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Keynote speakers

dr Callum Cant

University of Oxford

Callum Cant is a Senior Lecturer at Essex Business School and the author of two books on artificial intelligence, algorithmic management and platform capitalism: Riding for Deliveroo and Feeding the Machine (forthcoming with James Muldoon and Mark Graham.) He is an expert member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, a research affiliate of the Oxford Internet Institute, and co-editor of the worker writing journal, Notes from Below. He takes an interdisciplinary approach to questions of work, technology and crisis. His current research focuses on workers’ experiences of crisis in Britain.

Title: Things can only get… worse: Workers’ experiences of ‘polycrisis’ in Britain

2008 marked a new stage in the development of capitalism in Britain. The relative stability of the previous 170 years was achieved through a ruling class strategy that combined aggregate real wage increases with a dialectic of political reform and repression. But since 2008, that classical combination been replaced by something new. Real wages have declined, the austerity-stricken state has shrunk dramatically, and political reforms that would benefit the working class have been excluded from the sphere of bourgeois politics. Taken together, these trends have produced a general and sustained decline in working class living standards. We are in a new period, one increasingly characterised by a shift from consent to coercion. Given a future likely characterised by extreme social instability, with interdependent sources ranging from the climatic to the geopolitical, this shift can and should be seen as marking the start of a new phase of class struggle in Britain.

This address illustrates this new phase by presenting the initial results of four case studies drawn from across the British economy, covering the logistics, manufacturing, health and food service industries via Amazon; Tata Steel; the National Health Service; and Deliveroo, respectively. By comparing the common experiences voiced by workers across these case studies, it is possible to both formulate conclusions on the nature of the polycrisis currently impacting workers in Britain, and generate some initial thoughts about the sociological study of crisis in the workplace. By beginning from workers’ experiences, the goal is to start to articulate how this ongoing recomposition of class struggle is experienced in the hidden abodes of capitalist production and the state.

With regards to Britain, it is increasingly obvious that diverse experiences of work across different geographies are frequently marked by the same trends: falling real wages, rising levels of collective action, technologically-enabled work intensification, and the fundamental failure of various forms of state service provision. These trends have been and will continue to be addressed by specific studies, but this macro approach also emphasises the importance of connecting the dots across more micro workplace contexts. With regards to the sociology of crisis, it is notable that the way in which a crisis is being experienced is not as a distinct event with a defined start point, but rather as a gradual intensification of existing trends. This challenges us to think of what has been termed the ‘polycrisis’ as a process, and indicates the theoretical importance of grounding this novel nomenclature within preceding theories of crisis and the structural analysis of the tendencies that produce them.

 

prof. Michele Ford

University of Sydney

Professor Michele Ford is President of the ISA’s Research Committee on Labour Movements. Based at the University of Sydney, Australia, she researches Southeast Asian labour movements, the intersection between national and international unions, union responses to temporary labour migration and labour’s engagement in the political sphere. Michele’s books include The Politics of Cross-border Mobility in Southeast Asia (Cambridge 2023), Labor and Politics in Indonesia (with Teri Caraway, Cambridge 2020), From Migrant to Worker: Global Unions and Temporary Labor Migration in Asia (ILR Press 2019) and Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement (Hawaii 2009). She currently leads Australian Research Council-funded Projects on employment relations in Indonesia’s commercial fishing industry and trade union responses to gender-based violence in Cambodia’s construction industry. In addition to her academic work, she has been involved in extensive consultancy work for the ILO and the international labour movement.

Title: Collective Action in the Face of Democratic Regression: Lessons from Southeast Asia

Labour activism in the Global South – in particular authoritarian regimes and fragile democracies – is a core issue on the agenda of critical labour studies. And, while labour activism takes many forms, trade unions remain a key vehicle for collective action, and collective agency, for the working class. At the same time, the industrial and political space available to unions is highly constrained.

How do unions navigate the space available to them, and what hope do they have of representing their members? Around the world, there are three primary ways that unions act to achieve their goals. Collective bargaining is focused primarily on the workplace or on technocratic tripartite committees. Whether unions rely more on political action, street politics or collective bargaining depends largely on unions’ level of institutional embeddedness at the national level and on their workplace strength. The other two action repertoires—street politics and party alliances— are public facing.

