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Affiliating Labour: New Perspectives

Vasundhara Sirnate

By Emmanuel Teitelbaum
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2012, pp. 220, Rs. 795.00


In the 1980s and 1990s, a series of academic studies were released that tried to explain the East Asian growth miracle in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea (Amsden, 1989, Haggard and Cheng, 1987, Haggard and Moon, 1990). The central puzzle that political economists explained through these case studies of East Asian Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs), was centered on how these countries had managed to achieve phenomenal levels of industrial growth in a remarkably short span of time. In other words, the studies were concerned with isolating certain factors that had contributed to the economic growth of the NICs and were mulling over whether these countries were also developmental states like Japan had once been.   The extension of theories of the develop-mental state pioneered by Chalmers Johnson in 1982 in MITI and the Japanese Miracle (Johnson, 1982), to the NICs was found to be problematic because in many key ways these countries did not automatically copy the Japanese growth model, but had developed their own models where relations between capital and labour were uniquely organized, as were economic strategies and state control or disciplining of the bourgeoisie. The key location of the NICs along well travelled sea trade routes also helped their growth, as did a state dedicated to organizing the economy and ensuring certain growth conditions, where import substitution industrialization was replaced with export-led growth models following the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 (Haggard, 1990).   One of the major contributions of such studies was to establish that economic development was much more than the simple matter of getting the prices right. Development had to be organized and engineered into a lasting process and such elite-led, manufactured development could not be achieved without sacrificing some element of democratic governance or mass participation in economic growth. In essence, the rise of the East Asian NICs has spawned a number of debates key to the assessment of national growth models. In particular, what has generated much study and commentary is the fate of organized labour. Many of the studies revealed that labour repression was fundamental to the production of fast growth. In most East Asian NICs, labour was repressed by an authoritarian or semi-authoritarian state, and, this in turn generated a stable political regime, as opposed to the Latin American experience where labour movements were not successfully curtailed or repressed by states.   The question that political scientists raised was this—is labour repression a necessary condition to generate ...

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