This article investigates how capital–labour relations (encompassing processes of class formation, representation, struggle and compromise) impact on emerging regions’ developmental trajectories. It does so because much of development studies portray labour simply as an input (human capital) subordinate to more fundamental processes such as capital investment and accumulation. The paper draws on and extends insights gained from the “new working class studies” and global commodity chains literatures in order to examine evolving capital–labour relations—from relatively militant struggles to class compromise—in an emerging sector of North East Brazilian export horticulture. It identifies sources of workers’ structural and associational power and uses these to explain significant gains achieved by the region's rural trade union during the formation of the export horticulture sector. It then asks, why, despite continuing structural power, the region's trade union has entered into a class compromise with the leading employers via (a) reducing its militancy and its strategy of striking against employers to win concessions, and (b) shifting its objectives in terms of concessions sought. It speculates on the impacts of these changing class relations on the region's developmental trajectory.
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