Lecture Lu Zhang

19 January 2021 - 15:30 — 19 January 2021 - 17:00

A ‘Race to the Bottom’ or Variegated Labor Regimes? Capital Mobility and Labor Politics in China’s Electronics Industry

Abstract: A key debate over globalization concerns capital mobility, labor rights, and development prospects. This article examines how capital mobility interacts with labor politics through a comparative case study of geographical relocation and expansion of four electronics multinationals from China’s coastal regions to its interior. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted in Chongqing and Chengdu between 2012 and 2017, the article finds that rather than a race-to-the-bottom in work conditions, variegated labor regimes emerge in the new sites of production, depending on firms’ respective positions and labor processes in the global production networks (GPNs), local labor institutions, and worker responses. It highlights changing migrant labor regime and the active role of local states in building location-sensitive labor institutions, as well as workers’ constrained agency in affecting labor control regimes. The evidence suggests a dynamic process of relocation, diversification, and localization in the electronics industry, and the importance of location-sensitive labor institutions and worker agency in shaping labor regime dynamics, which challenge many assumptions of the race-to-the-bottom argument associated with capital mobility.

Bio: Lu Zhang is associated professor at the Temple University in Philadelphia. Zhang's research and teaching concentrate on globalization, labor and labor movements, development, and the political economy of China and East Asia. More specifically, she is interested in the dynamism of global capitalism and the ways in which its transformations are reshaping the nature and landscape of work and employment, producing divergent forms of oppression and resistance, and recurrently creating its own crises at global, national, local, and shop-floor levels.
Her first book, Inside China’s Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance (Cambridge University Press, 2015), explores the current conditions, subjectivity, and collective actions of autoworkers in the world’s largest and fastest-growing automobile manufacturing nation.
She is currently working on my second book project, which explores how the movements of capital interact with labor politics and local development through a comparative case study of the global electronics industry from China’s coastal region to its interior and to Vietnam.

IISH Seminar: This lecture is part of the monthly IISH Seminar series. This seminar is open to the public online only.