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Posts Tagged ‘union’

Primitive Accumulation heats up in Cambodia

In cambodia, comment on February 24, 2012 at 9:21 am

The process of primitive accumulation – the robbing and looting that precedes industrial development and the emergence of a large class of waged-laborers, according to Marxist development theory – is heating up in Cambodia. I’ve written about primitive accumulation in Cambodia previously, and have been working on applying the theory of primitive accumulation (especially through the influences of David Harvey and Silvia Federici) to the contemporary Cambodian situation for several years.

Extremely clear in the Cambodian situation (though the logic appears universal and non-particular) is that indigenous groups are often the first to experience the depredations of primitive accumulation. Look at the American example: first, Native peoples were forced off of the land deemed most valuable at the time – agricultural lands. They were forced onto lands agriculturally non-productive.  Those lands, tragically, were agriculturally nonproductive partly because they hold the world’s majority of valuable, industrial economy inputs – things like uranium, oil, and metals. So now, in the American Southwest, Native groups experience exposure to uranium mining and what some have called radioactive genocide.

In Cambodia, the relationship between upland indigenous groups and lowland peasants is significantly different. But much of the logic remains intact – it is in the agriculturally improductive lands of the highlands that much of today’s industrial wealth is created – mining, logging, and rubber plantations. As those lands are expropriated from indigenous groups by government-offered concessions, indigenous groups become profoundly ‘modern.’ My sense – I do not have the statistics (anyone?) – is that upland groups are now more proletarianized, proportionally (that is, they subsist primarily on wages from wage labor) than lowland Khmer. Read the rest of this entry »

Sounding on Cambodia, January 25 2012

In sounding on January 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Happy New Year, everyone!  The Chinese Year of the Dragon is here, and many of us in Southeast Asia will catch up in April!

Just a few days ago, Cambodian unionists held a small ceremony at Watt Langka in Phnom Penh near the Independence Monument, to remember Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia president Chea Vichea, who was murdered just outside the temple’s walls on January 22, 2004. A wonderful film has been made about his murder and the aftermath, which drew some international attention to Cambodia’s apparently hopeless judiciary. FTUWKC seems to have eliminated their old website, and replaced it with a new, more frequently updated site, here. Twitter. Facebook.

We’re still experiencing mass faintings at factories in Cambodia. Noise has been made about fixing the situation, but it’s unclear to me what concrete steps are being taken.

One of my favorite Cambodia-related blog posts of the last year has to be Alison in Cambodia’s excellent post on the “Navel of the Village,” focused on Lovea. Lots of excellent photos, and a wonderful opening to the topic. Go look!

The Center for Khmer Studies has announced a new conference, June 9-10, 2012, on the topic “Religious studies in Cambodia: understanding the old and tracing the new.”

Northern Illinois University will be hosting the International Cambodia Studies Conference in September (14-16), 2012, in Rockford, Illinois, on the theme: “Imagining Cambodia.” Deadline for abstracts: March 15.

A new issue of the journal of Contemporary Aesthetics is devoted to “Art and Aesthetics in Southeast Asia.” All content is free, peer-reviewed, and online. Go check it out.

Archaeologists excavate sculpture workshop in Angkor,” says the headline over at the Southeast Asian Archaeology newsblog. Maybe this will help keep the criticisms of contemporary art workshops in tourist centers in contemporary Cambodia down? Nah, probably not. Very cool find, however.

The International Federation for Human Rights has released its regular summary of the Human Rights situation in Cambodia (2010-2011). Here’s the summary:

In 2010-2011, the space for civil society continued to shrink, with increased limitations on the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, in particular through unfair and illegitimate judicial proceedings. Human rights defenders, operating in an increasingly restrictive legal environment, found it extremely difficult and risky to denounce human rights abusers and bad practices, while peaceful demonstrations were prevented or violently dispersed. Also, acts of intimidation continued. In addition to NGO members, many trade union leaders, land rights activists, community leaders and journalists faced fierce retaliation for documenting and denouncing abuses.

Some folks know me as someone with a rather obsessive interest in peasantry and farming. There’s an absolutely excellent, short essay from Henry Saragih, the secretary general of the Indonesian Peasant Union and the general coordinator of the International peasant’s movement Via Campesina, on CNN, about Indonesian Farmers. Most of the general trends apply directly to Cambodia, or indeed peasants everywhere. Since over 80% of contemporary Cambodians have primary work experience in peasant rice production to this day, it’s worth considering. Speaking of farming, is contract farming good for farmers? Could be: according to a new study, noted on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.

Sounding Cambodia and Primitive Accumulation

In sounding on September 12, 2011 at 8:59 am

Sometimes a number of stories come out all at once, and reminds you that no matter the supposed ‘distance’ from my topic, economics are often central to individual and social practice. All of these stories came in one day, in the Phnom Penh Post.

