Capital Accumulation and Women's Labor in Asian Economies

Capital Accumulation and Women's Labor in Asian Economies

Peter Custers
Introduction by Jayati Ghosh
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 401
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  • Book Info
    Capital Accumulation and Women's Labor in Asian Economies
    Book Description:

    The global impact of Asian production of the wage goods consumed in North America and Europe is only now being recognized, and is far from being understood. Asian women, most only recently urbanized and in the waged work force, are at the center of a process of intensive labor for minimal wages that has upended the entire global economy. First published in 1997, this prescient study is the best available summary of this crucial process as it took hold at the very end of the twentieth century. This new edition brings the discussion up to 2011 with an extensive introduction by world-famous economist Jayati Ghosh of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. Drawing on extensive data concerning the laboring conditions of women workers and peasant women, this ambitious book provides a theoretical interpretation of the rapidly changing economic conditions in the contemporary global economy and particularly in Asia, and their consequences for women. It is based on prolonged field research in India, Bangladesh, and Japan, combined with a broad comparative study of currents in international feminism. Peter Custers reasserts the relevance of Marxist concepts for understanding processes of socio-economic change in Asia and the world, but argues forcefully that these concepts need to be enlarged to include the perspective of feminist theoreticians. In the process, he assesses the theoretical relevance of several currents in international feminism, including ecofeminism, the German feminist school, and socialist feminism. With its strong theoretical framework, supported by massive amounts of evidence, this important book will interest all those involved in women's studies, social movements, economics, sociology, and social and economic theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-286-0
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW EDITION Women, Labor, Capital Accumulation in Asia
    (pp. ix-xxv)
    Jayati Ghosh

    One of the enduring myths about capitalism that continues to be perpetuated in mainstream economic textbooks and other pedagogic strategies is that labor supply is somehow exogenous to the economic system. The supply of labor is typically assumed, especially in standard growth theories, to be determined by the rate of population growth, which in turn is also seen as “outside” the economic system rather than in interplay with it.

    The reality is, of course, very different: the supply of labor has been very much a result of economic processes, not something extraneous to it. Throughout its history, capitalism has proved...

  5. Foreword
    (pp. 8-11)
    Gerrit Huizer

    There is no ‘end of history’, and while the representatives of the neo-liberalist narrative may view socialism as a phenomenon of the past, class contradiction and class struggle are increasing worldwide. This is made clear from the evidence given in this book, particularly for female workers, strengthening and enhancing Marx and Marxist interpretations of class struggle and capital accumulation in a feminist perspective.

    Debates on these topics emerged strongly in the 1970s, when I became acquainted with Peter Custers as a grassroots worker. Both of us were located in different contexts supporting Third World peasant struggles for a just redistribution...

  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 12-14)
  7. 1 Feminism and the Conceptualization of Women’s Labour in Asian Economies
    (pp. 15-28)

    ‘For the first time in its long history there is the possibility today that the centre of accumulation would shift to the east’.¹ These are the concluding words in an elaborate essay on the history of the international financial system, authored by the Indian economist, Krishnendu Ray. The article, amongst others, details the growing influence of Japanese financial markets and banks on the flow and control of international capital. By 1988, Japanese banks had come to control 35 per cent of all international bank assets, and around the same time Tokyo’s bond, foreign exchange and equities market ‘had begun to...

  8. PART I The Discourse on Women’s Labour in Historical Perspective
    • 2 The Patriarchal Bias of Working-class Theoreticians: Marx and Proudhon
      (pp. 31-51)

      In 1856, a French feminist, Jenny d’Héricourt, published an article in the magazineRevue Philosophique et Religieuse, in which she criticized the anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon for holding views which were counter to women’s equality. d’Héricourt quoted extensively from Proudhon’s renowned bookQu’est-ce que la Propriété?,in which he argued that any property obtained through exploitation is theft.¹ Yet, in the same book, Proudhon also stated that the sexual differences between women and men raised among them ‘a separation of the same kind as the difference of races among animals’. He was ‘inclined to the seclusion of women’, he said....

    • 3 The Proletarian Women’s Movement in Germany and Women’s Labour
      (pp. 52-75)

      ‘It is time to revive the memories of our past struggle, a struggle which today can be a rich source of moral reinforcement and political instruction'. ‘The history of socialism is the school of life. We always derive new stimulus from it’. ‘Historical experience is [the modern proletariat’s] only teacher; itsVia Dolorosato self-liberation is covered not only with immeasurable suffering, but with countless mistakes’.¹ These quotations from the Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who built her political carreer in Germany, are a befitting opening statement for this chapter on the mass movement of working class women in Germany in...

    • 4 The Legacy of the Second Feminist Wave: The Debate on Household Labour Revisited
      (pp. 76-102)

      More than half a century after the demise of the German proletarian women’s movement, in the late 1960s and the early 1970s a new and powerful feminist movement arose internationally. From the United States through Western Europe to Japan, and in a number of Third World countries, women founded their own autonomous groups and collectives, wrote pamphlets and sought publicity, staged demonstrations, and even national women’s strikes, to show their deep discontent with their own conditions of life. In the course of these struggles, feminist activists demanded both control over their own bodies and greater equality in social life. Raising...

