “bi-communal” state, ensuring its territorial integrity, constitutional order, and security.
The alteration of treaties was the most difficult issue to resolve because it involved a reinstatement of the 1959 geopolitical balance between Greece and Turkey, taking into account the military, diplomatic, and economic consequences of the ethnic conflict and foreign interventions in Cyprus. The new military arrangement was to be the mechanism through which the peace agreement was to be realized on the ground.
Britain’s position on the arrangements was more secure because its military bases in Cyprus are located on its own sovereign territory—a part of the Treaty of Establishment that was to remain intact. It had also signaled from before the current cycle of negotiations began that it was ready to cede half of this territory and waive its status as a guarantor power, and/or agree to any alteration decided by the two Cypriot communities and Greece and Turkey toward the Treaty of Guarantees.
The fact that Greece and Turkey were directly involved in the process through their foreign ministers allowed them to at least partially subsume the Cyprus peace process within the broader frame of Greco-Turkish relations. Any agreement made concerning the security dimension needed to serve both states’ conception of their national interest while also striking a political balance that kept the united Cypriot state an equal distance from both. This political balance was to be reflected in a “bi-zonal” federal structure, based on political equality, which would not allow the more populous Greek Cypriot community to determine policy, particularly of a foreign nature, against the will of the Turkish Cypriot community.
The parties to the negotiations started out with absolute positions on the question of security guarantees and military withdrawal, which they reinforced in public statements, and this issue became more and more subjected to public opinion in Greece, Turkey, and especially among the two Cypriot communities themselves.
Anastasiades and Akıncı’s failure to obtain convergences of positions on internal dimensions such as executive power, power sharing, territory, and property issues before moving to the security and implementation stage had further negative implications. Though this was designed to increase Anastasiades’ bargaining position for implementing a rotating presidency with a reduced security role for Turkey, it blocked negotiations and sustained a negative climate in relations with Akinci and the Cypriot public. The security issue was perhaps the keyfactor leading to the collapse of the negotiations.
Although there is talk, primarily from the Greek Cypriot side, that nothing has finished and negotiations might soon begin again, it is most probable that several years will pass before this can take place as international interest wanes and younger generations that grew up with the de facto partition are less inclined towards reunification. If this does occur, however, it is no longer certain that the parameters of the negotiations, including the ultimate aim, will remain the same. Cyprus’ offshore gas fields have also not proven an instrument that could facilitate a compromise peace deal in Cyprus and there is, indeed, a high risk that they might prove an issue provoking further tension in the near future.
Gregoris Ioannou teaches social science at the University of Cyprus and Frederick University.

Παρασκευή, 16 Ιουνίου 2017

Book review Immanuel Ness: Southern insurgency, the coming of the global working class

Gregoris Ioannou
(a shorter version of this review is forthcoming in Capital and Class, Vol. 41:3)

The book’s argument:

The book begins with a historical overview which sets the Marxian analytic framework and situates the narrative in the context of the current neo-liberal era. This is characterized by the huge increase in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Global South which has grown exponentially since the II World War and which has integrated previously excluded areas and populations into the global capitalist economy. Ness argues that FDI replaces foreign aid as the key form of development finance and that this reshapes imperialism. The movement of capital to the Global South is driven by the search for low waged workers and the highest possible extraction of surplus value but the profits produced there are primarily repatriated to the imperialist countries. Moreover the penetration of capital restructures the societies changing the form of rather than reducing the prevalence of poverty as industrialization is based largely on temporary migrant labour and on destroying pre-existing subsistence modes of life.

The main argument developed by Ness is that workers’ resistance is a constant parameter in this process and that global capital is only able to maintain this system through the use of direct force, social repression and indirect coercion. More importantly it illustrates how workers’ contestation of their employment terms and conditions is constant, determined, resilient and sustained in time, ingenious and creative and utilizing multiple and plural resources and techniques and assuming a variety of forms. This argument is substantiated through empirical data produced in the context of the three case studies which overview the recent big strikes and extended worker mobilizations in India’s auto manufacturing, China’s shoe manufacturing and South Africa’s platinum mining industries.  

