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Unfree Again: Social Reproduction, Flexible Labour Markets and the Resurgence of Gang Labour in the UK

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Abstract:  The reproduction of human insecurity in contemporary capitalist societies is linked to the need to “produce” labour at a price that permits the realisation of surplus value, and crises of social reproduction (both generalised and specific). In this paper I use a social reproduction lens to focus on the example of the emergence, and recent resurgence, of gang labour in the UK. I look first at the gang labour system, its evolution, and processes and institutions of regulation. The paper then examines the ways in which the gang labour system sheds light on interrelationship of relations of production and reproduction, processes of class formation, and how the power of supermarkets and the political imperative to keep food costs down, which are related to patterns of migration and racialisation, privilege the reproduction of some workers over others. This in turn signals the need to engage with the role and significance of unfree labour in contemporary economies.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge, CB2 3EN, UK;

Publication date: January 1, 2013


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