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With the Declining Significance of Labor, Who Is Producing our Global Cities?

  • Michael Goldman (a1)

This article engages the question of what happens to labor as Indian cities become transformed into “global cities.” It does so by focusing on the convergence of three interrelated trends over the past few decades: the informalization of labor, the making of global cities, and the financialization of the economy. The article explains the effect on labor, capital, and urban space of this concatenation of trends. It challenges the conclusion of urbanization scholars who emphasize how labor has been largely excluded and bypassed by the growing urban economy. Instead, the article demonstrates, by using nationwide data as well as examples from Bangalore, that as labor is being displaced from formal employment and as wages become compressed, the urban commons is becoming a more valued terrain. On the one hand, displaced urban and rural workers must increasingly rely on subsistence practices and depend more upon the city's public spaces and goods to survive. On the other hand, these spaces, vital to city life, are becoming attractive to indebted municipal governments and aggressive financial investors for their speculative land values, and hence have led to greater insecurity and dispossession. The global city, therefore, is being built in large part with workers' wageless labor. Consequently, the struggle between capital and labor has reached far “beyond the factory” and farm, to the urban commons, sites simultaneously key to the majority's survival and integral to the urban speculative project of financialization.

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1. K. Chalapati Rao S. and Dhar, Biswajit, India's FDI Inflows: Trends and Concepts, (New Dehli, 2011).

2. Author's interview, Mumbai, 2011.

3. Lucarelli, Stefano, “Financialization as Biopower,” in Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios (Los Angeles, 2010), 121.

4. This article is based on my ongoing research in Bangalore and the “global city” professional network, since 2006. Special thanks for support go to my colleagues in Bangalore, particularly Carol Upadhya, Leo Saldhana, Bhargavi Rao, Vinay Sreenavasa, A.R. Vasavi, Vinay Baindur, and Supriya Roychowdhury. A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the SSRC conference on Inter-Asian Connections (Istanbul, 2013), with wonderful feedback from colleagues in the “Bringing Class Back In” workshop, especially Ching Kwan Lee and Cetin Celik. My sincere gratitude also goes to Vinay Gidwani, Michael Burawoy, Devika Narayan, ILWCH editors and readers, and especially Rachel Schurman for their careful reading and incisive advice. Finally, I would like to thank Jake Carlson, Vinay Baindur, and P. Rajan for their remarkable research support.

5. Friedman, Thomas L., The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, 1st ed. (New York, 2005).

6. Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, “Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries,” (Washington, DC, 2014).

7. As cited in “Indian Financial Markets: Fuelling the Growth of the Indian Economy” by Harun Khan, deputy governor, Reserve Bank of India (New Delhi, May 2013).

8. Roychowdhury, Supriya, “Labour Activism and Women in the Unorganised Sector,” Economic and Political Weekly, 40 (May 28, 2005): 22502255.

9. Shivakumar, M. S., Sheng, Yap Kioe, and Weber, Karl E., “Recruitment and Employment Practices in Construction Industry: A Case Study of Bangalore,” Economic and Political Weekly 26 (1991): M27M40 ; Roychowdhury, “Labour Activism and Women in the Unorganised Sector”; Breman, Jan, “India's Social Question in a State of Denial,” Economic and Political Weekly XLV (2010): 4246.

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11. Arrighi, Giovanni, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (London, 1994).

12. Krippner, Greta R., Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (Cambridge, 2011).

13. At the time of the 2007 financial collapse, the highly risky and speculative global derivatives market alone was worth an estimated $760 trillion, more than ten times the size of the US housing mortgage market which conventional pundits ascribe as the supposed trigger for the crisis.

14. Lapavitsas, Costas, Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (London and New York, 2014); Epstein, Gerald A., Financialization and the World Economy (Cheltenham, UK 2006).

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17. Harvey, David, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, 1st ed. (Brooklyn, 2013).

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19. Sanyal, Kalyan and Bhattacharyya, Rajesh, “Beyond the Factory: Globalisation, Informalisation of Production and the New Locations of Labour,” Economic and Political Weekly, XLIV (May 30, 2009): 3544.

20. Ibid.

21. Thomas, Jayan Jose, “India's Labour Market during the 2000s: Surveying the Changes,” Economic and Political Weekly 47 (2012): 3951.