One of the main tenets of Ness’ argument is that the expansion of FDI is tied to increased proletarianization and enhanced urbanization in the Global South and the expansion of the world’s industrial workers in absolute terms as well as in relative terms; the proportion of industrial workers in the South rising from 50% in 1980 to 80% in 2010 (p.38). This occurs through the subcontracting networks that feed into major multinational corporations. Through statistical data Ness illustrates that the inequality between developed and developing countries resting on imperialism and capital flows further accentuates poverty and social inequality while Northern capital comes to depend on low-waged Southern labour (p. 33). Multinational corporations take advantage of systemic unemployment and the lack of unionization in the extensive southern informal sector and relocates industrial production to the Global South as the Global North shifts to services.

Trade unionism, its condition, forms and limits constitutes a thread that traverses Ness’ narrative. Trade unionism is at the outset a central part of the descriptive and analytic goals of the book’s endeavor to account for the working class in struggle. It is approached both as an organizational form in historical terms as well and in terms of its actual current political function in different regional and national settings. This allows Ness to both compare forms of trade unionism on issues of composition and density, degrees of institutionalization and political leverage, militancy and effectiveness, providing insights as well as critical comments based on the observation of practices. Ness examines the implications of the weakness of traditional trade unionism and concludes that the militancy of the new industrial proletariat of the Global South transcends traditional trade unionism through the formation of worker assemblies, the formation of new independent unions and through pressurizing traditional trade unions forcing them to change their approach.

The notion of the “reserve of army of labour” is the key conceptual tool employed in the book in order to explain both capital’s strategy as well as the terms and conditions of work that workers’ have to face globally. The “reserve army of labour” is identified as the most important of the Marxian concepts and it is used to frame the historical development of 20th Century capitalism and explain its operation in the 21st Century. Ness argues that migration, both internal and international has always been tied to capitalist expansion and has taken different forms according to the patterns of global history as this has been shaped by imperialism. It was migrant labour that turned the USA into the world’s biggest economy, it was migrant labour that rebuilt Europe after the II World War and it is on migrant labour, internal as well as international that neoliberal globalization is currently built.

The book’s first case study focuses on Indian industrialization occurring in a global neoliberal setting and examines the processes of class formation through workers’ mobilizations in the recent period. As the state is unreservedly and fully backing global capital’s operation of exploiting low cost labour and as trade unions’ social and political influence has declined, worker representation and demands shift from the parliamentary level to innovative firm level workers’ organizational attempts. In the neoliberal era, all government and all major parties in both the global north and the global south have adopted more or less the neoliberal imperatives, argues Ness, and this creates a very restrictive context for traditional trade unionism in the last three decades. This has opened the space for new trade union initiatives which operate on a different logic and which focus on casual and insecure workers in the informal sector who are excluded not only from labour rights but also from traditional trade unionism as well. Often class antagonism unfolds and is waged on the terrain of trade unionism between and within unions, with employers establishing company unions in an attempt to counter autonomous unionization (p. 94). And more often it is brute repression that calls the shots, making things worse for the insurgents but really unable in the medium and long term to pacify the working class and prevent further insurgency elsewhere.

China’s path to industrialization was different, as a result of its different historical trajectory, institutional context and positioning in global capitalism. Although the Chinese state effectively embarked upon liberalization and market policies since the late 1970s in its attempt to modernize and industrialize, attracting global capital ventures, it has largely remained in control of its economy maintaining a unique state capitalist framework combined with foreign investment. The new working class in China has been crystallized through the decline and privatization of state owned firms, internal migration expanding the private sector workforce and the decline in the reserve army of labour amid growing worker demands (p.115). Ness observes that the main form of mobilization is spontaneous single-factory struggles as the workers are unable to coordinate themselves and form regional and national organizations. However this is also a form of strength for the Chinese working class because it allows the growth of workplace power and militancy, qualities that would have been moderated in the presence of a nationally coordinated trade unionism. Ness takes this argument further by examining the role of (ACFTU) the existing national labour federation and the only authorized trade union, which although it is in reality a branch of the ruling Communist Party, it is effectively similar in terms of its role and function with Western trade unions.

