Labour Politics in an Age of Precarity

21 April 2017 - 22 April 2017

Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Registration for this workshop is now closed. 

There will also be a public event, 'Mobilising Precarious Workers in the UK', from 6pm on Friday 21 April. This is open to all, free of charge. 

 

Convenor

Sian Lazar (University of Cambridge)

 

Summary

The workshop will discuss how labour is organized in different contexts across Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe, and what effects such organization has on labour relations under conditions of economic precarity. Papers will examine precarity as a condition of life and one of the bases for a collective politics of labour, but without prejudging how that politics might look. Instead, they will document labour politics and organisation of all kinds. The workshop speaks to debates about the continuing relevance of labour-based mobilisation for economic justice, rights and well-being in a contemporary political context that often overlooks its very real impact across the globe.

The workshop will also speak to current debates about resilience in the face of precarious conditions of life and work. In contemporary development and security discourse, resilience is usually taken to mean the ability to cope with unusual adversity or disaster, but what about the ability to cope with precarity itself? How far do informal sector workers create mechanisms of resilience that rely on collective strategies? What are they? Or does precarity instead promote individual responses to problem-solving? When does resilience become resistance or does resilience preclude resistance (or revolution)?

 

Sponsors

                          

Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Centre of Latin American Studies and the Division of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. 

 

Administrative assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

Day 1 - Friday 21 April

8.50 - 9.15

Registration

9.15 - 9.30

Welcome and opening comments

9.30 - 11.00

Session 1

Discussant: Gavin Smith (University of Toronto)

 

Hasan Ashraf (University of Amsterdam and Jahangirnagar University) and Rebecca Prentice (University of Sussex)

Precarity, Health, and Labour Politics in Bangladesh’s Export Garment Industry

 

Kate Griffiths (CUNY)

DeSkilling and Precarity in South Africa’s Health Sector: Global Austerity and Working Class Identity

11.00 - 11.30

Break

11.30 - 13.00

Session 2

Discussant: Sharryn Kasmir (Hofstra University)

 

Patrícia Matos (University of Barcelona)

Locating Precarization: the state, social reproduction and the politics of precarity in Portugal

 

Michael Hoffmann (University of Cologne)

Informal Labour politics, Precarity and Resilience in a Modern Food-Processing Factory in Western, Post-Conflict Nepal.

13.00 - 14.00

Lunch

14.00 - 15.30

Session 3

Discussant: Deborah James (London School of Economics) 

 

Pnina Werbner (Keele University)

Legal Mobilisation, Legal Scepticism and the Politics of Public Sector Unions in Botswana

 

Christian Zlolniski (University of Texas at Arlington)

Mobilizing for their Rights as Labourers and Settlers: Indigenous Farmworkers in Northern Mexico

15.30 - 16.00

Break

16.00 - 17.30

Session 4

Discussant: Don Kalb (CEU, University of Bergen and Max Planck Institute-Halle)

 

Eeva Kesküla (Tallinn University) and Andrew Sanchez (University of Cambridge)

Everyday Barricades: Banality and the Paradox of Class Struggle in Global Trade Unions

 

Vito Laterza (University of Oslo)

Mobilising tradition: Swazi workers’ struggles between spontaneous action and customary ideologies

18.00 - 19.00

Public Event: Mobilising Precarious Workers in the UK

Henry Chango López and Jason Moyer-Lee (IWGB)

From Invisible to Invincible: The 3 Cosas Campaign in London and New Challenges Ahead. 

 

This event is also a book launch for Where are the Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe, edited by Sian Lazar, and published in March 2017 by Zed books.

Day 2 - Saturday 22 April

9.30 - 11.00

Session 5

Discussant: Sian Lazar (University of Cambridge)

 

August Carbonella (Memorial University)

Cross-Atlantic Connections: The Universalist Politics of 19th Century Labour Movements

 

Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo)

Precarity, by Comparison: The Uncertain Transnationalisation of Labour Politics in South Korea and the Philippines.

11.00 - 11.30

Break

11.30 - 13.00

Session 6

Discussant: Nadya Araujo Guimarães (University of São Paulo)

 

Madhumita Dutta (Pennsylvania State University)

‘But the company is us’: Reflections on the everyday politics of labour at a global production site in Tamil Nadu, India. 

