The Case for Labour-Led Development

A review of «The Struggle for Development»

(Cambridge: Polity, 2017), 195 page

Intan Suwandi

esponding to the criticism of Nike’s low-cost labour strategy, the company’s spokesman Dusty Kidd claimed in 1994 that low wages had nothing to do with exploitation. In his view, the company opened up economic opportunity for workers employed by its suppliers in the Global South, which would serve as a way out of poverty. If these workers had not worked for Nike, Kidd said, they would still be “harvesting coconut meat in the tropical sun.”

There is plenty to question in such a statement. Nonetheless, one thing is quite clear: Kidd’s comment represents the dominant discourse regarding poverty and development. Here, capital-centred development—in which leading ideas about development are those formed by the power elite, representing the ruling class—is presented as the solution to all social problems, including poverty. “Providing jobs” in factories that assemble sneakers, shirts, or electronics is a means to integrate the periphery into global capitalism, ensuring economic growth and, therefore, benefiting both capital and labor.

However, in reality, capital-centred development deepens exploitation, as Benjamin Selwyn points out in his sharp and thoughtful The Struggle for Development. His book powerfully challenges the capitalist road to further immiseration for the majority of the world’s population. It also opens up a path to an important discussion regarding what is to be done in the twenty-first century. The book ends with the claim that an alternative form of development, led by the labouring classes, is not only necessary but possible. Above all, “labouring-class movements and struggles against capitalist exploitation can be, and are, developmental in and of themselves.”


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