Counter-hegemony at Walmart?: Articulation, class formation, and logistical power along the food chain

Authors: Yi Wang*, University of Toronto
Topics: Economic Geography, Political Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: labor, class formation, logistics, articulation, hegemony, food
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Working through materialist dialectical conceptions of articulation, hegemony, and class formation, I propose in this paper that the recent emergence of labor struggles in the United States initially galvanized around but since extended beyond ‘food workers’ signals the development of potentially counter-hegemonic elements constituted by material-ideological ‘articulations'—in the dual sense of connection and expression—of socio-spatial difference and of ‘traditional’ as well as ‘new’ forms of labor organizing. I begin by (re)turning to the classical ‘agrarian question’ and probing the ontological borders implicit in deceptively amorphous conceptions of ‘food system’, ‘food chain’, ‘food labor’, and ‘food worker’ circulating in scholarly and activist parlance. I emphasize in particular how contemporary commonsense conceptions of food subsume a diversity of concrete labor processes featuring a multitude of laboring subjects situated across far-flung and heterogeneous spaces of work that are simultaneously connected and differentiated by the logistical infrastructures that make possible more generally the dominance of corporate supply chains under post-Fordist global capitalism. I then draw on print media, interviews, and participant observation to advance a Gramscian analysis of 'relations of force’, examining how different positionalities and experiences of distribution, retail, and service workers within a multi-scalar, socio-spatial division of food labor give shape to contradictory forms of class consciousness and different modalities of collective power. I then discuss the extent to which the alt-labor politics exemplified by campaigns for OUR Walmart, Fight for $15, and One Fair Wage are capable of and willing to advance racial, gender, reproductive, immigrant, and environmental justice.

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