 

María Inés Fernández Álvarez (UBA-CONICET)

'Having a name of one’s own, being part of history': temporalities and political subjectivities of popular economy workers in Argentina. 

13.00 - 14.00

Lunch

14.00 - 15.30

Session 7

Discussant: Sharryn Kasmir (Hofstra University)

 

Patrick O’Hare (University of Cambridge)

'The landfill has always born fruit': Precarity and Security Amongst Montevideo’s Waste-pickers

 

Dina Makram-Ebeid (American University in Cairo)

Precarious Revolution: The Forgotten Resistance of Informal Sector Workers in Egypt

15.30 - 16.00

Break

16.00 - 17.30

Roundtable

Nadya Araujo Guimarães, Deborah James, Don Kalb, Sharryn Kasmir, Gavin Smith

Hasan Ashraf (University of Amsterdam and Jahangirnagar University) and Rebecca Prentice (University of Sussex)

Precarity, Health, and Labour Politics in Bangladesh’s Export Garment Industry

This paper explores how labour politics are embedded in the everyday lives of precarious workers in Bangladesh’s export garment industry. The 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Dhaka resulted in the deaths of at least 1,134 workers, and became a turning point in the governance of labour standards in global supply chains. Bangladesh is now the site of several global and national initiatives to improve working conditions and facilitate labour mobilisation. Notable among these is the 2013 ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’, often described as a ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘unprecedented’ pact between organised labour and multinational clothing brands to inspect Bangladesh factories and remediate buildings to safety standards. In this paper, we explore ethnographically how labour politics is understood, embodied, and performed at various ‘levels’—from the factories and workers’ neighbourhoods, through the local trade unions and labour organisations, and global union federations based in Europe. Exploring how the ‘health’ and ‘safety’ of workers are contested concepts at every level, this paper makes two interventions: first, in showing the importance of the ‘precarious bodies’ of workers for our understanding of labour precariousness more generally, including its links to the predicament of social reproduction, and second, in arguing that the national context of labour organising cannot be understood without reference to the global.

 

August Carbonella (Memorial University)

Cross-Atlantic Connections: The Universalist Politics of 19th Century Labour Movements

Drawing upon the emphasis on the interconnection of globally dispersed labour processes by world-historical anthropologists in the 1980s, I will offer a sketch of the transatlantic connections and universalist politics among labour and political movements representing differently classified labourers that have long been obscured by the strong emphasis on the 'making' of national working classes. In doing so, I explore the extent to which diverse movements for rights, freedom, and emancipation became braided together as an aligned political force from the 1840s to the 1870s, and its unravelling with the violent  suppression of the Paris Commune and Black Reconstruction in the 1870s. I conclude with a brief discussion of what insights these cross-Atlantic connections hold for our understanding of global labour today.

 

Madhumita Dutta (Pennsylvania State University)

‘But the company is us’: Reflections on the everyday politics of labour at a global production site in Tamil Nadu, India.

In 2014 a factory closed down in a small industrial town in the outskirts of Chennai city in Tamil Nadu, India. Over 5,000 ‘permanent’ workers lost their jobs in matter of months. For the young workers, most of them women, who had joined the factory right after school, the closure meant more than just loss of job. A disruption that was created by the uncertainty of capital caused immense emotional response ranging from disbelief to anger, anxiety to bitterness that drove deep wedges into the ‘collective’ that had once stood united facing the state and the corporation. While the workers expressed a sense of anger, grief and loss to the factory closure, there was also a strong feeling that the company ‘owed’ them not to be treated this way. The workers disapproved the company’s decision of closure—they did not ‘consent’ for it. In some sense they demanded their rights by drawing on a language of responsibility and indebtedness. 

In the everyday practices and lived experiences of work, people form complex feelings towards workplace—identity, community, way of being, where work means ‘more than just a job’ or ‘wage’. However, labour’s ‘attachment’ to this space is not necessarily unproblematic and is experienced differently by different sets of workers as there are internal divisions within, often created by conditions of employment and nature of work. While there was a difference in the individual and collective actions of the workers to the factory closure, they were enmeshed in terms of their collective desire to protect their dreams for a better future, hope for transforming personal circumstances and social and material conditions that waged work in the factory promised them. Their responses to the closure were part of their everyday struggles, both within and outside the formal workspace. Using life stories, the paper will explore the motivations and expectations of labour that forms the basis for everyday politics of work and complex ‘web of relations’ that get formed around work.

