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A Contest of IdeasCapital, Politics, and Labor$
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Nelson Lichtenstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037856

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037856.001.0001

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Supply-Chain Tourist; or, How Globalization Has Transformed the Labor Question

Supply-Chain Tourist; or, How Globalization Has Transformed the Labor Question

Chapter:
(p.29) Chapter 2 Supply-Chain Tourist; or, How Globalization Has Transformed the Labor Question
Source:
A Contest of Ideas
Author(s):

Nelson Lichtenstein

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252037856.003.0003

This chapter, which yanks the reader from mid-twentieth-century Detroit to early twenty-first-century Guangdong Province, recounts the author's discovery that the labor question can have many different configurations, especially when some of the most important and characteristic enterprises of our day are the big-box retailers, whose employee rolls and annual revenues now far outrank those of the largest manufacturing companies. It appears that the essence of the twenty-first-century labor question no longer resides at the point of production in a struggle between workers and the owners of the factories in which they labor. Instead, the site of value production is found at every link along a set of global supply chains, in which the manufacturer and the warehouse operator, the ports and the shipping companies, as well as the retailers and their branded vendors jockey for power and profit. In this disaggregated system, legal ownership of the forces of production has been divorced from operational control, making accountability for labor conditions diffuse and knowledge of the actual producers far from transparent.

Keywords:   labor, globalization, Guangdong Province, big-box retailers, global supply chains, accountability, labor conditions

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