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This article examines the practice of fraudulent informal loans given to vulnerable groups in Mexico, and connects these malpractices to the structural (re)production of poverty. The scams resolve around fake credit companies offering loans to people in need on the condition that they pay a deposit, after which contact is broken. After locating scams within broader discussions on vulnerability, poverty and credit, an empirical study is presented based on 35 interviews with victims. Results are presented regarding the reasons why people fall in these traps, how they are cause and consequence of vulnerability, and the difficulties of prosecution. The conclusions reflect on the role of such traps within the production of poverty, the relative invisibility of these crimes, and the topic of legal protection and prosecution.

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As I argued in the preceding chapter, it makes sense, in the context of an incorporated comparison concerned with processes of deindustrialization, to zoom in on Western Europe and examine different national cases that reflect the variegation of global capitalism. Britain bears hallmarks of a liberal market economy. Accordingly, the institutions characterizing the British political economy reflect the assumption that the market mechanism allocates resources efficiently: the regulation of the financial sector is comparably ‘light’ (see Gallas, 2010; Tooze, 2018); for-profit, private sector companies and public–private partnerships play an important role in delivering public services (Flinders, 2005; Gallas, 2016: 241–2); and economic inequality is higher than in the other Western European countries. Indeed, economic liberalism has deep roots in the country. Paired with colonialism and imperialism, it was a prominent feature of government policy in the age of the British empire in the 19th century. Back then, leading politicians had been promoting the erection of a ‘world market’ based on ‘free trade’ (Arrighi, 1994: 47–58; Gallas, 2008: 283; 2016: 76, 134–5). After the Second World War, economic and social policy shifted. Under the postwar settlement between capital and labour, full employment and benefits were traded for union acquiescence. A welfare state was erected, and successive governments started to experiment with Keynesianism and corporatism. But in reaction to a deep crisis of the British political economy and a wave of rank-and-file militancy on the side of organized labour, leading politicians re-embraced, from the mid-1970s onwards, ‘free market’ ideas.

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The commitment to taking seriously a global angle is at odds with a lot of research in the fields of political economy and labour studies. Single country case studies and comparative studies of a small number of countries are common currency. Both have contributed significantly to our understanding of different capitalist social formations and the fact that institutions and configurations of actors at the national level matter and differ. Through establishing differences and communalities across national states, they enhance our understanding of what the capitalist mode of production is, and what specificities of macroregional or national contexts are. Many of those studies exhibit a research strategy that can be called ‘methodological Fordism’. With this term, I refer to a set of methodological choices starting from the implicit assumption that Fordism is the standard mode of capitalist development. This does not mean that all research in this mould studies ‘Fordist’ or ‘post-Fordist’ configurations or uses the corresponding terminology. My point is that it has a family resemblance with scholarship that explicitly does so and shares with it a number of guiding assumptions: the primary unit of analysis is the national state; the study of manufacturing and of the labour relations in the sector – frequently referred to as ‘industrial relations’ (see Nowak, 2021) – are key to understanding national political economies; and contemporary capitalism can be deciphered by focusing on a relatively small number of highly industrialized core countries.

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Observers discussing the present-day, multifaceted crisis of global capitalism are sometimes invoking the gory imagery of horror films. After the global banking crisis had struck in 2007 and 2008, Chris Harman (2009) and Jamie Peck (2010) spoke of ‘zombie capitalism’ and ‘zombie neoliberalism’, respectively. Around a decade later, Raul Zelik reclaimed this trope (2020a). Witnessing the acceleration of climate change and lack of decisive interventions to slow it down as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, he referred to the people suffering under the yoke of global social order the ‘undead of capital’. This is reminiscent of some of the metaphors employed by Marx in the first volume of Capital (1976), who stated that ‘[c]apital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’ (Marx, 1976: 342; see Carver, 1998: 14–20). The purpose of using these metaphors is obvious. They highlight the fact that we are in a nightmarish situation. Global capitalism lives off the toil of workers around the world, depriving them of their vitality and their ability to actively take control of their lives. But despite the fact that more people than ever are sucked into the system of wage labour and have to submit to the imperatives of capital, it is still teetering on the brink of collapse. Turning people into zombies, it keeps on surviving – but is becoming weaker and weaker in the process.

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The general strike stands out as a form of labour unrest because of its openly visible class dimension. It calls the entire labour force across a society to stop work. By definition, stoppages only count as general strikes if they are based on cross-sectional, inclusive solidarity. Sometimes this is done exclusively for political aims, for example when people protest against an authoritarian government. But often, general strikes are organic strikes: They articulate economic and political demands and formulate a general, class-based agenda. In so doing, they usually concern the organization of work across the whole of society and create a divide between workers on one side and capital and the government on the other. Consequently, they are of particular interest when one examines working-class formation. The Spanish state is a useful test case for examining the demands, constituencies and dynamics of general strikes. Since la Transición, there have been ten union-led, national, general strikes (1985, 1988, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2010, 2012 [March] and 2012 [November]); two general national strikes with mass participation led by feminist organizations (2018 and 2019); and a number of regional mobilizations. In what follows, I will focus on the two most recent cycles of struggle and explore their connection: the cycle spanning the beginning of the Great Crisis and the sovereign debt crisis from 2008 until 2014, which includes three general strikes against austerity, and the subsequent cycle encompassing the two feminist general strikes against violence against women, the precarity of women workers, the disregard for care work and the effects of austerity on the social infrastructure.