 

María Inés Fernández Álvarez (UBA-CONICET)

'Having a name of one’s own, being part of history': temporalities and political subjectivities of popular economy workers in Argentina

In September of 2015 I met leaders from the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores de la Economía Popular - CTEP), a union founded in 2011 with the objective of representing a wide range of activities of the working class including seamstresses, cooperatitivists, waste-pickers, and street vendors among others. For the CTEP, 'Popular Economy' unifies a heterogeneous group of people that have been called 'wageless lives', but for this organization they are the ones who 'have invented work in order to survive'.  As a social demand, this term highlights two attributes: the recognition of these people as workers and their lack of labour rights (e.g. social security, paid leave, health insurance)that apply to waged worked in Argentina. Therefore, their claim is 'we are what is lacking' ('somos lo que falta') and their principal demand consists on granting the same rights to these workers as those of the waged workers.

As a union, and following the same logic as the workers movement in this country, the CTEP is organised in branches according to labour activities with the aim of unifying demands and identifying common goals. I carry out my research with a collaborative perspective working together with the branches of 'public space workers'. This includes street vendors in public transportation or stadiums, craftsmen and street markets.

In the conversations I have had with them, I frequently heard about their life experiences which many times included a childhood wanting for basic needs which forced them to work from an early age, systematic violence that they had been exposed to due to their 'illegal' activity, uncertainty about their future or a general lack of protection for them and their families. These descriptions are directly linked to a conceptualization of their experiences as precarious conditions that include and exceed the working conditions. This conceptualization has become relevant in recent years in order to define living conditions of growing populations in today’s capitalisms both in the North and Global South.

At the same time, throughout my research I have noticed other dimensions that make it necessary to broaden the understanding of precarity in others ways. On one hand, because this deals with life experiences that can be traced back a in a deep temporality which goes back at least two or three generations. It is therefore possible to think about a socialization in this labour that begins at an early age sharing a day’s work with their parents, older siblings or others family members. As a result, a person that recognizes deep uncertainty about their future working, at the same time may express their love for what they do, the freedom they feel at working without a boss, managing their own schedule and owning their income, which are attributes embodied in their own trajectories and those of their elders´.

On the other hand, the enthusiasms and commitment that I have observed in everyday acts of solidarity (e.g. organising a football tournament to raise funds for a workmate -compañero- in need) energized the construction of their own organization as public space vendors from which they project their desires and hopes for a future of well-being. These observations invite an approach to political construction of this space not only as strategic response to the 'needs' and demands that are created around an ideal of waged work (e.g having social security) but also as a horizon from which to build political subjectivities as popular economy workers. In other words, rather than approaching these subjectivities as something to be transformed (to stop being popular economy workers in order to become waged workers), they become the basis for the production of collective rights.

In this paper, I will aim to contribute to recent discussions about the experience of precarity as a condition of life and basis for a collective politics of labour focusing on the dimension of temporality I mentioned before. I analyze how the process of collective construction that the CTEP carries out links a past which is alive in their subjective experience with a future that this experience builds in political terms under a union organization capable of representing popular economy workers.

 

Michael Hoffmann (University of Cologne)

Informal Labour politics, Precarity and Resilience in a Modern Food-Processing Factory in Western, Post-Conflict Nepal

This paper focuses on informal labour politics, precarity and resistance in a modern food-processing factory in western, post-conflict Nepal. More precisely, the paper concentrates on a group of workers who formerly worked as bonded labourers and shows how they adapt to the new realities of a precarious capitalist labour market. It examines how the past shapes precarious labour experiences of the present, including resistance. The paper reflects on the situation of contemporary precarious labour at industrial sites in western Nepal. It describes how formerly bonded labourers and their descendants have begun working as contract workers in a modern industrial food-processing factory - with the help of their (kin-related) contractors. The paper further shows that one of the defining features of their new life as contract labour is its chronic precariousness.  Undisguised forms of confrontation, such as open disregard for management instructions, however, are also part of their new realities in a precarious labour market. Contract laborers often displayed a strong assertiveness in face of managerial authorities, and this assertiveness was shaped largely by either past experiences or memories of bonded labour. The paper contributes to debates about bonded-labour and its transformations in South Asia. It also offers a reflection on the limited impact of the Nepali Maoist Revolution on precarious labour and its ethnic dimensions. Finally, it contributes to discussions about industrialization and adivasi communities in South Asia and beyond.

