Term Card Winter 2020

6:30-8pm, 11th February 2020

The British Dietetic Association, 3rd Floor, Interchange Place, 151-165 Edmund St, Birmingham B3 2TA (near Snow Hill Station)

Davide Pero, University of Nottingham

Indie Unionism, Organizing and Labour Renewal: Learning from Precarious Migrant Workers

This paper examines the organizing practices of indie unions – the emerging grassroots unions co-led by precarious migrant workers. It draws on an embedded actor-centred approach involving extensive multi-sited ethnography. The paper shows how workers normally considered unorganizable by the established unions can build lasting solidarity and associational power and obtain material and non-material rewards in the context of precarity, scarce economic resources and a hostile environment. Here, I argue that the organization of workers into ‘communities of struggle’ geared towards mobilization facilitates their empowerment, effectiveness and social integration. The paper contributes to labour mobilization theory by redefining the concept of organizing in inclusionary terms, so that the collective industrial agency of precarious and migrant workers organizing outside the established unions can be adequately recognized and accounted for.

6:30pm-8pm, 10th March 2020

The British Dietetic Association, 3rd Floor, Interchange Place, 151-165 Edmund St, Birmingham B3 2TA (near Snow Hill Station)

Marek Korczynski

‘The Art of Labor Organizing: Participatory Art and Migrant Domestic Workers’ Self-Organizing in London’

There has been an upsurge of interest regarding how actors engage with art within organizational processes.  However, scholars have tended not to study the role of art within contemporary collective labor organizing.  This paper focuses on how participatory art may support flat, participative labour organizing, particularly among marginalized, relatively powerless workers.  We present an ethnographic account of how art practices are deeply embedded within the flat organizing processes of Justice For Domestic Workers, a self-organizing group of migrant domestic workers in London.  We reflect on this case to theorise the art of flat organizing, an ideal type of a set of participatory art practices that are compatible with and supportive of flat labour organizing.

Past Events:

Term Card Autumn 2019

6:30-8pm, 8th October 2019 the Birmingham & Midlands Institute

Heather Connolly, University of Leicester

Unions and Social Movements: Institutional Rivalry or Alliance and Cooperation?

This paper explores the relationship between labour and non-labour movements and whether the relationship is likely to be characterised by institutional rivalry or alliance and cooperation. To what extent are non-labour movements, including community-based, campaigning/single-issue groups and advocacy organisations replacing organised labour as the main dynamic force advancing workers’ interests? There are overlapping interests and methods between labour and non-labour movements but there is also the potential for and evidence of tension and rivalry. Existing research shows that much of the tension and rivalry is a result of institutional barriers rather than fundamental differences in interests and methods.

The paper draws on my research and the work of others to explore the argument that the primary (and potentially most sustainable) way in which labour and non-labour movements have come together is through ‘absorption’, where the labour movement has provided an institutional field upon which other movements can organise and campaign. The paper considers the significance of the ‘gilets jaunes’ in France – a non-labour based movement which emerged in November 2018 initially as a protest against rising fuel prices and which has enjoyed strong support from the wider population. There has been a shift in the movement’s approach from an explicit rejection of any connection with the trade union movement to the adoption of a more conciliatory approach on both sides. This rapprochement has the potential to develop synergies between the organisational capacity of the ‘old’ (the trade unions) and the imaginative spontaneity of the ‘new’ (the ‘gilets jaunes’). Drawing on the strengths of each is an important means to build effective resistance. The emergence of non-labour movements like the ‘gilet jaunes’ has important implications for trade unions reflecting on their role and their strategies for renewal.

Heather Connolly is Associate Professor of Employment Relations at the University of Leicester. Her research in France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, explores how trade union activists respond to contemporary challenges, particularly the innovative role that unions might play in the social inclusion of migrant workers. Her publications include The Politics of Social Inclusion and Labor Representation: Immigrants and Trade Unions in the European Context, published in May 2019 by Cornell University Press.

