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ABSTRACT

The recent upsurge in workers’ struggles globally has bought labour again to the forefront, despite predictions that the working class was no longer relevant as a force for social transformation. Neoliberal globalization, with the hypermobility of capital, has led to the emergence of new forms of flexible work/labour, the co-existence of old and new working classes, and an extreme rise in inequality, realigning class structures nationally and globally. Financialization has ushered in a new regime of accumulation and there is a deepening crisis of reproduction. Can a Marx plus Polanyi theoretical integration capture contemporary dynamics of capitalist globalization and the role of labour? What do the trajectories of such struggles in the South tell us about the limits and potentialities for a counter-capitalist movement? More crucially, is the route to full social citizenship entitlements still possible via employment (with its further extension universally), or is it to be reached by directly demanding citizenship rights, bypassing labour-based demands? How do recent collective actions express workers’ interests/identities as workers, citizens and consumers? What role is the state playing in responding/mediating/facilitating these struggles? The Introduction delineates some of these contentious issues which frame this Forum Debate. The contributors all offer different perspectives and critical insights on the connections between forms of labour, possibilities for action and organization, the relationship between labour struggles and social citizenship and the role of the state in contemporary capitalism. The conclusion reflects on some of the equally controversial proposed alternatives and argues for going beyond minimalism and for the imperative of radical rethinking to ensure dignified work and full social citizenship entitlements as part of a new social emancipatory political project.