 

Kate Griffiths (CUNY)

DeSkilling and Precarity in South Africa’s Health Sector: Global Austerity and Working Class Identity

The first portion of the paper will argue that South African precarity is best understood as a class-wide experience, that is formed and understood not only in the workplace, in high and low wage work, union and non-union workplaces, but through extended family networks which combine these with an intensification of unwaged reproductive labour. The second portion will explore how this consciousness rooted in family networks that combine both productive and reproductive labour is produced and reproduced through deskilling in the health sector, including task-shifting and widely-touted management strategies for intervention in 'low-resource' environments. The third portion of the paper will look at the political impacts on the politics of health care unions, the formal labour movement, and more broadly, on its role in producing an intensifying crisis for the ruling party and the Tripartite Alliance in recent years. Finally, the paper will investigate recent social movements (wildcat strikes, student strikes, movements for basic services and housing) through this lens, suggesting a 'crisis of care'-- of social reproduction--presents both challenges and possibilities for practical solidarity as as well as a fundamental challenge for labour organizations and future political formations.

 

Eeva Kesküla (Tallinn University) and Andrew Sanchez (University of Cambridge)

Everyday Barricades: Banality and the Paradox of Class Struggle in Global Trade Unions

Employees in global workplaces commonly suggest that they are being failed by trade union representatives that betray the political ideals of their institutions. In many instances, popular assumptions of trade union corruption are accurate and perceptive. However, the tenacity of the global trade union corruption discourse requires closer interrogation, since the notion persists even in contexts that lack evidence of such practices occurring.

Based upon a comparison of trade unionism in Kazakhstan and India, we ask why organisations in these environments would make emotive appeals to languages of struggle that they are unable to fulfil in their daily activities. We suggest that there is a fundamental slippage between the emotive aspect of union politics and the banal day-to-day realties of institutional politics. We argue that since the international language and symbol system of trade unionism is historically rooted in the idea of political struggle, then trade unionists legitimate and identify with their institutions with reference to dramatic and exceptional terms that are rarely replicated in everyday life. We explore how conservative and radical trade unions alike rely upon this presentation to rationalize their work as part of an international and historically continuous political project, and show how this diverges from the actual business of everyday politics.

 

Vito Laterza (University of Oslo)

Mobilising tradition: Swazi workers’ struggles between spontaneous action and customary ideologies

The expansion of flexible capitalism has seen Southern African workers’ unions rapidly losing ground in the struggle to protect the interests of an increasingly casualised workforce. At the same time, wildcat strikes with minimal or no union involvement are on the rise throughout the region, testifying to increasing workers’ discontent. Trade unions in Swaziland are showing similar signs of crisis and fragmentation. I will explore this disjuncture and the implications for the advancement of workers’ struggles with reference to Enkopolwani, a Christian company town where white Pentecostal missionaries and managers employed Swazi workers as cheap labour in forestry activities.

Workers and residents from the nearby customary area struggled against the excesses of white management. Their collective action culminated in a three-day wildcat strike. The workers and the strike committee did not forge strong ties with industry unions. Workers articulated their claims in idioms foreign to progressive cosmopolitan union speech, appealing to traditional authorities for help and using customary notions of reciprocity and interdependence. In contrast, unions and pro-democracy organisations have often denounced tradition as a tool of hegemony by the Swazi monarchy that runs the country as an authoritarian state.

I will explore the particular epistemology of mutual dependence, solidarity and humanity put forward by workers, and how it is informed by their experiences and perceptions of precarity. To do so, I will draw on the intersections of multiple theories, including Hardt & Negri’s concept of the multitude and Nyamnjoh’s ideas about conviviality and belonging.