22. Zérah, Marie-Hélène, Dupont, Véronique, and Lama-Rewa, Stéphanie Tawa, eds., Urban Policies and the Right to the City in India. Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship (New Delhi, 2011).

23. Chowdhury, Subhanil, “Employment in India: What Does the Latest Data Show?Economic and Political Weekly XLVI (2011): 2326.

24. Agarwala, Rina, “Reshaping the Social Contract: Emerging Relations between the State and Informal Labor in India,” Theory and Society 37 (2008): 375408 ; Sanyal, Rethinking Capitalist Development; Roychowdhury, “Labour Activism and Women in the Unorganised Sector”; Kundu, Amitabh, “Making Indian Cities Slum-Free: Vision and Operationalisation,” Economic and Political Weekly XLVIII (2013): 1518.

25. National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector, The Challenge of Employment in India: An Informal Economy Perspective, April 30, 2009. Hired workers receive a daily average income of 80–100 rupees for 20–25 days of the month, even while the daily official minimum wage standard ranges from 110 rupees (less than two US dollars) in the poorer state of Bihar to 185 rupees in the wealthier state of Haryana ( Basole and Basu, “Relations of Production and Modes of Surplus in Extraction in India: Part II – ‘Informal’ Industry.Economic and Political Weekly 46 (2011): 69 ). In the past decade, fees for electricity, water, and prices for food and fuel and rent, have increased as wages have stagnated; India's inflation rate has fluctuated from 10 percent in December 2011 to 7.28 percent in February 2013.

26. Kundu, “Urban Systems in India.”

27. Breman, “India's Social Question in a State of Denial.”

28. Informality is not new, of course; scholars have documented how British law in India promoted and regulated informal labor practices in the 1800s. See Bhattacharya, S. and Lucassen, Jan, Workers in the Informal Sector: Studies in Labour History, 1800–2000, New York: MacMillan, 2005) and Parthasarathi, Prasannan, “Indian Labor History,” International Labor and Working-Class History 82 (2012): 127–35.

29. Breman, “India's Social Question in a State of Denial”.

30. Subramanian, Dilip, Telecommunications Industry in India: State, Business and Labour in a Global Economy (New Delhi, 2010).

31. Sanyal: “Bereft of any direct access to means of labor, the dispossessed are left only with labor power, but their exclusion from the space of commodity production does not allow them to turn their labor power into a commodity. They are condemned to the world of the excluded, the redundant, the dispensable, having nothing to lose, not even the chains of wage-slavery.” (Rethinking Capitalist Development, 53). Sanyal and Bhattacharyya, “Beyond the Factory”; Kannan, K. P. and Raveendran, G., “Growth Sans Employment: A Quarter Century of Jobless Growth in India's Organised Manufacturing,” Economic and Political Weekly 44 (2009): 8091 ; Kundu, “Urban Systems in India.”

32. Patrick Geddes, Cities in Evolution, Revised edition (London, 1949); Hall, Peter Geoffrey, The World Cities (New York, 1968); Braudel, Fernand, The Wheels of Commerce: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, Vol. 2, trans. Reynolds, Sian, 1st ed. (New York, 1983); Abu-Lughod, Janet L., Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–1350, Reprint edition (Oxford, 1991).

33. Friedmann, John and Wolff, Goetz, “World City Formation: An Agenda for Research and Action,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 6 (1982): 309–44.

34. Sassen, Saskia, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo, 2nd ed. (Princeton, 2001).

35. Taylor, Peter J. and Derudder, Ben, World City Network: A Global Urban Analysis (London, 2003).

36. Sassen, The Global City.

37. Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Rethinking Working-Class History (Princeton, 2000).

38. Amin, Ash and Thrift, Nigel, Cities: Reimagining the Urban, 1st ed. (Malden, MA, 2002).

39. Smith, Michael Peter, Transnational Urbanism: Locating Globalization, 1st ed. (Malden, 2000); Massey, Doreen, Space, Place, and Gender (Minneapolis, 1994 ).

40. Delphine, Ancien, “Global City Theory and the New Urban Politics Twenty Years On: The Case for a Geohistorical Materialist Approach to the (New) Urban Politics of Global Cities,” Urban Studies 48 (2011): 24732493.

