I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the newly-formed Institute for Religion, Politics and Society at the Australian Catholic University. I did my PhD in Political Economy at the University of Sydney. My new book, Informal Labour in Urban India: Three Cities, Three Journeys, is out with Routledge in early 2015. This blog focuses on news and analysis of labour movements in the emerging economies of Asia. It reflects my interest in research as well as politics and economics.
The blog’s title—‘Labour in the Asian Century’—is a rather cheeky adaptation from the 2012 ‘white paper’ released by the Gillard Labor government in Australia: Australia in the Asian Century. While the report was quietly shelved by the Abbott Liberal-National government after its election in September 2013, it raised several themes that have gone mainstream. The idea that giant Asian economies like India, Indonesia and China will shape global politics and economics is now widely accepted. Many policymakers and academics say that the 21st century will be an ‘Asian century’. Labor’s white paper told a story of Asia as the world’s largest producer and consumer, as an exciting opportunity for business and the Australian state, in league with the United States, to promote Asian participation in a ‘rules-based regional and global order’. The report was littered with tales of the rising ‘middle class’. This reflects the mainstream view that globalisation has massively increases incomes and reduced poverty.
There is no doubt that hundreds of millions of people have been drawn into industrial and consumer societies in Asia, with a significant minority achieving Western- or Japanese-style living standards. But an underlying contention of this blog is that there is nothing automatic about growth leading to social and economic prosperity or greater well-being. Like many others, I am interested in developing a critical understanding of this process. As a rule, I believe that people need to act and organise collectively in order to improve their lives, usually in defiance of the political and business elites who dominate society. In acting collectively, people—especially workers—also shape the economy and politics. This has influenced some important turnings points in history, like the 1989 Tiananmen Square revolt in China or the 1998 overthrow of the dictator Suharto in Indonesia. This blog will particularly focus on labour movements in India (which I have studied for many years), Indonesia and China, although I am interested in developments in other Asian countries. I’m not trying to report or analyse everything and I don’t claim any special knowledge or wisdom: my aim is to document reports and develop analysis of these movements and, in doing so, educate myself and others. If you’re interested, I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas.