Jörg Nowak’s latest book Mass Strikes and Social Movements in Brazil and India: Popular Mobilisation in the Long Depression aims to reveal how massive strikes in emerging economies, following the global financial crisis, have been organised and what forms of popular organisation they enabled. With a focus on some of the hotbeds of those strikes in the period between 2010 and 2014 — namely, the Indian automobile industry and the Brazilian construction industry — Nowak looks at the specific social, economic and political conditions that led to those strikes. He also fleshes out important commonalities to draw a larger picture. With strikes in China and South Africa in the same period having been sufficiently covered elsewhere, this book complements the picture by looking at these equally significant mass protests that have been rather neglected. The findings are interesting insofar as they uncover a wide variation in models of trade unions, and in forms of alliance-building and Nowak succeeds in demonstrating that workers cooperated with various other actors in the course of the mobilisations.
Since this book does not only focus on those case studies, but starts with a deeply theoretical chapter, demanding that we turn conventional strike analysis on its head, it is likely to stir up some debate. The route taken in the book is to analyse strikes beyond an economistic focus at the level of the social formation and its various scenes of conflict and contradiction. In the conclusion, the book takes this theoretical groundwork and pushes it towards political conclusions, raising considerable doubt if existing models of mobilisation — and also the ones found in the case studies — are sufficient in throwing over an increasingly violent and barbaric capitalism. The book also urges the reader meticulously to analyse the experiences with recent social democratic projects like the Congress Party and the Workers Party in Brazil who exerted the same — if not more — repression against labour unrest than did liberal and conservative governments.
Since some of these claims will surely raise controversies this forum is centred around five invited scholars and activists from around the globe to debate Mass Strikes and Social Movements in Brazil and India, followed by a rejoinder by Jörg Nowak himself.