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Edited by Susan McGrath-Champ, Andrew Herod and Al Rainnie
5 Labour markets from the bottom up Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore Introduction This chapter examines labour markets from the bottom up, conceptually and substantively, by way of a critical commentary on the restructuring of low-wage work in the neoliberal era. In contrast to pervasive, orthodox understandings of labour markets qua markets, the conceptual bedrock for one-size-fits-all labour ‘flexibility’ programmes, the chapter is grounded in a heterodox vision of the labour market – as a site of conflicting power relations, enduring regulatory dilemmas, necessary (but problematic) forms of institutionalisation, embedded path dependencies and systematic uneven development. This is not the labour market of demand-and-supply schedules and parsimonious theorising, but an institutionally cluttered zone marked by successive waves of restructuring and re-regulation. In fact, we take one such wave of restructuring cum re-regulation – the rise of ‘contingent work’ in the period since the 1980s – as the focus of our commentary. As a signifier of the fragmentation and ‘desecuritisation’ of jobs, contingent work has not only been a bearer of new labour-market practices, it has also been a site of intensive regulatory reinvention. And in an era characterised by various forms of devolved governance, decentralised control and deferred risk, the street-level regulation of contingent work reveals a lot about new sources of downward gravitational pull in the labour market. The issue of contingent work exposes in hypertrophied form the contradictory character of ‘localised’ forms of labour regulation, in the context of deepening economic globalisation and neoliberal downloading: even as labour and capital flows...
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