Water Struggles in the Web of Life: Social Reproduction and Capital Accumulation

14 December 2018

Please join us for the keynote addresses at the Historical Materialism Sydney 2018 conference. All parts of the conference are free and open to all. 

The third and final keynote address will be given by Professor Andreas Bieler. 


Since the global economic crisis of 2007/2008, austerity and neoliberal restructuring have continued unabated in Europe. This has also included pressure on privatising public services including water. Greece and Portugal, for example, were asked to privatise their water companies as part of a bailout agreement during the Eurozone crisis. And yet, resistance to water privatisation remains strong with broad based alliances of trade unions, citizens’ movements, environmental and developmental NGOs organising across civil societies at the local, national and European level.

In this lecture, I will first discuss how we can conceptualise these broad based alliances. Rather than treating them simply as interest groups, competing with others over influence on government policy, I will argue that we need to conceptualise the way water privatisation reflects capitalist exploitation across the spheres of production and social reproduction. Hence, capitalist accumulation does not only depend on exploiting wage labour in commodity production but equally on appropriating unpaid work by humans in the sphere of social reproduction as well as unpaid work by extra-humans in the wider ecology.

In a second step, I will then focus on key examples of water struggles in Europe. Analysing these struggles through a focus on class struggle allows me to unravel the internal relations between class agency and the structuring conditions of capitalism, providing us with a clear understanding of why some struggles are successful, while others are not.


Andreas Bieler is Professor of Political Economy and Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham, UK.  Prof. Bieler’s main research interest deals with the global dynamics of capitalism, neoliberal globalisation and the possibilities for resistance. Particular emphasis is placed on the potential role of trade unions in resistance to restructuring, the possibilities for labour movements more generally to establish links of transnational solidarity across borders, as well as theoretical discussions of how these struggles can be conceptualised from a historical materialist perspective. Moreover, he has analysed struggles over the future European Union model of capitalism and the possibilities of national economic-political models different from a neoliberal, Anglo-American model of capitalism. His most recent book, co-authored with Adam David Morton, is Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis, published by Cambridge University Press. He runs the blog on Trade unions and global restructuring, providing analytical commentary on labour movements and their attempts to resist exploitation in today’s neoliberal, global capitalism.

Please find the original event page for the entire conference here.

Event details

  • When: 11.45am - 1.15pm
  • Where: ABS Case Study Lecture Theatre 2080
    The University of Sydney 
  • Cost: Free
  • Contact: Gareth Bryant
    T: +61 2 9351 3070
    E: gareth.bryant@sydney.edu.au

  • Speaker/ Performer: Professor Andreas Bieler 

Water Struggles in the Web of Life: Social Reproduction and Capital Accumulation

Where ABS Case Study Lecture Theatre 2080
The University of Sydney 

14 December 2018

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