The Journal Asian Labour Review is a response to the increasing demand among academics, activists, policy makers, students and international communities for more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of the far-changing living and working conditions of people in Asia, of the collective endeavours by the people to improve such conditions, and of the implication of this contested process on overall social, political and economic development in Asia. This increasing demand reflects the increasingly undeniable reality that Asia is becoming a factory for global capitalist development. This new reality involves both the extensive and intensive development of capitalist labour across Asia. On the one hand, massive populations in developing countries, formerly mainly involved in self-subsistence activities of different forms, have become wage labourers. With the wave of industrialisation in China and India in particular, Asia has now hundreds of millions more wage labourers than three decades ago.
However, the way in which labour became a common substance to people’s livelihoods in this developing region is distinctive from the earlier experience in the developed regions of the world. Contrary to industrialisation in the ‘West’ that involved the expansion of the industrial working class whose rights were protected by unions, political parties and the state, Asian industrialisation during the last three decades did not come along with protected standard wage employment. We understand that this is a result of neoliberal globalisation, which creates a particular form of development that does not require capital to rely on regular, protected, and formal jobs for successful business and accumulation. Neoliberal globalisation integrates almost all industries in Asia into global market relations but without proper protection given to the workers. Regulation over labour practices and markets, either on the basis of state intervention or trade union power, has been regarded as a barrier for capital’s pursuit for profit, or therefore came under severe attack in every Asian country even before labour market regulations and labour protection had been established with an empowered labour movement.
Most of workers in Asia, relying directly or indirectly on the sale of their labour power to survive, are struggling with increasing job insecurity and decreasing social provision as a consequence of the erosion of the particular historical forms, conditions, and definitions of ‘labour’ worldwide. In developing countries in Asia, current development has been marked by the lack of institutional labour protection and the expansion of market economy without creating decent jobs. This produces informal economy where traditional subsistence and reproductive labour are mixed up with survival forms of commercial activities and waged labour. In Asia’s developed countries, workers in formal employment relations are witnessing, together with the workers in the most developed regions of the world, eroding social provision and job protection. Increasing numbers of workers, previously in standard forms of employment with institutional protections, become disposable as part of irregular workforces, due to either short-term contracts or uncertain legal relations of employment. In addition, many services, previously provided by ‘workers’ in standard employment have been transferred to the self-employed who serves corporations but has no ‘power’ to enjoy labour rights.
The consequence of the blurring distinction between formal and informal labour is that the size of the population under formal capitalist employment, i.e. the so-called ‘traditional’ working class, is decreasing as a proportion of the entire labouring population in Asia. Rather than producing a singular, united and cohesive class of working women and men, Asian industrialisation produced many different classes of labour whose livelihood depends on cross-sectoral and cross-spatial activities. These classes of labour in Asia rely either on insecure and oppressive wage employment or a wide range of precarious jobs and survival activities in the ‘informal sector’, cutting across rural and urban areas of development. Although workers are facing increasing insecurity regardless of where they are and who they are working for, this reality does not provide a common ground for all the workers to be united to protect themselves. Rather, neoliberal development relies on or sometimes actively builds multiple hierarchies along the line of the gendered, raced, global, regional, national, industrial division of labour for the creation and realisation of profit. The immanent power of different subversive struggles has not been automatically turned into a movement for more equitable and sustainable development in the region.
This reality, we believe, questions traditional assumptions of both labour studies and labour activism, calling for a fundamental change in the ways in which we study and organise labour in Asia. This is the reality we want to analyse, critique and tackle with a new platform of discussion, debate and strategising. ALR aims to contribute to cultivating critical inquiries about workers’ living and working conditions, various forms of labour activism, and emerging divisions and solidarity between many classes of labour in Asia. We are particularly committed to promoting more focuses on non-traditional members of ‘the’ working class such as women, migrants, and ethnic minorities. We believe that ALR can be a useful platform to nurture labour studies and movements in Asia by integrating diverse aspects of labouring experiences into labour analysis as well as by encouraging a new generation of labour researchers and activists to come forward with new critical ideas and frameworks.
Asian Labour Review is foremost a journal concerning labour in Asia. However, this does not mean Asian Labour Review is a labour journal in a narrow sense. In ALR, labour is not considered merely as jobs for living, nor is it presented as a mere input/factor of production to be effectively mobilised for a more affluent world. Instead, labour is a vehicle and perspective to think and theorise around other issues such as rural development, migration and industrial relations. In doing so, we are using labour as the entry point to understanding production and reproduction of our society as a whole.
Published once a year, Asian Labour Review targets students, scholars and social and labour movement activists, social workers and national/international policy makers who are interested in analysing labour relations, movement, labour market, labour market institutions, and development processes and outcomes with a particular focus on the labouring population in developing regions of Asia. The Journal provides readers with the opportunity to articulate theoretical approaches to socio-economic development with the ground reality of the working lives of millions in the developing world of Asia. The analytical and practical focus of the Journal will be the working population in the era of globalisation, their identities and demands, and social and political actions collectively undertaken by them and for them, by unions, social movements, governments and international organisations.
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