41. Goldman, Michael, “Speculative Urbanism and the Making of the Next World City,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35 (2011): 555–81.

42. From my meeting notes, Barcelona, October 2012.

43. McKinsey Global Institute's urban reports include: Urban World: Cities and the Rise of the Consuming Class (2012) and The Shifting Global Business and Landscape (2013).

44. For example, “Vision Mumbai, 2003” by McKinsey.

45. Halpern, Orit, Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Durham, 2015).

46. Director Centre for South Asian Studies Paris, Power, Policy, and Protest: The Politics of India's Special Economic Zones, ed. Jenkins, Rob, Kennedy, Loraine, and Mukhopadhyay, Partha (Oxford, 2014). My research has included participant observation at a series of corporate meetings on finance and infrastructure in Bangalore (2007), Goa (2007), Barcelona (2010), Delhi (2010), and New York (2012) and follow-up interviews with private-equity investors in Mumbai (2011).

47. Kalish Babar, “New SEZ Norms to Help Real Estate and IT Sector, Say Experts,” Economic Times, April 19, 2013.

48. Levien, Michael, “Regimes of Dispossession: From Steel Towns to Special Economic Zones,” Development & Change 44 (2013): 381407.

49. M. Sabarinath, “US Private Equity Firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to Invest Rs 750 Crore in 2 Realty Projects in Metros,” Economic Times, October 3, 2014.

50. Business Today, “Lucrative Landscape,” November 10, 2013.

51. Sabarinath, “US Private Equity Firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to Invest Rs 750 Crore in 2 Realty Projects in Metros”.

52. Fumagalli, Andrea and Mezzadra, Sandro, eds., Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles and New Political Scenarios., trans. McGimsey, Jason Francis (Los Angeles, 2010); Krippner, Capitalizing on Crisis; van der Zwan, Natascha, “Making Sense of Financialization,” Socio-Economic Review 12 (2014): 99129 ; Epstein, Financialization and the World Economy.

53. Chalapati Rao and Dhar, “India's FDI Inflows: Trends and Concepts.” Finance capital in India works in many ways: the stock market, where profits are made through financial transactions related to and influencing changing share prices; corporate decision making of shareholders (with concerns for the value of the share price in the short term) over managers (traditionally, with concerns for the success of the firm in the long term); firm liquidation or mergers and acquisitions as a strategy for driving up share price, even if it may lead to layoffs and factory closures; increasing role of private equity, sovereign wealth funds, hedge and derivative funds, whose primary concerns are short-term gain and liquidity; treating land as a financial tool, as seen in the phenomenal growth of the use of land for financial speculation in and around India's fast-growing cities; and the growing significance of finance within nonfinancial corporations for their profit and high share price.

54. World Investment Reports, 2012.

55. Interviews in Mumbai, Delhi, New York City, 2010–2012.

56. Weber, Rachel, “Selling City Futures: The Financialization of Urban Redevelopment Policy,” Economic Geography 86 (2010): 251274.

57. Michael Stewart, Money For Nothing: How Interest Rate Swaps Have Become Golden Handcuffs for New Yorkers, December 14, 2011, (accessed February 10, 2015); Darwin BondGraham, “The Swap Crisis: Interest Rate Swap Deals Have Allowed the Big Banks to Hold Local Governments and Agencies Hostage for Tens of Millions of Dollars,” Dollars & Sense, June 2012.

58. Matt Taibbi, “Looting the Pension Funds: How Wall Street Robs Public Workers,” Rolling Stone, September 26, 2013.

59. Torrance, Morag I., “Forging Global Governance? Urban Infrastructures as Networked Financial Products,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32 (2008): 121.

60. Nagaraj, R, “India's Dream Run, 2003–2008,” Economic and Political Weekly 48 (2013): 3951.

61. When Chalapati Rao and Dhar looked closely at firms involved in FDI, they found the boundaries between foreign and domestic firms and financial and nonfinancial firms to be quite blurred. That is, India's largest industrial houses have heavily invested in finance just as major Indian corporations now borrow heavily from foreign financial firms and are busy reinvesting financially, such as mergers and acquisitions. Hence, the logic of foreign finance has intermingled with domestic and industrial firms, making it difficult to differentiate foreign and domestic profits or strategies.

