36th EGOS Colloquium

Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance

 

University of Hamburg

July 2–4, 2020


Hamburg, Germany

 

 

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Sub-theme 42: Organizing the ‘Un-organizable’: New Forms of Mobilization and Solidarity against Precarization

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Convenors:
Annalisa Murgia
University of Milan, Italy
Patrizia Zanoni
Hasselt University, Belgium, & Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Ozan Nadir Alakavuklar
Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Call for Papers


The accelerated precarization of the labour force is today putting the question of the organization of precarious workers at the very core of workers’ political struggle in late capitalism. Processes of firm fragmentation and labour market flexibilization are structurally redefining capital–labour relations to the advantage of capital. On the one hand, the diffusion of non-standard employment through fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work and solo self-employment – increasingly mediated by digital platforms – is rapidly multiplying the risk of precariousness for an ever‐growing group of workers (Kallinikos, 2003; Armano & Murgia, 2013; Kalleberg & Vallas, 2017). On the other hand, these forms of non-standard employment are promoting an unequal integration into the labour market that not only exacerbates traditional gender, class, age and ethnicity divisions (Banks & Milestone, 2011; van Doorn, 2017; Zanoni, 2019), but also further undermines labour’s rights and working conditions as a whole (De Stefano, 2016; Huws, 2016), worsening the crisis of social reproduction in neoliberal capitalism (Leonard & Fraser, 2016; Zanoni, 2019).
 
The erosion of working conditions has spurred a broad debate on novel ways to conceive and organize struggles, including questions on the constitution of a political subject through the recognition of mutual vulnerability (Butler, 1997) and the strategies and modalities of mobilization. Prominent in these debates is the question on how to engage the precarious in political struggle, a type of workers who has long been considered ‘un-organizable’ due to their hyper-individualized entrepreneurial subjectivity resulting from neoliberal capitalist relations (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2007; McNay, 2009; Fleming, 2017; Moisander et al., 2018).
 
Albeit at different pace and in different national modalities, trade unions are increasingly recognising the need to address the organization and collective representation of the growing group of workers in non-standard employment relations, to better represent the interests of these often heterogeneous and particularly vulnerable groups of workers (Pernicka, 2005; Gumbrell-McCormick, 2011; Simms & Dean, 2014; Doellgast et al., 2018). An important aspect of trade union renewal concerns building alliances with societal actors such as communities and groups to create counter-hegemonic blocs that revitalise workers’ power (Hyman & Gumbrell-McCormick, 2017; Parker & Alakavuklar, 2018). In this process, unions are required to leave the comfort zone of classical industrial relations, to recognize and leverage their common interests with multiple constituencies, even including some segments of capital itself (Zanoni, 2019). At the same time, less institutionalised forms of collective mobilisation are building new forms of resistance against precarization within social movements (Neilson & Rossiter, 2005; Gherardi & Murgia, 2015; Foti, 2017), as well as within alternative organizations, such as quasi-unions (Heckscher & Carré, 2006) and cooperatives (Flecha & Ngai, 2014; Graceffa & de Heusch, 2017; Scholz & Schneider, 2016), which are enacting novel processes fostering collective identity and political engagement.
 
Within the debate on alternative economies, some scholars have also argued that answers to capitalism should be sought in existing community economies that already organize work and exchange relations in non-capitalist ways, and would transform our capital-o-centric assumptions and practices which have been reinforcing individualized relations (Gibson-Graham et al., 2013; Miller, 2015). Hence, such community economies should be understood as bases of resistance that enact alternatives, through which the precarious not only get out of the imposed capitalist relations to work and subsist, but also become part of a collective solidarity network through their labour and time (Lorey, 2015).
 
Finally, we are witnessing broader calls for a ‘social’ unionism supposed to bring various movements together and create a new political subjectivity – i.e. the multitude – expected to ‘suspend’ capitalist relations in the form of ‘social’ strike (Hardt & Negri, 2017). At the same time, others are calling for universal basic income for everyone as a way to create a new political economic ecology for emancipatory organizations to emerge (Srnicek & Williams, 2015), an alternative future that is however not void of risks (Pitts & Dinerstein, 2017). It is yet unknown how, and along with whom, the precarious, as a growing ‘new class’ (Standing, 2011), will take part in these wider struggles to organize new forms of work, resist precarization and transform both society and economy.
 
Taking stock of this rich theoretical and political debate, this sub-theme aims to bringing together different strands of research to advance our understanding of which kind of collective project can be developed with heterogeneous, precarious, flexible and atomized subjects, with limited access to social protection rights and to collective representation, but with the aim to resist the norms of a neoliberal and individualized society (Zanoni et al., 2017).
 