One of the themes I’ve been concentrating on in my new research is primitive accumulation in Cambodia. Primitive Accumulation, as used by Marx, is the process by which relatively ‘free’ peasants, who lived socially off the land via the management and sharing of the commons, were transformed into waged laborers, or those seeking wage labor, the so-called working class.  All of this of course has a great deal of contemporary resonance in watching Cambodia (or any number of other places) today.  I’m hardly the only person to have noticed this. Anthropologist Iain Baird of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has been publishing on this topic.  I was fortunate enough to meet him in person last year, and he directed me to a number of his relevant articles, which I recommend.

Of course, in Cambodia, one of the great stories of primitive accumulation appear as land grabs.  Dey Krahom previously, and Boeung Kak now, become relatively famous because of their location in Phnom Penh, but land grabs have been a constant threat in more rural areas for quite a long time.  The Buddha sangha in Cambodia has been confronted with a scandal in the last few months, as activist monk Venerable Luon Savath has been progressively stripped of his ability to rely upon sangha requisites – especially shelter.  Banned from staying in capital temples previously, he has now been evicted from Watt Ounalom.  Some of his supporters – reportedly from Boeung Kak – helped him move his belongings.

More generally, Cambodia is waiting to hear the US government’s decision on import tariffs from Cambodia.  Cambodia’s export markets are not terribly diverse, and therefore highly dependent on state-to-state relations with its few customers.  The United States and the European Union occupy the biggest seats at the table.  As a result, decisions on tariffs in the US make enormous changes in Cambodia.  While the Cambodia garment industry has been adding jobs in the last quarter, the reduction or elimination of select tariffs would almost certainly result in the rapid addition of more jobs.  This is absolutely necessary if Cambodia is ever to experience significant secondary industrialization and the development of a more varied urban workforce.  Dependency on agricultural exports and garment work is a recipe for constant crisis.  But, challenges in the judicial sector (widespread perceptions of corruption, e.g.) and in retention of profits (expatriation of profits, e.g.) remain the largest challenge in this regard.

Finally, after a series of mass faintings at factories, in which employers and upstream brands have promised investigations, etc., the Arbitration Council has declared a strike over irregular pay and 8 other significant problems illegal, and ordered the workers back to their stations.  The union in question the Cambodian Coalition of Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) has accepted the decision, but this is significant in so far as it appears to be setting the stage for the new norm that the government and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) are hoping becomes reality after the passage of the new Labor Law.

 

Sounding Cambodia on August 2, 2011

In sounding on August 2, 2011 at 11:03 am
  • 8-year-old dies after explosion at cremation in Cambodia
  • Alison In Cambodia blogs summer fieldwork
  • Baphuon Reconstruction Completed!
  • Pansukula for Chea Vichea in France
  • Professor Sorpong Peou discovers his father is alive, ater 35 years.
more after the jump…

Sounding on Cambodia, April 11, 2011

In sounding on April 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I’ve started a new practice here on Imagining the Real World.  I’ve always used the “Sounding” tag to indicate a group of links to other internet-materials that are associated with each other by a particular subject matter: Cambodia, Buddhism, The Academy, Religious Studies, etc., etc.

However, starting today, I’m going to assign specific days of the week to specific topics.  While some will come and go for the current period, Mondays will be my chance to Sound Off on links related to Cambodian Topics, Wednesday will look at Buddhism, and Friday will look at Religious Studies.

So, what’s on tap for the first thusly-organized Sounding on Cambodia?: Khmer Martial Arts (Bradal Serey), Expats and Global Apartheid, the online publication of sections of the Astrological Yearbook for the Khmer New Year (comin’ up, comin’ up!), a new website on Khmer Manuscripts (huzzah!), Border conflict with Thailand, Draft Laws on NGOs and Unions, and the implosion of the Sam Rainsy Party.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Independent Cambodian Unionism: Caught Between Representation and Apathy”

In notice on March 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I will be presenting a paper at the Association of Asian Studies‘ 70th annual conference, here in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii, tomorrow, Thursday March 31st.

The title is “Independent Cambodian Unionism: Caught Between Representation and Apathy,” and explores the dynamics of independent unions in Cambodia from the perspective of organizational form and institutional authority. I focus especially on the September 2010 strike, which brought an estimated 210,000 workers into the streets of Phnom Penh (out of an estimated, nation-wide total of 350,000 garment workers), and seemed about to win a massive victory, when it was suddenly called off.

The panel is organized by Samantha Christiansen of Northeastern University, and includes contributions from George Katsiaficas (also chairing), Na Kahn-chae, Shane Gunderson, and Helen Delfeld. It looks to be very good indeed.

SOUNDING on Cambodia for September 20, 2010

In sounding on September 20, 2010 at 10:31 am

I’m sweating the beginning of the new semester, as I am teaching three classes (two large intro classes and a seminar), and trying to finish up three articles, among other things. Still, the enormous labor action that took place over the last week in Cambodia needs to be noted, though at this moment I have little to add in the way of analysis or interpretation. Please discuss in the comments.

