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Maneuvering the spaces of globalization: The rearticulation of the Bolivian labor movement

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Human geographers and others have started to challenge the language of fait accompli that often surrounds discussions of workers and globalization. Labor geography and debates on social movement unionism stress the new horizontal and vertical strategies pursued by labor unions in maneuvering the spaces of globalization. In this article the author argues that these debates have failed to take into account properly the deep-seated transformations of work regimes that have taken place in some contexts, particularly in the global South, how these transformations are associated with internal shifts in union membership, and what that means for union politics. In the Bolivian case examined in the article, economic liberalization and foreign direct investment (FDI) have weakened industrial workers and strengthened informal sectors internally, which have brought about a rearticulation of class visions, claims and collective identities towards greater sensitivity to ethnicity politics. This can arguably make labor unions more democratically responsive, and it has enabled the Bolivian labor movement to successfully press some of its claims, such as greater state involvement in natural resource sectors. However, this rearticulation also points to exacerbated problems of finding room for workplace politics in social movement unionism and labor geography in the global South.

Keywords: Bolivia; foreign direct investment; globalization; labor geography; labor unions

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2010


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