We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions that examine any of the following, or related, questions:

  • What are today effective ways of organizing precarious workers? Under which conditions are they inclusive and effective?

  • How are precarious workers themselves building collective political projects? What role does the recognition of mutual vulnerability play in this process?

  • What forms of solidarity can be built to resist precariousness and fragmentation?

  • How are alliances between trade unions and emerging organizations challenging existing institutions? To which extent are they successful in combating precarization?

  • How can key actors challenge current practices of exploitation, discrimination and appropriation through precarization? Through which types of alliances are they most likely to succeed?

  • Are there successful cases of organizing precarious workers and other socially and economically disadvantaged communities together? What can we learn from these cases?

  • How should we theorize the role of ‘diversity’ in precarization processes?

  • What obstacles does social diversity pose in the mobilization of the precarious? What possibilities does it open up?

  • At a conceptual level, which vocabularies can most productively be used to theorize the organization of the ‘un-organized’? With which consequences for the political struggle against precarization?

  • What role can researchers play in fostering projects to counter precarization?

  • To what extent and how can community economies and practices of commoning generate an alternative to precariousness?

  • Under which conditions can ‘the multitude’ become a political subject that effectively counters precarization?

  • Under which conditions would universal basic income foster an ecology of emancipatory organizations? What are the social, economic and political risks of decoupling income from work?

 
 

