Disarticulating distribution: Labor segmentation and subcontracting in global logistics
journal contributionposted on 17.02.2016, 00:00 by B. Gutelius
An enduring focus of scholarly work on global production networks (GPNs) is the process of insertion into production networks and the capacity of places to shape their manner of inclusion. Sometimes overlooked are ways in which these insertions are based on an evolving set of exclusions. A disarticulations perspective trains our attention on the mutual interplay between moments of inclusion and exclusion that produce uneven geographies and histories of development, foregrounding place-specific factors and offering a framework for understanding local experimentation. Firms continue to restructure under relentless pressure to improve performance and the concomitant need to experiment, causing firm strategy to shape-shift and re-making relations of inclusion and exclusion. In the distribution function of global supply chains, the prevailing value-creation strategy is downward pressure on the cost of labor, but this perhaps suggests a false sense of stability. Using data gathered in the distribution hub just outside of Chicago, I examine the role of labor market intermediaries in re-negotiating the boundaries of inclusion. This article explores processes of linking and delinking subsets of workers and the differential implications for worker segments and their attachment to the supply chain. Inscribed in the absorption of places and workers into GPNs are ongoing processes of disarticulation, evident in this case through the labor market strategies pursued by local firms and temporary staffing agencies. These processes lay bare the mechanisms that reproduce capital-labor relationships in global supply chains.