Labour NGOs and the struggle for migrant workers’ rights

In twenty-first-century Chinese cities there are hundreds of millions of rural migrants who are living temporary lives, suspended between urban and rural China. They are the unsung heroes of the country’s ‘economic miracle’, yet are regarded as second-class citizens in both a cultural, material and legal sense. China’s citizenship challenge tells the story of how civic organisations set up by some of these rural migrants challenge this citizenship marginalisation. The book argues that in order to effectively address the problems faced by migrant workers, these NGOs must undertake ‘citizenship challenge’: the transformation of migrant workers’ social and political participation in public life, the broadening of their access to labour and other rights, and the reinvention of their relationship to the city. By framing the NGOs’ activism in terms of citizenship rather than class struggle, this book offers a valuable contribution to the field of labour movement studies in China. The monograph also proves exceptionally timely in the context of the state’s repression of these organisations in recent years, which, as the book explores, was largely driven by their citizenship-altering activism.

Urška Bratož

This chapter examines control over the movement of goods and people in epidemic circumstances, focusing on the case of nineteenth-century Trieste, and on the detention of individuals suspected of being disease carriers (of cholera in particular, as the city experienced several epidemic outbreaks at the time). Besides the key role the city played as a major Austrian trade port in the context of the Habsburg monarchy’s economy, its geopolitical position – situated close to both maritime and terrestrial political borders – enabled the observation of control mechanisms during the emergence of cholera. Quarantine (meaning detention of cargo and people as potential carriers of infection) was used almost exclusively in maritime transport, while control for overland transport was more lax. While the latter was mostly the domain of local (municipal) authorities, who could autonomously make decisions on the execution of health measures, the control over sea routes was more the purview of provincial authorities and was also subject to international sanitary rules. The connection between political, sanitary and economic authorities within the city, who were cooperating in these matters, also requires an interpretation of the contemporary theories as to the spread of infectious diseases and the role of these perceptions in the justification of economic interests.

in Medicalising borders
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Paisid Aramphongphan

With a brief discussion of Smith’s trajectory in the margins after the 1960s, the book ends with a reflection on the possibility of repetition with a queer difference in writing, foregrounding the imaginative potentiality of queer research and practice in the face of the deadening effects of professionalizing conformism in everyday life.

in Horizontal together
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Citizenship challenge, social inequality and the insecure state
Małgorzata Jakimów

The book’s conclusion reflects further on the internal and external limitations to citizenship challenge driven by migrant worker NGOs, particularly in the light of the crackdown in recent years on activists and NGOs under Xi Jinping. The chapter enquires what this crackdown signifies, given that the main organisations targeted are labour NGOs, and what role the ‘citizenship challenge’ has played in instigating the state’s harsh response. The conclusion also extrapolates the findings beyond the case of labour NGOs in China, by presenting the applicability of the citizenship framework to other instances of civic activism in China and other states facing internal migrations.

in China’s citizenship challenge
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Andy Warhol, Fred Herko, and the A-Men
Paisid Aramphongphan

As with Smith’s case, this chapter demonstrates the centrality of dance and queer culture in Warhol’s artistic formation during his breakthrough years in the early 1960s. In order to tell this story, I bring into relief his contemporaneous dance world through the figure of dancer/choreographer Fred Herko at the pioneering Judson Dance Theater—and his queer social/artistic circle centering around the so-called “A-Men” (A for amphetamine). Tracing the historical links between the Theater and Warhol’s Factory, this chapter proposes another line of horizontal connection, bringing together two key sites of 1960s art that are rarely discussed under the same breath. Their overlap—and the creative thriving that it enabled—is what this twin-pronged approach clarifies, with the queer social network and refusal of (straight) artistic professionalization providing the connective tissue.

in Horizontal together
Outbreak anxieties in the United States from the colonies to COVID-19
Amy Lauren Fairchild, Constance A. Nathanson, and Cullen Conway

The aim of this chapter is to use the history of infectious disease epidemics in the United States to show both continuities – in the construction of social boundaries between the sick and the not-yet-sick, in the uses of epidemic crises for institutional capacity building –and change. More or less fear and panic are constant companions of epidemic disease, but the meanings attributed to these emotions–rational or irrational, random or the result of bad management, the province of ignorant masses or sensible elites – shift in response to larger contextual factors: the state of scientific knowledge and the infrastructure for disease treatment, control and prevention; how, when, by whom, and with what constraints the public is kept informed as the epidemic plays out; and the authority and legitimacy of the media and of those charged with crisis management by virtue of their public health and/or political positions. As we write in the era of COVID-19, each of these elements is playing out in real time. We offer this chapter in the spirit of George Santayana’s immortal words: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.