  9. PART 2 The Industrial Work of Women in India and Bangladesh
    • 5 Home-based Women Labourers in the Garment Industry in West Bengal
      (pp. 105-132)

      ‘Industry heavies want to get in on the ground floor of a business hat is poised to explode.’ Euphoric is, without exaggeration, the right term for the language and style of theAll India Directory of Readymade Garment Dealers, published in 1990. The report gave a point-by-point description of the rapid growth in the production of readymade garments in India. According to its figures, the total value of the domestic market in such garments stood at Rs. 3,000 crore (roughly $1 billion) in the given year, and the expansion rate was stated to be 30 per cent per year. Moreover,...

    • 6 Wage Slavery among Women Garment Workers under the Factory System in Bangladesh
      (pp. 133-166)

      ‘The readymade garments industry is the success story of the modern manufacturing sector after independence.’¹ Like in neighbouring India, the production of trousers, shirts and other modern wear in Bangladesh is characterized by a phenomenal annual growth rate. From being a sector which, at its inception in the late 1970s, had only a few production units, over a decade and a half it has expanded into an industry comprising at least 1,100 units. Today, garment companies in Bangladesh employ, by far, the largest number of wage labourers in any of the industrial sectors. This sector’s position in the urban economy...

    • 7 The German Feminist School and the Thesis of Housewifization
      (pp. 167-198)

      Political economy as the science of the conditions and forms under which different human societies produce and exchange, and under which products are accordingly distributed each time—political economy in this expanded sense is yet to be created. The scientific knowledge we possess of economy so far is almost totally restricted to the evolution and development of the capitalist mode of production.¹

      This quotation from Frederick Engels forms the ‘opening shot’ in a now celebrated article by the German feminist, Claudia von Werlhof, in which she proposes a novel conceptualization of women's labour, which she appropriately calls ‘the blind spot...

  10. PART 3 Women’s Role as Agricultural Producers
    • 8 Developmental Feminism and Peasant Women’s Labour in Bangladesh
      (pp. 201-227)

      Developmental feminism was born from the recognition that male-dominated international institutions financing ‘development’ projects in the Third World were biased against women and tended to ignore women’s contribution to economic production. In 1970, Ester Boserup highlighted the prominent role of women in field agriculture, particularly in Africa.¹ Since then, there has been a veritable wave of investigations into the productive activities of women in Third World countries. A school of developmental feminists emerged, whose research work is largely financed by Western aid and is geared towards ‘integrating women in development’.²

      Bangladesh is one of those Third World countries where women’s...

    • 9 The Ecofeminist Discourse in India
      (pp. 228-256)

      Just like the developmental feminist current described in the previous chapter, ecofeminism as a distinct trend has emerged only recently, in the 1970s. The term ecofeminism reportedly was first coined by a French writer, Francoise d’Eaubonne, when in 1974 she called upon women to lead an ecological revolution to save the planet.¹ The concept was given further shape by feminists from different countries—by women based in the North, and women belonging to various Third World countries. One of the most prominent representatives of ecofeminism today is an Indian scientist, Vandana Shiva, who combines a critique of Western, patriarchal science...

    • 10 The German Feminist School and the Thesis of Subsistence Labour
      (pp. 257-292)

      In an earlier chapter, I have presented the thesis of the German feminist school on ‘housewifization’. This, however, is not the only thesis shared by Maria Mies, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Claudia von Werlhof. I will now review their second major proposition, namely, that women’s labour worldwide should be understood as ‘subsistence labour’, defined as the production of life in its widest sense.¹ We will see that the implications of this thesis are more far-reaching than those of the earlier-mentioned thesis. The thesis on subsistence labour, in fact, shapes the fundamental view of the German authors regarding the process of capitalist...

  11. PART 4 Japanization and Women’s Labour
    • 11 The Japanese Style of Management and Fordism Compared
      (pp. 295-321)

      Is Fordism ‘a new mechanism of accumulation and distribution of finance capital, based directly on industrial production’? Does Americanism constitute a distinct phase, a new epoch, in the history of capitalist production? These questions were posed by the Italian revolutionary thinker, Antonio Gramsci, in his well-knownPrison Notebooks, drafted while in prolonged detention under fascism. At that time, new American production methods—the workers enchained to the assembly line, and the stop-watch as a means to closely regulate their movements—were rapidly gaining prominence. Outside the prison walls, these methods formed the object of fierce debate between academicians belonging to...

    • 12 Japanese Women as a Vast Reserve Army of Labour
      (pp. 322-351)

      ‘Women have been the potential industrial reserve army, whose working power is absorbed or rejected according to the accumulation cycles and epochs, since the capitalist mode of production came into existence.’¹ Although Bennholdt-Thomsen did not refer to women in Japan, this statement can well apply to the experience of Japanese women workers during the various phases of the industrial evolution. At every stage, entrepreneurs have treated women as a disposable labour reserve.

      Japan has long been projected as a country where workers enjoy life-long employment with job security and steadily increasing incomes. Benevolent company managers, so it was argued, ensure...

    • 13 Conclusion: Capital Accumulation in Contemporary Asia
      (pp. 352-370)

      In the preceding chapters, I have reviewed the economic experiences of three Asian countries—Japan, Bangladesh and India—and I have taken the labouring activities of women in agriculture and industry as my point of departure. In my investigation, I have assessed the relevance of Marxist economic concepts, such as the concept of the original accumulation of capital, Marx's theory of the working day, his analysis of the turn-over time of capital, and his concept of the ‘reserve army of labour’. In Marx’s own days, the economies of Asia were marginal to the world economic system, and his theory was...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 371-373)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 374-395)
  14. Index
    (pp. 396-401)