Workers, State and Development in Brazil: Powers of Labour, Chains of Value, Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK, 2012; 208 pp: 9780719085314, 65 [pounds sterling] (hbk)
This book represents an impressive and welcome addition to the growing literature that seeks to incorporate issues around labour more adequately into global value chain (GVC) and global production network (GPN) forms of analysis. As Ben Selwyn makes clear, much recent work in this vein has been fraught with conceptual problems, but also has been mainly limited to journal-article-length case studies. This, on the other hand, is a book-length extended examination of workers, particularly women workers, in the fast-growing export-oriented grape-production sector in the countryside of North East Brazil. The book is based on fieldwork carried out between 2002 and 2008. Selwyn engages critically with the GVC literature in particular, including issues raised mostly in the development studies area to do with upgrading within supply chains.
However, Selwyn's most important contribution is to develop an extended critique of much GVC analysis and development studies, insofar as when such studies do confront issues to do with labour, they tend to do so in a way that views workers only as passive 'receivers' of the positive or negative outcomes of regional development in general, or supply-chain upgrading in particular. Selwyn's Marxist analysis instead assumes that the nature of capital-labour relations is a fundamental determinant of a region's (and by extension a state's, and indeed, the entire globe's) development trajectory. His hypothesis is that workers' struggles against capital and the outcomes of these struggles co-determine the local development process.
On capital's side of the equation, Selwyn examines the impacts of the global retail revolution on developing countries. This revolution, he argues, involves five main transformations:
* a concentration of retail power, particularly in the global North
* increased global sourcing
* the opening up of non-traditional agricultural export zones
* penetration of northern retail capital across the global South
* increasingly strict governance of global supply chains.
The contradictory effects of this global revolution are investigated through an examination of the actions of workers, particularly women workers, in the Sao Francisco valley in North East Brazil. Specifically, Selwyn focuses on the organisation and...