I will also focus on the challenges of integrating these insights in the political practice of Swazi unions and pro-democracy movements. I suggest that they engage with customary ideologies as a productive terrain of struggle for workers’ mobilization, and overcome the unhelpful dichotomy between traditionalism and progressive politics.

 

Dina Makram-Ebeid (American University in Cairo)

Precarious Revolution: The Forgotten Resistance of Informal Sector Workers in Egypt

The historiography of the Egyptian uprisings since 2011 has focused on the resistance of the visible, organised and salaried workers, and particularly their struggles for free and independent unions. The resistance of unorganised workers - those who work in service jobs, are paid by the day or are seasonly employed and who are most often not recognised as 'workers' - has been largely overlooked in narratives of labour and the revolution in Egypt. An important effect of the neoliberal project in Egypt, which has persisted despite the uprisings since 2011, has been the steady informalisation and 'flexibilisation' of work and work relations. The majority of Egyptian workers now toil in what is often bundled under the term 'the informal sector'. Yet, we know very little about how, in the recent years, they have survived and resisted their ongoing dispossession and the fragmentation and slashing of state support and benefits. We are also largely unaware how their struggles have contributed to the revolutionary trajectories as they took shape prior to 2011 and to date. This paper looks at the combination of resistance and survival strategies of highly precarious workers who live and work on the fringes of large industrial 'company towns' in Helwan, an industrial district in the south of Cairo. It maps the variety of ways they have claimed their right to a dignified life, which involved complex and at times contradicting strategies and tactics. These included squatting houses but distancing themselves from the revolution and short-lived work-stoppages accompanied with the wearing out of bodies through the over-reliance on illicit drugs, such as locally popular painkiller Tramadol, to withstand the longer work hours and more demanding workloads. Drawing on the above contradictions that ethnographic fieldwork highlights, the paper makes an important connection between the precarious outcome of the revolutionary process in Egypt and the precarious lives, and resistance strategies, of the majority of the working class in Egypt.

 

Patrícia Matos (University of Barcelona)

Locating Precarization:  the state, social reproduction and the politics of precarity in Portugal

This paper develops a historically informed and ethnographic analysis of precarity and precarious labour regimes in contemporary Portugal. I begin by addressing the creation and maintenance of precarious labour regimes as an integral part of the state’s strategy of development during the 20th century, aiming to accommodate global capitalist imperatives, including the recent austerity predicament following the 2008 financial crisis.

Drawing on fieldwork undertaken in 2009 and 2015/2016 in two urban costal cities, with different generations of precarious workers, I focus on the contemporary experience of precarity as a reproduction and status crisis. I emphasize how economic hardship, intergenerational feelings of citizenship destitution and the unrealization of expectations of middle-class distinction hinder the prospects of organized and emancipatory collective action.

At a broader level, this paper argues that precarity and precarious labour regimes are not only the universal outcome of the development of global capitalist forces. Rather, broadening our understanding of precarization demands scrutinizing its historically contingent and political dimensions. Doing so will enable comparing the historical uneveness of state-led precarious employment regimes, highlight the social constitution of precarity, and signal its limits as a potential emancipatory political structure.

 

Patrick O’Hare (University of Cambridge)

'The landfill has always born fruit': Precarity and Security Amongst Montevideo’s Waste-pickers

Precarity has often been considered a hallmark of waste-picking, an activity in which workers engage in order to 'survive' while exposing themselves to health risks, exploitation and the vagaries of the commodity markets. This paper explores the question of precarity and labour organisation in Uruguay’s waste and recycling economy, drawing on participant observation conducted with waste-pickers (known as clasificadores) in and around Montevideo’s Felipe Cardozo landfill.

Rather than considering it a sign of precarity, clasificadores at Felipe Cardozo characterise the landfill as a dependable resource, a 'mother' which is always there for them, providing food, clothes and construction materials. I seek to capture the landfill’s position as a space of value extraction through a historical comparison with English commons, suggesting that the Uruguayan dump might be considered an 'urban commons' at risk of appropriation and 'hygienic enclosure'.

