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Global Work, Surplus Labor, and the Precarious Economies of the Border



Abstract:  This paper focuses on the recent emergence of regional production networks and border industrial zones, the labor migrations they are generating, and their consequences for “surplus populations” in the Greater Mekong Subregion (mainland Southeast Asia). In this region the textile and garment industry is employing increasing numbers of workers in border areas on flexible and highly precarious work “contracts”. To understand these emergent labor formations we focus on three scales of analysis through a case study from the Thailand–Burma border. We focus on initiatives led by the Asia Development Bank, accompanying subregional political groupings which aim to facilitate capital flows and trade by reducing transaction time and cost, and a case study of labor recruitment and employment practices in one border town. In examining these three scales, we question the value of characterizing such trans-national, state-led, authoritarian, and racialized labor formations as neoliberal.