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Abstract

This article reviews sociological research about economic globalization’s impact on work and labor in developed and developing countries since the 1980s. We find that this period of neoliberal globalization influences work because of intensified activities of multinational corporations (MNCs), financialization of the global economy, and amplified prominence of international organizations, some of which diffuse neoliberal policy scripts while others mobilize a transnational civil society. Research we review generally points to liabilities of neoliberal globalization for workers. To understand these findings, we apply Karl Polanyi’s concepts of fictitious commodities, the self-regulating market, and the double movement. We propose that, on the one hand, the activities of MNCs, international financial organizations, and many states exemplify pushes for institutional separation of economy and society in effort to institutionalize the idea of a self-regulating market at a global scale, which increases labor commodification and global inequalities. On the other hand, the activities of social movements, including unions and transnational actors that target globalization’s impact on work, constitute the counter movement at national and global levels resisting marketization and pushing for labor decommodification. The aftermath of the ongoing economic crisis will tell to what extent this countermovement will be successful in generating an alternative to neoliberal globalization, and more protections for workers.