Anne Elizabeth Moore’s article, “Garment Strike in Phnom Penh reaches Critical Mass: Will Adidas, Gap, and Puma Pay Workers a Living Wage?“, is one of the best summaries of the situation out there currently. Her other work in and on Cambodia is also excellent.

The labor actions have involved, and frequently ended, in violence with police, as the latter attempt to restrain the former.

Al Jazeera Story about recent Garment Factory Raise and the Inflation that swallowed it whole….

In khmer on August 12, 2010 at 10:26 am

as usual, the award for Best International Reporting on Cambodia in English goes to….Al Jazeera English.

Chea Mony of the much-discussed-on-this-blog Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, shows up around the 1’55 mark, and the closure has some statistics, and a short interview with a sex worker, that really brings the numbers home.

I like the way this story was done, as well, including the part with the sex worker at the end; maybe even especially because of that part.  Normally, I hate the tendency of foreign reporters to focus so easily and quickly on the sex trade in Cambodia as a catch-all symptom of corruption and desperation; not that the sex trade doesn’t usually represent precisely those things, but because the focus on it remains, for the most part, purely at the level of representation.  That’s to say, when most reporters focus on the trade in Cambodia, they rarely make an explicit connection between the factors that drove the sex worker to the trade, why s/he remains there, including the reasoning used, etc.  And they almost never treat the sex worker with respect, but usually focus on the titillating shots that will get the story attention from editors back in New York, London, or Dubai.  This one felt different to me, perhaps especially because the sex-worker interviewed at the end was translated, rather than merely paraphrased, and because the camera-work was not as predatory.

“Terrible Karma” Cambodian Female Garment Worker Song, with translation

In khmer on August 10, 2010 at 1:26 pm

From a story by Uon Chin, Radio Free Asia, accessed on August 9, of a union rally in Phnom Penh, from July 25, of an estimate 5-7 thousand unionists.  A very sad song by female garment workers, titled “Terrible Karma.”  I typed out the song lyrics, and have included a first attempt at a translation (I am a bit intimidated by poetic translation, and found some of the lines difficult; suggestions for correction would be lovely, in the comments), below, after the break….

[update August 27, 2010: conversations with Chanroeun Pa, of  Cambodian Translation Link and Trent Walker of the Ho Center of Buddhist Studies at Stanford University have helped me amend some of the lines; thanks, Chanroeun and Trent!  The good things below are owed to the composers of the song, the bad things that remain are my fault.]

បទ «កម្ម​កំណាច​ឫស្សា» Read the rest of this entry »

Sweatshop Workers Speak Out! National Tour Kicks Off at Macalester College, Twin Cities IWW Offices

In comment, faculty on April 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

National Sweatshop Workers Tour Kicks Off at Macalester College, IWW Headquarters

April 21, 2010


Kalpona Akter, of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), paying her respects at the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 workers, overwhelmingly women, died because their factory was locked from the outside.  In February 2010, 21 workers died in a similar fire in a Bangladeshi Factory Fire.

Kalpona has been working in sweatshops since she was twelve. Coming from already-desperate poverty, she spent a few years thinking of her exploitation in relatively benign terms: “I thought I had a good job! I worked for them, and they paid me money!” Even though, as she described moments later, she was working non-stop, for 23 days at a stretch, and living on the factory floors. At the age of twelve, she live with her family about 5 days a month between ‘shifts.’ It wasn’t until Kalpona heard about Bangladesh’s formal – and rarely enforced – labor laws that she realized her job was actually a horrendous violation of what other people thought her rights should, and could, be. Today, Kalpona is a union activist working at Bangladesh Center for Worker Soldarity (BCWS).

Along with Zehra Bano from the Home Based Women Workers union in Pakistan, Akter kicked off a national speaking tour on Friday at Macalester College. The “Sweat Shop Workers Speak Out!” tour is organized nationally by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and Sweat Free Communities (SFC), and was organized locally by the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, ‘the wobblies’) and Macalester College Religious Studies.  At many of the stops, other associated events will also be held. In the Twin Cities, an evening benefit concert was held for the workers by the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union with its local headquarters in Minneapolis’ historic Grain Belt Brewery Bottling Building in Northeast Minneapolis.  Local bands Cloves and Big Strong Men performed, along with performances from the Hype Dance Troupe, and DJ sets from DJ Colin of Spinner’s Suite.

Zehra Bano, of the Pakistani Home Based Women Workers’ Union, represents women who sew soccer balls in their homes,
according to piece-work rates.

Kalpona’s experience – moving from a situation of such desperate exploitation and poverty that she herself didn’t even realize it – is emblematic of the situation of workers in Sweatshops and Export Processing Zones (EPZ) around the world:  it was not until Kalpona discovered that laws existed protecting her as a worker that she felt emboldened to question the conditions of her labor, and to struggle to have those conditions improved.  The tour she and Zehra are now on addresses precisely the disconnect between nice words and good laws, and their lack of associated action and enforcement. Read the rest of this entry »

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