Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
This paper looks at how the politics of scale in world-market factories shape and are shaped by geopolitical-economic relations between capital, states, and labour. Such factories are integral parts of global commodity chains, often for high-street consumer goods, and most are located in special economic zones where state-legislation against workers rights, coupled with state investment in fixed capital, facilitate exceptional profits and mobility for local and international capital. The paper offers an ethnographic account of the on-the-ground politics of scale created by this global relation of capital, states, and labour. My focus is on workers in a Mauritian dyeing factory in 2004, whose shifts had been altered significantly by their employer, a local, multinational corporation trying to capitalize on the island’s declining position in the global textile and garment commodity chain in the wake of the cessation of preferential export quota via the World Trade Organisation regime in 2005. I chart how the workers moved their struggle from the shop floor scale to the national scale via demonstrations, media campaigns, and national industrial relations arbitrage courts. At each scale workers lost against the multinational, with roots in the French colonial period and current holdings in agriculture, textiles and garments, services, tourism, and real estate across the Indian Ocean region with annual turnovers that roughly matched the Mauritian national GDP. So, their final resort was to ally with global anti-capitalist, anti-sweatshop and anti-WTO movements of the early 2000s to transnationally shame the multinational and their threat to relocate production.