In this edited volume Luis Aguiar and Andrew Herod have brought together a collection of articles on the global cleaning industry principally organized into three thematic sections: geography, ethnography and agency. The book takes an expansive approach to considering labour relations in the cleaning industry. Not only do the editors bring together a collection of articles in which the experience of cleaners in the global north and the global south are put into relief, they provide commentary about the experiences of individual cleaners who are subject to increasing forms of intensive management. The authors distinguish between classic Taylorist managerial strategies (involving increasing levels of micro-supervision with the goal of work intensification) and new innovations in cleaning machinery and surveillance technology. Their focus is on portraying the pressures that a globalized cleaning industry brings places on its workers. The last section of the book is dedicated to exploring different strategies of resistance to work intensification and provides examples of workers collective struggles in the furtherance of their common interests.
Overall, the work represents an ambitious attempt to reveal, what the authors’ stress, is the hidden and largely invisible world of the cleaning industry, cleaning work and the particular challenges facing cleaning workers. One of the articles I found interesting was by Andries Bezuidenhout and Khayaat Fakier. These commentators do an excellent job at exposing the continuities and discontinuities between the pre and post apartheid labour relations regimes. Both the continuities and discontinuities will be disconcerting for those who believe that the circumstances of South African non-skilled workers have improved in the years since the end of apartheid.
The strength of this book is that it combines the work of different researchers and, in so doing, offers diverse perspectives of the same object of analysis. However, as is often the case in projects of this type and scope, this strength may also be seen as a weakness: the divergence of perspectives makes it difficult to achieve a single focus and overall thematic coherence. For example, as the title of the book makes clear, the editors seek to link the research contained inter alia to the broader political economy of what the authors see as a globalized neoliberalism. While I am sympathetic to this endeavour, I am uncertain if the book’s contributions are sufficiently coordinated to adequately reveal that neoliberalism is an appropriate description of the structure of the global economy, or merely an ideology or policy paradigm. In this regard, the introductory remarks of the editors are too schematic.
My criticism of the book is minor. I would recommend the work to those with an interest in critical management studies, industrial relations, trade unionists and those who specialize in the sociology of work.