36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
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?