China and Vietnam have experienced waves of labour and welfare reform since both countries shifted to market socialism, pursuing a development model that depends on the labour of millions of rural–urban migrants in global factories. Their similar development trajectories are productive for theorizing the relationship between labour and welfare. This article conceptualises the two countries’ distinctive regime of migrant labour welfare as integral to a cycle of commodification that encompasses the overlapping processes of commodification, de-commodification and re-commodification of labour.
After decades of collectivized labour under state socialism, the cycle begins with the commodification of labour through market reforms that led to mass rural–urban migration and the rise of the global factory alongside the dismantling of the former socialist welfare system. It was then followed by de-commodification attempts aimed at providing forms of social protection that offset the labour precarity caused by decades of labour market liberalisation. Despite the emergence of new universal welfare programs, the market has increasingly intruded into social protection, especially through financialized products targeted at the labouring masses who must compensate for the failings of public welfare programs. As such, these welfare regimes are undergoing a process of re-commodification in which the protection of labour is re-embedded into the market as a commodity to be consumed by the migrant workers with their meagre wages.
The “cycle of commodification” offers an analytical framework to understand welfare regimes as a social and political field that keeps evolving in response to the changing global valuation of labour.
Trans: Huynh Trang.
Ref: Lin, J., & Nguyen, M. T. (2021). The cycle of commodification: migrant labour, welfare, and the market in global China and Vietnam. Global Public Policy and Governance, 1-19.