in Medicalising borders
Małgorzata Jakimów

This chapter looks at the production of the figure of the worker-citizen as a response to the discrimination against migrants in the public discourse, and the attempts to rectify them as rightful citizens. It traces the process of how this identity of worker-citizen is constructed through acts of ‘voicing’ (of migrants’ grievances), ‘challenging marginalisation’ and ‘constructing a new identity’ for migrant workers. The NGOs which engage in this form of activism aim, though not always successfully, to liberate migrant workers from the hierarchical spatio-temporal rural/urban, backward/modern, and economically useless/useful binaries entrenched in structural citizenship. Consciously cast in the language of class and the value of labour, their figure of worker-citizen rejects both the suzhi discourse and the hukou system’s denigration of migrant workers as second-class citizens, and aims to reshape migrants’ relationship to both the rural and the urban.

in China’s citizenship challenge
Małgorzata Jakimów

This chapter focuses on migrant NGOs’ claims to the city through acts of ‘integrating into the city’ and ‘claiming the right to the city’. Urban citizenship is understood here not only as the legal right to belong to the city, but also as a process of building community within the city and participating in building the city, both materially and culturally. The chapter also analyses whether various forms of engagement and intervention within urban spaces, which take place through these acts, can challenge the powerful discourses around urbanisation, prescribed practices of passivity and the legal constructs at the heart of urban citizenship. This is observed through examples of creating spaces of belonging, defending the last house standing in a demolished urban village, or establishing schools for migrant worker children in defiance of urban development policies and the constraints of the hukou system. The chapter also takes into account the obstacles to such citizenship transformation by reflecting critically upon the structural limitations put up by the state and by capital to bar migrant workers from successfully claiming the right to the city.

in China’s citizenship challenge
An epidemiological 'iron curtain'?
Sabine Jesner

Sanitary innovations implemented during the eighteenth century made it possible for the Viennese court to expel bubonic plague outbreaks from the Habsburg Empire. The foundation for this development was laid through the establishment of an effective sanitary cordon at the south-eastern margins of the Habsburg Monarchy. The Habsburg Military Border, which was initially installed to protect the Monarchy from Ottoman invasions during the sixteenth century, expanded its preventive role through a sanitary function. Consequently, the most important element of these sanitary innovations was the establishment of specific quarantine facilities as permanent institutions in the Habsburg Military Border. Contemporaneously known as ‘Contumaz’, these facilities became the focal point of medical control. Border closures and mandatory quarantine became the predominant instruments used by the Viennese court to contain the plague. This chapter provides insights into the nexus of human movement and plague prevention at the external border of the Habsburg composite state. The method of quarantine is investigated by contextualizing the quarantine procedure in practice, the contemporaneous medical views and the perception of quarantine. Examining the functioning of quarantine as a tool to control epidemics in an early modern setting contributes to the research on the historical development of medicalized borders.

in Medicalising borders
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Art, dance, and queer embodiment in 1960s New York

Horizontal together tells a dancerly story of 1960s art and queer culture in New York through the overlapping circles of Andy Warhol, underground filmmaker Jack Smith, and experimental dance star Fred Herko. In a pioneering look at this intersecting cultural milieu, Horizontal together uses a unique methodology drawing on dance studies, the analysis of movement, deportment, and gestures, as well as queer theory not only to look anew at familiar artists and artworks, but also to bring to light queer artistic figures’ key cultural contributions to the 1960s New York art world. Starting with the analysis of the artists’ own bodies, the book moves to draw out the meaning—and political and cultural power—of the languorous, recumbent male body that is prevalent in the art of the 1960s, yet never analyzed. The latter part of the book demonstrates how dance culture and history forge an underlying formative context for queer artists—Warhol through his collaboration with contemporaneous dance figures such as Herko, and Smith through his channeling of the early twentieth-century choreographer Ruth St. Denis. Building on these points of contact, the book also rethinks the history of 1960s dance, providing space for queer bodies and their new form of “virtuosity” to shine.