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Workers of the mill : local labour market change and restructuring of the sugar industry in northern Negros Occidental, Philippines 1946-2008 Oabel, Patrick Vince


This dissertation is about the restructuring of a local labour market in the Global South. The central research question asks: how are local labour market processes and their various social outcomes reconfigured by industrial restructuring? On the ground, this meant asking: what are the ongoing labour market consequences for workers and the geographies they make? Employing concepts from the theoretical areas of the labour market, labour control, and labour geography, the dissertation pursues these questions by examining the development of the Philippine sugar industry and the evolution of an industrial labour market located in Victorias City in the central province of Negros Occidental. Drawing on analyses of historical documents, interviews, and 10 months of ethnographic research conducted during 2007, the study’s discussion focuses largely on the changing conditions, experiences and activities of the primary workers of the Victorias sugar mill. After identifying the broader regulatory social tendencies related to the economy and labour in Negros over the roughly 150 year history of the industry, I demonstrate how places like Victorias helped drive the wider institutional arrangements of Philippine export dependency and American imperialism during the early and mid twentieth century. As a distinct institutional environment that evolved on the ground, the industrial locality was a place-particular social context inherent to Philippine sugar production during the time of American neo-colonial capital accumulation. With the industry in decline since the mid-1970s, the increasing disintegration of the Victorias labour market during the 1990s and 2000s further signaled major shifts in the structure and distribution of power over sugar as Chinese-Filipino traders and industrialists continued to partially consolidate various areas of the industry. Enduring the retrenchments and the reorganization of their workplace, workers and their families struggled with the new employment conditions. Their efforts to sustain and improve their lives through new livelihood strategies have reshaped the economic landscape in important ways. Besides providing additional contextual variability with which to view the application of theoretical concepts oriented to labour, this study further supplements understandings of capitalism’s uneven development from the post World War II period to the current era of neoliberal globalization.

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