Ness indirectly claims that the key factor in assessing trade union function is not the closeness between its leadership and management and the state, but between its leadership and its rank and file. Moreover, in opposition to scholars and commentators who view the ACFTU as thwarting the struggle for labour rights, Ness takes a more nuanced position and argues that in fact the inability of ACFTU to represent the interests of its increasing members allows workers to engage in a variety of repertoires of rank and file action. At the same time, the exponentially increasing labour disputes are the real driver behind the expansion of ACFTU membership (p. 130). And last but not least both the ruling Communist Party and ACFTU are often caught off guard and are unable to control growing labour unrest. Workers in China are thus able both to act outside the existing trade union framework and to secure wages and benefits directly from their employers and indirectly from the state as a result of the pressure their militant collective action can exert on it.

The different historical trajectory of South Africa tells a different story of trade unionism, whereby the leading role of trade unionism into the anti apartheid struggle led it, in the neoliberal universe of the post apartheid period, into the absorption of the big confederation of trade unions (COSATU) in the South African government. Ness claims that the insurrectionary working class of the transitional period became gradually disillusioned with COSATU which prioritized issues of political equality for the blacks while neglecting the socio-economic struggle and the enhanced poverty brought about by neoliberal capitalism. A severe blow to COSATU came in the last years after its failure to respond in the growing violent repression against insurrectionary mine workers. Ness views the traditional South African trade unions as complicit to the growing informalization of labour and accounts for their hostile stance in the face of recent strikes allowing and facilitating their brutal repression which culminated in the massacre of 2012 in Marikana. More importantly however, the insurrectionary forces were not pacified by the Marikana massacre as the strike wave of 2014 testifies and the result was a split in the trade union movement through the emergence of more militant trade unions that seek to express and direct the growing labour unrest in South Africa.

Discussing the book’s approach and implications:

Having outlined the main arguments and provided an overview of the author’s perspective I will now refer to some weak points and omissions in the analysis. There are two main weaknesses in the book: the overt focus on the global south and on industrial work while arguing for the coming of the global working class and subsequently the insufficient balance between and within the three case studies and between description and explanation in the development and substantiation of the argument.

While Ness documents very well the industrialization processes in the global south and emergence of a militant industrial working class, in his attempt to situate his findings in and against the dominant western discourses, he takes for granted the equation working class=factory workers used by liberal claims about the working class being an “outdated” notion. Ness adheres to a classic late 19th and early 20th Century Marxist conceptualization of the working class tied to industrial and manufacturing work and defends it through an exclusive focus on the global south. Although he substantiates his claim and justifies his approach both analytically and empirically, he omits to link this with proletarianisation processes under way in the service sectors in the global north as well as to smaller extent in the global south and thus weakens the generalisability of his argument concerning “the coming of the global working class”. Even when he discusses developments in global north, he restricts his references to proletarianisation processes to the past and present of migrant work. The absence of even a rudimentary discussion of major processes occurring in the global north, such as the rising social inequality and the shrinking of the so called middle class or labour aristocracy, is in my opinion a significant omission that, although carrying the danger of diluting the argument, could have enriched the scope and projected implications of the book’s analysis.

The second weakness concerns the balance between and within the three case studies and between the descriptive and explanatory function of the analysis employed. Ness undertakes a very ambitious task at hand: to account for recent developments in the labour relations system of three big sectors in three countries, two of them really having the size of continents. While this empirical strategy allows Ness to make the necessary projections and identify global theoretical and political implications, this also sets additional analytic difficulties. Because of the huge volume of facts and data that need to be mentioned in order for the reader to understand the broader historical, economic, political and social context in each case study, Ness has less room for discussion of the issues he identifies. While the richness of the empirical data used is often more than valuable, at certain points the analysis becomes thin as the weight falls on contextual description, chronicling of events and narrating facts.

“Southern insurgency: the coming of the global working class” is a book that is situated in the empirical tradition of Marxist literature, that uses Marxian concepts and frames in order to account for and explain social phenomena. Although Ness mainly employs classical Marxian concepts and notions drawn from the orthodox Leninist approach, the development of the analysis is also informed by subsequent Marxist elaborations. For example the focus on the strikes and the accounting of the relationship of the militant workers’ groups with their broader communities resonates with the 1960s and 1970s spirit of approaching working class consciousness and class composition in historical and political terms through observing the forms, modes and patterns of worker resistance[1]. Theoretically the geo-political and international political economy framework employed connects the book with the third worldist Marxian school[2] albeit with a novel take on the notions of dependency and inequality that takes into account the developments occurring in the neoliberal era.