6:30-8pm, 12th November 2019 the Birmingham & Midlands Institute

Ruth Reaney, London School of Economics, Genevieve Coderre-LaPalme, University of Birmingham

Beyond ideology: comparing confrontational union responses to restructuring in France

For several decades, workplace restructuring has been a central feature of a shift towards market-driven employment relations in both the public and private sectors in France (Beaujolin-Bellet and Schmidt 2012). Within this challenging environment, local unions have responded to workplace restructuring in various ways. Whilst ‘cooperative’ strategies such as concession bargaining and the negotiation of social plans are common responses to this type of restructuring, some unions have employed more ‘confrontational’ strategies such as political mobilisation to prompt negotiations about alternative plans (Pulignano and Stewart 2013; Marginson and Meardi 2009; Foster and Scott 1998; Jalette and Hebdon 2012; Greer et al 2013). Under what conditions do unions adopt a confrontational approach? While external circumstances (Frege and Kelly 2003; Jalette and Hebdon 2012; Martinez-Lucio and Stuart 2005) and power resources (Levesque and Murray 2005; Murray et al 2010) help shape the opportunities and threats which unions see in their environment, internal ideology and identity are also considered to be key factors in shaping and sustaining union strategy (Bacon and Blyton 2004; Levesque and Murray 2010; Hodder and Edwards 2015; Hyman 2001).

In examining local unions’ choices to engage confrontational responses to restructuring, this paper compares case studies of ‘critical restructuring incidents’ in two of the country’s most unionised sectors, public healthcare and automobile manufacturing. In doing so, it extends understanding of unions’ tactical choices in responding to restructuring, thereby offering insight into the extent to which internal and external factors shape trade union strategic choice.

Findings from the study indicate that inter- and intra-union variation in strategy across and within cases is explained by the interplay which occurs between ideology and resources. Whereas some unions in the cases had confrontational responses because this forms part of their usual repertoire of action and general union identity, others opted for a confrontational response to ensure their access to resource in the future. Unions which are generally considered in the literature to be “non-militant” engaged in confrontational action in instances where it was deemed the best way to protect their legitimacy and power within the organisation and in the eyes of employees. Patterns within the case findings therefore suggest that unions’ responses to restructuring, although ostensibly similar, are motivated by various external and internal factors, demonstrating that union strategic choice is neither determined by external factors nor professed union ideology. Thus, restructuring poses strategic dilemmas for unions, forcing them to navigate the process by balancing union identity with membership and workforce preferences.

Ruth Reaney is an LSE Fellow in the Department of Management with research interests in work and employment. Her current research concerns trade union response to decreasing institutional security, with specific focus on the French labour movement.

Genevieve Coderre-LaPalme is a Lecturer in Employment Relations at Birmingham Business School. Her research so far has focused on comparative industrial relations, in particular trade union strategies towards restructuring. She is also developing research around employment, stratification and disability.

6:30-8pm, 10th December 2019 the Birmingham & Midlands Institute

Paul Edwards, University of Birmingham

‘The National Living Wage, the low-wage firm in Birmingham: Causes of Compliance and Non-Compliance, and Some Policy Options’

The National Living Wage, introduced in 2016, was a major shock for low-wage firms. It was set at about 90 per cent of the average pay in such firms, meaning that most would have to raise pay, often significantly, in order to comply. A study of 22 firms in Birmingham charted patterns of compliance and non-compliance; some of these firms had been tracked over several years prior to 2016, so that their long-term labour market policies can be understood. The majority were non-compliant. Some of these were facing intense competition and had little scope to raise wages. Others, however, were growing, with non-compliance reflecting weak enforcement and collusion with employees and other agencies. The rare instances of compliance reflected idiosyncratic processes and not any strong drivers either externally or internally. Securing compliance would require stronger enforcement combined with efforts to change normative assumptions within these firms.

Paul Edwards is Emeritus Professor of Employment Relations, University of Birmingham. He has studied small and low-wage firms for the past 20 years, and has published widely on them and on other aspects of employment relations especially at workplace level. He is former editor-in-chief of Human Relations. A paper based on this research appears in the British Journal of Management.