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Labour politics in Southeast Asia: The Philippines in comparative perspective

Hutchison, J. (2012) Labour politics in Southeast Asia: The Philippines in comparative perspective. In: Robison, R., (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London, England, pp. 40-52.


A feature of Southeast Asian politics is the comparative weakness of organised labour. Activist trade unions are present in all but the most tightly controlled countries; however, they are fragmented, have very low worker-coverage and lack links to major political parties. This matters for studies of politics because labour's capacity for disruptive collective action makes it a key social actor, and therefore a target of mobilisation or control by others. In Southeast Asia, organised labour is comparatively weak because economic and political elites have successfully contained labour's collective activism as a part of broader projects to limit social representation and dissent. When and where alliances with other social classes and sectors have formed, they have contributed to political disruption and even regime change without strengthening labour significantly as a result. There are structural reasons for this: conditions associated with the timing and forms of capitalist industrialisation and globalisation have inhibited labour's collective activism, leaving it relatively marginalised during important political and economic transformations (Deyo 2006). However, structural factors are not independent of political projects as often their impacts are amplified by the nature of the political spaces for legitimate labour organising.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright: The Author
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