62. Nagaraj, R., “Public Sector Performance since 1950: A Fresh Look,” Economic and Political Weekly 41 (2006): 2551–57.

63. As Michael Denning and Prasannan Parthasarathi argue, formal labor contracts and social welfare states have been the exception in history; nonetheless, the marginalization of nonelite majorities from wage-based work has been a prominent trend of late, in India and around the world. See Denning, Michael, “Wageless Life,” New Left Review, 66 (Nov-Dec 2010): 6697 and Parthasarathi, “Indian Labor History.”

64. Nair, Janaki, The Promise of the Metropolis: Bangalore's Twentieth Century (New Delhi, 2005); Vishal Krishna and Priyanka Pani, “Lessons from Dying Malls in India: A Study,” Intellibriefs (2012).

65. Besant, Rakesh, Bangalore Cluster: Evolution, Growth and Challenges, Indian Institute of Management Working Paper (Ahmedabad, 2006).

66. Nair, The Promise of the Metropolis.

67. Ibid.; Subramanian, Telecommunications Industry in India; author's interviews.

68. Nair, The Promise of the Metropolis; Krishna and Pani, “Lessons from Dying Malls In India: A Study.”

69. Nair, The Promise of the Metropolis; Krishna and Pani, “Lessons from Dying Malls In India: A Study.”

70. Author's interview, Bangalore, 2011.

71. Parthasarathy, Balaji, “India's Silicon Valley or Silicon Valley's India? Socially Embedding the Computer Software Industry in Bangalore,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 28 (2004): 664–85; Heitzman, James, Network City: Planning the Information Society in Bangalore (Oxford, 2004).

72. Glaeser, Edward, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, Reprint edition (New York, 2012); Saxenian, AnnaLee, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy (Cambridge, MA., 2007); UNHABITAT, “State of the World's Cities 2012/2013.”

73. C. K. Nandakumar and J. Y. Suchitra, “Pensioners' Paradise to IT: The Fallacy That Is Bangalore,” Economic and Political Weekly, January 19, 2008; Benjamin, Solomon, “Governance, Economic Settings and Poverty in Bangalore,” Environment and Urbanization 12 (2000): 3536 ; Upadhya, Carol, “Controlling Offshore Knowledge Workers: Power and Agency in India's Software Industry,” New Technology: Work and Employment 24 (2009): 218.

74. Upadhya, “Controlling Offshore Knowledge Workers.”

75. Ho, Karen, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Durham, 2009).

76. Supriya Roychowdhury, “Livelihood and Income: Informality and Poverty in Bangalore's Slums,” Oxford University CSASP, Work-in-Progress, November 10, 2011. Author's interviews, 2010, 2011.

77. Roychowdhury, “Livelihood and Income: Informality and Poverty in Bangalore's Slums.”

78. Breman, “India's Social Question in a State of Denial.”

79. Gupta, Akhil, Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India (Durham, NC, 2012). Author's interviews, 2010, 2011.

80. For the BMIC project, 28,000 acres of land were required for a 7,000-acre road project, the rationale being that the road itself can never earn a profit, so the government must contribute three times the land so the road firm can build private townships in order to recover its losses for building the road. An estimated 200,000 rural denizens will be dispossessed once the road and townships are completed. (The private toll road runs alongside a recently upgraded public rail line and an already existing public highway.) My research focuses on these projects.

81. This area is the site for an ongoing, multiyear study on land conversion with colleagues from the University of Minnesota, NIAS-Bangalore, and ESG-Bangalore.

82. The notion of churning comes from Aseem Shrivastava and Kothari, Ashish's, Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India (New Dehli, 2012) but also gestures toward the process of flipping investments in land and infrastructure.

83., Bangalore Crumbles as Civic Body Goes Bankrupt, 2014; Atul Chaturvedi et al., “Town Hall as Collateral,” Bangalore Mirror, January 3, 2014, (accessed October 20, 2014).

84. One crore equals 10 million rupees, or in 2014, approximately US$610,000,000. Suhas Shankarappa, “The Changing Face (and Fortunes) of the Malleswaram Market,” Talk Magazine, July 18, 2013.

85. In large cities, city councilors are referred to as “corporators,” but this term can be confusing outside of the Indian context.

