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The Malaysian state and the regulation of labour: from colonial economy to k-economy

Turner, Donna Isabelle (2007) The Malaysian state and the regulation of labour: from colonial economy to k-economy. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores the state-labour nexus emerging out of the processes through which governing authorities have attempted to maintain or regain political stability and rates of accumulation in Malay(a)sia. Existing studies usefully highlight the extent to which repressive industrial relations legislation and ethnic communalism have weakened the trade union movement and segmented the labour force delivering the relative industrial peace attractive to foreign investors. Some suggest labour's discontent at this repression has been successfully contained by Malaysia's relatively strong economic performance. These approaches, however, only partially acknowledge the extent to which labour's social reproduction under capitalist relations generates political and economic contradictions.

After an initial failure to address these contradictions in the early post-colonial era, the Malay-dominated government has since developed avenues through which to deliver economic and cultural concessions in a selective and paternalistic fashion. This economic paternalism has contributed to social stability but has diverted funds from economic development and now runs contrary to structural reforms that seek to address Malaysia's declining international competitiveness. The transition towards a knowledge-based economy, referred to locally as the k-economy, therefore embodies efforts by the political elite to contain political and societal tensions emerging out of the reform process. This thesis demonstrates and analyses the dynamic, contingent and uneven nature of these efforts as the government seeks to establish new bases of legitimacy more closely linked to household consumption concerns than ethnicity. Despite the relative absence of industrial disputation, labour's location in Malaysia's system of capitalism remains a contradictory one. Politically motivated social policies, although under pressure and likely to take new forms, will nonetheless remain pivotal in the attempt to resolve the tensions that threaten accumulation and political stability.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
United Nations SDGs: Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Supervisor(s): Rodan, Garry
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