The Uruguayan socio-developmental apparatus has recently sought to divert clasificadores away from the landfill and into what is conceptualized as more dignified and less precarious labour in recycling plants with fixed hours/ wages and regulated health and safety conditions. Based on longitudinal fieldwork with a group of landfill-based waste-pickers, the paper explores the effect of formalisation on feelings of workplace security and traces whether and why workers remain in plants or return to 'informal' work. Further, it compares the forms of labour organisation possible at the landfill and at the plant, noting in particular the increased tendency towards female participation in labour organizing at formal sector plants.

 

Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo)

Precarity, by comparison: The uncertain transnationalisation of labour politics in South Korea and the Philippines.

The concept of precarity has gained much traction in anthropology over recent years, with Guy Standing’s related notion of the precariat, pointing to the class dimension of the lived experience of precarity, also enjoying popularity in the social sciences at large. Standing’s precariat, referring to the commonalities amongst working populations that lack a list of securities (most of which would have always been out of reach for the vast majority of humanity outside of the Global North) has been heavily critiqued for being both a-historical and Eurocentric. The uncertain applicability of this term to the lives and livelihood strategies of workers in the Global South is of course an issue that needs more in-depth comparative investigation. However, heated debates around increasing uncertainty to be felt in the world of work have clearly not stayed confined to academic realms, but are simultaneously negotiated amongst labour groups in many locations worldwide, with different, yet related labels being used to describe these ongoing and interlinked developments.

In South Korea, for instance, the question of 'pijeonggyujig' (nonregular work) has taken center stage since the mid-2000s, while in the Philippines, discussions have recently centered around a similar devaluation process involving labour that is locally summed up under the heading of 'contractualization'. In this paper, I will focus on how the notions of 'pijeonggyujig' and 'contractualization' have been mobilized by different labour groups to discuss one and the same large-scale offshoring project that connects working populations in South Korea and the Philippines. The case of Hanjin – a South Korean conglomerate that owns shipyards both in Pusan, South Korea, and in Subic Bay, Philippines – also allows us to explore some of the related difficulties that arise when locally embedded trade unions and labour activists seek to make transnational connections in order to keep up with capital. While both in Pusan and Subic Bay highly militant labour groups invested in promoting transformative politics (rather than in merely addressing grievances) have been involved, their sustained efforts to link up their struggles were only partially successful in the end.

 

Pnina Werbner (Keele University)

Legal Mobilisation, Legal Scepticism and the Politics of Public Sector Unions in Botswana

My paper, drawn from my book The Making of an African Working Class (Pluto Press 2014), addresses the debate about the effectiveness for public sector unions of the law and judicial review as means of contending with state inequities and precarious livelihoods. I argue for the need to recognise that taking the government to court is part of a wider strategy of social mobilisation and campaigns for social justice (on the USA, see McCann 1994; Snarr 2011). Legal mobilisation during the public sector strike in Botswana in 2011 was, the paper argues, only one strategic part of a more comprehensive campaign to call on government to pay its workers a living wage. The paper calls for anthropology to re-examine some of its assumptions about the role of the law in postcolonial nations. Despite the possibility that judges may be biased or vulnerable to political influence, and despite the courts' restricted ability to implement their judgements - it is nevertheless the case that ethics, morality and the law, when mobilised alongside concerted political and civic activism, may play a critical role in advancing the cause of citizens' rights against an apparently all-powerful government.

 

Christian Zlolniski (University of Texas at Arlington)

Mobilizing for their Rights as Labourers and Settlers: Indigenous Farmworkers in Northern Mexico

This paper examines the precarious lives of indigenous immigrant farmworkers in Baja California employed in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for consumer markets in the United States. Neoliberal agrarian policies have rendered farm laborers as a structurally vulnerable labour forces with limited rights and benefits compared to workers in other employment sectors. To counteract these forces and government-controlled unions, workers organize around independent ethnic organizations. Flexible identities and situational politics allow workers to protest, negotiate, and mobilize for issues that concern them in their everyday lives in the workplace and the rural communities where they have settled. Having carved a new political space, indigenous ethnic organizations rely on transnational connections across the Mexico-U.S. border to mobilize for their labour, civil, and political rights, infusing new blood to labour unionism, and contesting nativist views that portray them as outsiders who do not belong. I use this ethnographic case study to reflect about a new class of precarious rural workers neoliberal agrarian policies have produced in Mexico, the new forms of labour and community politics they have developed, and the motives and aspirations that drive them.