Labour segmentation and the unity of the working class in Walter Rodney and Ruy Mauro Marini

Latimer, Amanda [Speaker] (2012) Labour segmentation and the unity of the working class in Walter Rodney and Ruy Mauro Marini. In: Ninth Historical Materialism Conference; 08 - 11 Nov 2012, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


While capitalism has always relied on the segmentation of the labour process and labour markets, such processes were respatialized and intensified with the global reorganization of production beginning in the 1970s. In single (and often the most profitable) global production chains, we find the most advanced and the most dramatically ‘backwards’ modes of surplus value combined, even to and including superexploitation and new forms of slavery. In Brazil, technological, organizational and finance-related ‘innovations’ driving the most dynamic sectors have enhanced accumulation but also reintroduced these ‘backward’ forms, all the while swelling the reserve army, now peopled by those precariously cycled through formal employment and spat back out again. Meanwhile, the instruments of struggle associated with the age of the nation-based mass worker (where s/he existed) have not caught up to this challenge. This paper is intended to think through these issues by reflecting on the work of two activist-intellectuals from Caribbean and Latin American Marxism. In their own contexts, Walter Rodney and Ruy Mauro Marini attempted to come to terms with the specific role of Southern labour in global accumulation strategies at a pivotal moment in the global re-organization of production, with the shift from unfree to free labour at the height of classical imperialism. Rodney (1981) discussed the racialized division of labour instituted by the British planter class in Guyana which polarized classes of emancipated African slaves and Indian indentured workers, despite the parallel between each group’s experience of subjugation in and displacement from the labour process. Marini (2005) provided the most rigorous discussion to date of the role of superexploited Southern labour in equally racialized global strategies of accumulation, looking at how the recourse to superexploitation in Brazil effectively subsidized the cost of foodstuffs and primary materials in Britain, enabling the shift from absolute to relative surplus labour in the mid-19th century. Both authors insisted that such supposedly backward forms of surplus value were inherently ‘modern’ due to their centrality to global accumulation in imperialist times. Both insisted on the need to reckon class relations within and across national borders, in keeping with the regime of accumulation shaped by imperialism. And ultimately, both read the shape of struggle through these objective conditions, moving between the particular conditions of oppression and the necessity of unified national and international class struggle. Rodney was at once a Pan-Africanist who insisted on the necessity for Afro-Caribbean revolutionaries to ‘ground’ their struggles in the history and oppression of one another; and a Marxist who rejected Guyana’s communal politics, which had "been used by the colonialists ... to split the progressive movement and prevent the people from securing their rightful shares" (Mohamed 2010). Similarly, with the bankrupting of democratization at the hands of Brazil’s first neoliberal governments, Marini argued the only way forward was through the struggle for working class unity across national boundaries; what social movements today are calling the "integration of the peoples." Such ideas are timely contributions to the effort to create an international working class response to the current crisis.

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