Although a Marxist book, “Southern insurgency: the coming of the global working class” is open both in terms of analytic tools and insights, as well as in terms of its general implications for social science, which extend beyond the Marxist school and tradition. The book is primarily situated in the field of political economy but it also draws elements from and contributes to a series of other social science fields such as sociology of labour, employment relations and labour history. The interdisciplinary spirit characterizes also the methodology with multiple means of data collection such as fieldwork interviews, document analysis and descriptive statistics.

“Southern insurgency: the coming of the global working class” is a valuable book and constitutes a significant contribution for social science in general and Marxist analysis in particular. First of all it analyses very recent developments and is thus covering hitherto unchartered ground expanding the scope of existing knowledge. Second it offers a comparative discussion across sectors and countries and sets Western analyses in a global context. Third it empirically substantiates the refutation of a series of Western-centric “post Marxist” discourses about the declining significance of industrial work and of the industrial working class as an analytic category and a social force[3]. Fourth it provides detailed accounts of new forms of struggle by informal workers, outside traditional trade unions which can expand and enhance our understanding of mobilization processes and social movements. The latter continues and builds upon Ness’ previous work on migrant workers in the USA[4].

The main implications arising from Ness’ research is the need to rethink the role of industrial production in capitalism taking into account the new conditions effected through the expansion of foreign direct investment in conditions of neoliberal globalization. The rise of a militant working class in the global south, as documented by Ness creates a new parameter, necessary in the analysis of present day imperialism as well as in the analyses of labour relations and class politics in a global setting. Multinational corporations and their subcontracting networks and their sweat shops are not challenged mainly by consumer politics in the global north as mainstream conventional wisdom has it, but by workers’ resistance in the global south. More importantly, this resistance which scores sometimes small and sometime bigger successes renews the discussion on trade unionism, its demise and its renewal. Ness argues forcefully that the demise of traditional trade unionism is structural and that it cannot in its current form have organizational success, challenge neoliberal capitalism or express workers’ interests and that more attention and energy must be spend in new and innovative forms of really-existing worker mobilization as they appear primarily in the informal labour markets in the global south.

In the form of conclusion, I reiterate my position that “Southern insurgency: the coming of the global working class” contributes significantly to our understanding of present day capitalism and the forms of the dialectic of capital accumulation and worker resistance in the global south. With fresh data, analytic rigor and a detailed narrative, Ness sketches the contours of the 21st century class struggle and offers an account rich in insights on trade unionism and class composition in the global political economy.


Amin, S. (1976) Unequal development, Sussex: Monthly Review Press

Giddens, A. (2006) Sociology, (5th ed.) Cambridge: Polity Press

Gorz, A. (1982) Farewell to the working class: an essay on post-industrial socialism, London:
Pluto Press

Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and socialist strategy: towards a radical democratic politics, London: Verso

Ness, I. (2005) Immigrants, Unions and the New US Labor Market, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press   

Tronti, M. (1966) Operai e capital, Einaudi Editore [Workers and capital]

Thompson, E.P. (1963) The making of the English working class, London: Penguin

Wallerstein, I. (1979) The capitalist world economy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[1] Thompson 1963; Tronti 1966.
[2] Amin 1976; Wallerstein 1979.
[3] For example Gorz 1982; Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Giddens 2006.
[4] Ness 2005.

Παρασκευή, 24 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

Euronews interview: the labour market and the reunification of Cyprus

Below is an 8 minute video of the interview I gave to euronews on labour market issues in relation to the reunification process.

Gregoris Ioannou is a Greek Cypriot sociologist, teaching at Frederick University in Nicosia. He has co-authored, with his Turkish Cypriot colleague Sertac Sonan, a study on youth unemployment on the island.
He talks to euronews reporter Valerie Gauriat about the current state of the labour market, and what could be hoped from a future integration. And insists that labour laws should also be unified, in order to avoid social dumping.