86. Coehlo, Karen, Kamath, Lalitha, and Vijayabaskar, M., eds., Participolis: Consent and Contention in Neoliberal Urban India (New Delhi, 2013).

87. Foodworld is owned by an industrial conglomerate, RPG, that owns coffee and rubber plantations, sells tires to over 100 countries, and owns IT and Life Science subsidiaries.

88. At the time of the protests, some vendors said it was cheaper for them to buy from Foodworld than from the farmers.

89. Shankarappa, “The Changing Face (and Fortunes) of the Malleswaram Market.”

90. Benjamin, “Governance, Economic Settings and Poverty in Bangalore.”

91. Kalpana Gopalan, “Torn in Two: The Tale of Two Bangalores Competing Discourses of Globalization and Localization in India's Informational City,” (accessed October 26, 2014).

92. Singh, Harvinder, Bose, Swapan Kumar, and Sahay, Vinita, “Management of Indian Shopping Malls: Impact of the Pattern of Financing,” Journal of Retail & Leisure Property 9 (2010): 5564 ; Krishna and Pani, “Lessons from Dying Malls In India: A Study”; Lasalle, Jones Lang, Reaping the Returns Decoding Private Equity Real Estate Exits in India, India Capital Markets Report (Mumbai, 2013); Ravi Teja Sharma and Vijaya Rathor, “Glittering Shopping Malls across India Become Hostage to Gloom as Vacancy Levels Go Up,” The Economic Times, May 16, 2013.

93. Singh, Bose, and Sahay, “Management of Indian Shopping Malls”; Krishna and Pani, “Lessons from Dying Malls In India”; Sharma and Rathor, “Glittering Shopping Malls across India Become Hostage to Gloom as Vacancy Levels Go Up”; Jones Lang Lasalle, Reaping the Returns Decoding Private Equity Real Estate Exits in India.

94. Environment Support Group-Trust, Forfeiting Our Commons: A Case for Protecting and Conserving Challakere's Amrit Mahal Kavals as Livelihoods-Supporting, Biodiversity-Rich and Ecologically-Sensitive Grassland Ecosystems” (Bangalore, 2013).

95. Ibid. Rich empirical work has been conducted on street hawkers and their displacement in Mumbai (Anjaria 2006), Kolkata, (Bandyopadhyay 2011), and New Delhi (Bhan 2009).

96. Although these real estate projects also happen on private lands, the examples and emphasis here is on public land conversion.

97. Roychowdhury, “Livelihood and Income: Informality and Poverty in Bangalore's Slums.”

98. It should be noted that elite neighborhoods are also built on illegally acquired land.

99. Roy, Ananya, “Why India Cannot Plan Its Cities: Informality, Insurgence and the Idiom of Urbanization,” Planning Theory 8 (2009): 7687 ; Rao, Vyjayanthi, “Slum as Theory: The South/Asian City and Globalization,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30 (2006): 225–32.

100. Anand, Nikhil, “Municipal Disconnect: On Abject Water and Its Urban Infrastructures,” Ethnography (2012):13 (4), 487509 .

101. Benjamin, “Governance, Economic Settings and Poverty in Bangalore.”

102. Simone, AbdouMaliq, City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads, 1st ed. (London, 2009).

103. Anand, “Municipal Disconnect: On Abject Water and Its Urban Infrastructures

104. Ghertner, D. Asher, “Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Dehli,” in Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global (Malden, 2011), 276306 ; Amita Baviskar, “Demolishing Delhi: World Class City in the Making,” Mute, September 5, 2006; Coehlo, Kamath, and Vijayabaskar, Participolis: Consent and Contention in Neoliberal Urban India.

105. “Forfeiting Our Commons: A Case for Protecting and Conserving Challakere's Amrit Mahal Kavals as Livelihoods-Supporting, Biodiversity-Rich and Ecologically-Sensitive Grassland Ecosystems.” ESG-Bangalore, 2013.

106. Denning, “Wageless Life.”

107. Ibid.; Sassen, Saskia, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Cambridge, MA, 2014).

108. See Carlo Vercellone's discussion on the crisis of the law of value and the becoming-rent of profit, in Fumagalli, Andrea and Mezzadra, Sandro, eds., Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios, (Cambridge, MA, 2010).

109. Sanyal, Rethinking Capitalist Development.

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International Labor and Working-Class History
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