References

  • Armano, E., & Murgia, A. (2013): “The precariousnesses of young knowledge workers: A subject-oriented approach.” Global Discourse, 3 (3–4), 486–501.
  • Banks, M., & Milestone K. (2011): “Individualization, gender and cultural work.” Gender, Work and Organization, 18 (1), 73–89.
  • Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (2007): The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso.
  • Butler, J. (1997): The Psychic Life of Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • De Stefano, V. (2016): “The Rise of the ‘Just-in-Time Workforce’: On-Demand Work, Crowdwork, and Labor Protection in the ‘Gig Economy’.” Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 37 (3), 471–504.
  • Doellgast, V., Lillie, N., & Pulignano, V. (eds.) (2018): Reconstructing Solidarity: Labour Unions, Precarious Work, and the Politics of Institutional Change in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Flecha, R., & Ngai, P. (2014): “The challenge for Mondragon: Searching for the cooperative values in times of internationalization.” Organization, 21 (5), 666–682.
  • Fleming, P. (2017): “The human capital hoax: Work, debt and insecurity in the era of Uberization.” Organization Studies, 38 (5), 691–709.
  • Foti, A. (2017): “The precariat for itself. Euro May Day and precarious workers’ movements.” In: E. Armano, A. Bove & A. Murgia (eds.): Mapping Precariousness, Labour Insecurity and Uncertain Livelihoods: Subjectivities and Resistance. London: Routledge, 47–59.
  • Gherardi, S., & Murgia, A. (2015): “Staging precariousness: The Serpica Naro catwalk during the Milan fashion week.” Culture and Organization, 21 (2), 174–196.
  • Gibson-Graham, J.K., Cameron, J., & Healy, S. (2013): Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities. ‎Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Graceffa, S., & de Heusch, S. (2017): “Reinventing the world of work.” Transfer, 23 (3), 359–365.
  • Gumbrell-McCormick, R. (2011): “European trade unions and ‘atypical’ workers.” Industrial Relations Journal, 42 (3), 293–310.
  • Hardt, M., & Negri, T. (2017): Assembly. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Heckscher, C., & Carré, F. (2006): “Strength in networks: Employment rights organizations and the problem of co-ordination.” British Journal of Industrial Relations, 44 (4), 605–628.
  • Huws, U. (2016): “Logged labour: A new paradigm of work organisation?” Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 10 (1), 7–26.
  • Hyman, R., & Gumbrell-McCormick, R. (2017): “Resisting labour market insecurity: old and new actors, rivals or allies?” Journal of Industrial Relations, 59 (4), 538–561.
  • Kalleberg, A.L., & Vallas, S.P. (2017): “Probing precarious work: Theory, research, and politics.” Research in the Sociology of Work, 31, 1–30.
  • Kallinikos, J. (2003): “Work, human agency and organizational forms: an anatomy of fragmentation.” Organization Studies, 24 (4), 595–618.
  • Leonard, S., & Fraser, N. (2016): “Capitalism’s Crisis of Care.” Dissent, 63 (4), 30–37.
  • Lorey, I. (2015): State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious. London: Verso.
  • McNay, L. (2009): “Self as enterprise: Dilemmas of control and resistance in Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics.” Theory, Culture & Society, 26 (6), 55–77.
  • Miller, E. (2015): “Anticapitalism or Postcapitalism? Both!” Rethinking Marxism, 27 (3), 364–367.
  • Moisander, J., Groß, C., & Eräranta, K. (2018): “Mechanisms of biopower and neoliberal governmentality in precarious work: Mobilizing the dependent self-employed as independent business owners.” Human Relations, 71 (3), 375–398.
  • Neilson, B., & Rossiter, N. (2005): “FCJ-022 From Precarity to Precariousness and Back Again. Labour, Life and Unstable Networks.” The Fibreculture Journal, 5; http://five.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-022-from-precarity-to-precariousness-and-back-again-labour-life-and-unstable-networks/
  • Parker, J., & Alakavuklar, O.N. (2018): “Social Movement Unionism (SMU) as Union-Civil Alliances: A Democratizing Force? The New Zealand Case.” Revue Relations industrielles/Industrial Relations, 73 (4), 784–813.
  • Pernicka, S. (2005): “The evolution of union politics for atypical employees: A comparison between German and Austrian trade unions in the private service sector.” Economic and Industrial Democracy, 26 (2), 205–228.
  • Pitts, F.H., & Dinerstein, A.C. (2017): Postcapitalism, Basic Income and the End of Work: A Critique and Alternative. Bath Papers in International Development and Wellbeing, no. 55/2017. Bath, UK: University of Bath.
  • Scholz, T., & Schneider, N. (2016): Ours to Hack and to Own. The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet. New York: OR Books.
  • Simms, M., & Dean, D. (2015): “Mobilising contingent workers: An analysis of two successful cases.” Economic and Industrial Democracy, 36 (1), 173–190.
  • Srnicek, N., & Williams, A. (2015): Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World Without work. London: Verso.
  • Standing, G. (2011): The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury.
  • van Doorn, N. (2017): “Platform labor: on the gendered and racialized exploitation of low-income service work in the ‘on‐demand’ economy.” Information, Communication & Society, 20 (6), 898–914.
  • Zanoni, P. (2019): “Labor Market Inclusion Through Predatory Capitalism? The ‘Sharing Economy’, Diversity, and the Crisis of Social Reproduction in the Belgian Coordinated Market.” In: S.P. Vallas & A. Kovalainen (eds.): Work and Labor in the Digital Age. Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 33. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 145–164.
  • Zanoni, P., Contu, A., Healy, S., & Mir, R. (2017): “Post-capitalistic politics in the making: The imaginary and praxis of alternative economies.” Organization, 24 (5), 575–588.
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Annalisa Murgia is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Milan, Italy, and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at CERIC – Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change, University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on how precariousness is shaping contemporary subjectivity and on the forms of resistance raised by precarious workers. Her research has been published in several international journals, such as ‘Culture and Organization’, ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’, ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Work Organization, Labour & Globalisation’. Annalisa is member of the editorial board of ‘Organization’ and of the associate board of ‘Work, Employment and Society’. She is the PI of the ERC project “SHARE – Seizing the Hybrid Areas of Work by Re-presenting self-Employment”.
Patrizia Zanoni is a Full Professor and head of “SEIN – Identity, Diversity & Inequality Research” at the Faculty of Business Economics of Hasselt University, Belgium, and holder of the Chair in Organization Studies at the School of Governance of Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Drawing on critical theories such as discourse analysis and Marxist theory, her research investigates the dynamics of power in changing organizational forms and processes of capital valorization, with special attention to the key role played by social identities such as gender, ethnicity, disability and diversity more broadly. Patrizia’s work has appeared in various international organization studies and educational journals. She is an Associate Editor of ‘Organization’ and member of the editorial boards of the ‘British Journal of Management’, ‘Research in the Sociology of Work’, and ‘Organization Theory’.
Ozan Nadir Alakavuklar is an Associate Professor at the School of Governance of Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Through his research, Ozan intends to access, support and work with activist communities addressing the current burning issues of our contemporary society, such as inequality, food surplus/poverty and unsustainable organisational practices. As a part of this research agenda, he initiated the “Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change Conference” in New Zealand in 2014, which was held four years in a row and acted as a bridge between academics and activists. Ozan’s research, which is usually a product of collegial and collective scholarship, was published in ‘Academy of Management Learning and Education’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Culture and Organization’, and ‘Relations industrielles/Industrial Relations’. He is a member of the editorial collective of ‘ephemera’ and book reviews editor for ‘Labour & Industry’.
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