Over three decades of neoliberal policies had a severe effect on labour, in developed and developing regions alike. In developed regions, neoliberalism managed to crash the resistance of organised labour, significantly curtailing its institutionalised power and splintering the ‘industrial citizenship’ that characterised the Keynesian era. As increasing shares of manufacturing production migrated towards developing regions, where the new development paradigm increasingly turned towards export-oriented strategies, armies of sweated labour were recruited to be deployed in the context of transnationalised production regimes.
The logics of export-oriented industrialisation have been ferocious with labour in the so-called Global South. Simply reconceptualised as ‘comparative advantage’, here labour has been exposed to harsh patterns of commodification. As illustrated in many empirical studies focusing on global production networks, the exploitation of various informal institutions and deeply-rooted structural differences, such as gender, caste, ethnicity, mobility or geographical provenience has fuelled a ‘race to the bottom’ functional to the reproduction of labour as a flexible, disposable and ‘cheap’ commodity.