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Sitting at my desk and composing this last section of my book, I revert to looking at images of work, this time two pictures on my wall. Up in front of me is a reproduction of a painting by Mancunian artist L.S. Lowry from the mid-20th century. It depicts a football match on a bleak, grey day in what is presumably the Northwest of England. We see a goal and two teams battling it out on pitch. Two of the players, one representing each side, are jumping towards the ball, probably with the aim of heading it. They are surrounded by their respective teammates. In the foreground, there is a perimeter, and a few people watching who are positioned in front of it, mostly with their backs turned towards the observer. In the back, an industrial cityscape is visible: smoking chimneys, factory buildings and a gasometer. In Lowry’s painting, we glimpse what philosopher Bertrand Russell called, with dismissive overtones, the ‘industrial civilization’ (2010). He referred to a way of life centred on industrial work and the factory, which was prevalent, in the 19th and 20th century, in many parts of Britain, Western Europe and the wider world. Lowry’s imagery indicates that this civilization is characterized by strenuous, manual labour and a popular culture that celebrates comradery and confrontational physical activity (see Gramsci, 1971: 277–320; Hobsbawm, 1984: 182). And arguably, he depicts a male-dominated world. In the picture, there are only two females – a woman and a girl watching from outside the perimeter.

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As I argued in Chapter 1, it makes sense, in the context of an incorporated comparison focusing on deindustrialization, to zoom in on Western Europe and examine different national cases that reflect different aspects of the variegation of global capitalism. After all, Western Europe was the first macroregion in the world to industrialize, and it has been witnessing sustained processes of deindustrialization in recent decades, which is at odds with the global trend (see Figure 5.1). Against this backdrop, I have three chosen country cases that represent political and economic hubs in Western Europe, and that each reflect the characteristic varieties of capitalism in the region: Britain as a ‘liberal market economy’, Germany as a ‘coordinated market economy’ and Spain as a ‘Mediterranean mixed type’. In line with the general development of industrial employment in the region, all three countries have been experiencing sustained processes of deindustrialization. In 2019, industrial workers constituted 18.1, 27.2 and 20.4 per cent of the overall workforce in Britain, Germany and Spain, respectively, and 22.7 per cent across the macroregion. This is a decline of 11.8, 10.2 and 11.4 percentage points if compared to the figures for 1992 – all roughly in line with each other and above the Western European average of 8.7 percentage points. Clearly, industrial workers are a minority in the overall workforce, and their sector does not heavily dominate the economy in any of the three countries or in Western Europe as a whole.

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Strikes and Class Formation beyond the Industrial Sector

In this important book, Gallas asks what strikes in non-industrial sectors mean for class formation, a critical question which has been largely unaddressed by the current literature on global labour unrest.

A mapping of strikes around the world and case studies from Germany, Britain and Spain cast new light on class relations, struggles around waged and unwaged work and labour movements in contemporary capitalism to brings class theory back to labour studies.

This is a valuable resource for academics and students of employment relations, sociology and politics.

This second volume focuses on strike research from a global angle and a Western European angle.

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Governments around the world have been managing the Great Crisis by adopting the politics of austerity. Public spending cuts tend to have drastic effects on workers because they usually translate into social wages being slashed. They are often particularly harmful to people employed in the public sector who may be faced with redundancies, worsening working conditions and direct wage cuts. Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising that large, disruptive strikes have been occurring frequently in non-industrial settings in recent years. Complementing Silver’s point that labour unrest travels when industries relocate, it can be observed that in many countries, militancy in the public and service sectors has been pronounced, sometimes more pronounced than in manufacturing. In various contexts, public and service sector unions take a leading role in their respective labour movements – and the workers involved do not conform with Hyman’s image of the striker from the 1970s, that is, the White, middle-aged male miner. In this chapter, I map labour disputes from around the world that have been taking place in the public and service sectors during the conjuncture of crisis. I take inspiration from my colleagues Franziska Müller, Simone Claar, Manuel Neumann and Carsten Elsner, who have mapped African renewable energy policies (Müller et al, 2020) – and from Silver’s approach in Forces of Labor (2003), where she uses a dataset based on newspaper coverage of strikes to identify patterns of labour unrest. Mapping should here be understood in a metaphorical sense, that is, as a qualitative research technique that creates systematic but heavily simplified and ‘flat’ representations of multi-dimensional objects, which are mostly linguistic. For example, mapping can take the form of a table where large numbers of cases are grouped according to patterns. Due to the simplicity of these representations, mapping is well-suited for producing the contextualizations that incorporated comparisons require. It allows one to cover geographical areas with large extensions.

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As I focus on processes of class formation outside manufacturing, it makes sense to examine how the division of labour across sectors has been developing around the globe. I want to assess whether my focus on service and public sector work is justified – and whether my research heuristic captures relevant developments. The ILO is collecting and aggregating data on the size of the three sectors of the global economy – agriculture, industry and services – which can be used for this purpose. The figures refer to the number of people employed or self-employed in each sector. Undoubtedly, there are questions worth asking about the validity of the ILO data. The categories used are based on the empiricist assumption that the sectoral location of any worker can be read off from the ‘main activity’ of the business unit where they work. Following the logic of the ILO, the high-level asset manager working for a hedge fund, the independent business lawyer advising her for hefty fees and the janitor cleaning both of their offices and earning the minimum wage are all working in the service sector. And a similar point can be made about reliability. Data are gathered from all corners of the world and from a great number of sources. Nevertheless, I contend that the ILO figures still have a use value if one is clear about the fact that they provide a very rough sketch and not a fine-grained picture. The data are available in the form of absolute and relative numbers.

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