Where unions have institutionalized access to the polity through an alliance with a powerful political party, their political engagement will likely rely more on mobilizing workers at the ballot box rather than on the streets. Through these political alliances, unions can extend their power beyond the workplace, tap into valuable political support when they confront employers, and become less dependent on militant action to advance workers’ interests. Where they do not have a political ally, they often use mass mobilization as alternative way to influence policy.

In democracies, unions generally focus on collective bargaining, or may partner with a political party to pursue a labour agenda. In Southeast Asia, most unions have relatively little opportunity to engage in workplace bargaining and weak, if any, links to progressive political parties, which leaves them with little choice but to take to the streets. This keynote address will explore this pattern in Indonesia and Cambodia, two countries that have experienced relatively high levels of labour activism despite government repression.

prof. Ian Greer

The ILR School – Cornel University

Ian Greer is research professor and director of the Ithaca Co-Lab at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He has published peer-reviewed papers about trade union strategy and marketization in industrial relations, sociology of work, political economy, health policy, social policy, and organization studies journals. He spent 10 years based in London working at the Universities of Leeds and Greenwich, with carrying out research in Britain, Germany, France, and elsewhere in Europe. Since 2018 he has been carrying out “community-engaged learning” and research in New York State. With Charles Umney, he is coauthor of “Marketization: How Capitalist Exchange Disciplines Workers and Subverts Democracy” (Bloomsbury 2022).

Title: Transgressing the boundaries of academic work in Ithaca, New York, USA

Changing the world through impactful research is easier said than done. The idea of having an impact outside of academia, however, is a fixture of academic discourse, and universities create spaces to do it. Why does it seem a good idea to do impactful research? How does it help anyone? What kind of knowledge comes out of it? I will argue that the answers to these questions depend on the context in which the research is carried out – in particular, class structure and conflicts.

I will first illustrate the micro-politics through an anecdote from the field, before a statistical sketch of the context of my work, Ithaca, New York, USA. Ithaca is noteworthy for extreme income inequality and an intricately structured, racialized class system. Within that structure are conflicts, and some of the protagonists in those conflicts form partnerships with me, the director of the Ithaca Co-Lab in Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. We conduct research to answer questions, recruit students to do the work, and convene discussions including the relevant stakeholders. In doing so, we mobilize the resources and reputation of an elite research university.

Cornell University’s founding aspiration has to do with public service, and the ILR School has a strong history of action research and outreach. My own work is inspired by our Buffalo office, which has been doing outreach work with unions, companies, and community groups since the late 1940s.

The difficulties are evident. Our way of finding answers to research questions while adhering to scientific standards of logic and evidence is one reason why we are asked to work in the world of practice. But we rarely, if ever, serve the “public” or the “community” as a whole. The partners we work with are all engaged in some sort of struggle, and Cornell is the dominant player in the local power structure. Moreover, the origin of Cornell’s outreach mission was the 1865 Morrill Act, which set aside parcels of land from which indigenous people had violently been expelled to create income streams for universities.

Moreover, in my efforts to have an impact, I only rarely gather and present the kind of knowledge that could be used to publish an academic journal article. Applied research has to be faster than academic research, and as an applied researchers I have to use different methods than those I was trained to use. My research questions are narrower and more context-specific than in my purely academic work, and they lead me away from the trendy topics and theories of academia.

It is difficult to have an impact both inside and outside academia, and when we choose to have an impact outside of academia we often have to choose sides in social conflicts. The default setting at Cornell is conservative. On the other hand, the university is not monolithic, and radical critics still have some protection under principles of academic freedom.

prof. Jane Holgate

Leeds University Business School

Professor Holgate’s research interests include trade unions and the development of organising and recruitment strategies, particularly as they relate to under-represented groups in the union movement; gender and industrial relations; the labour market position of migrants and black and minority ethnic groups; new geographies of labour and the politics of intersectionality (race, class, gender, etc). Jane’s doctoral research which was funded by the ESRC and the Trades Union Congress was on the topic of organising black and minority ethnic workers; trade union strategies for recruitment and inclusion. She has held a number of positions in the trade union movement and has worked closely on research projects with a number of unions.

Title: Agents of curiosity. Why the union movement needs political education and critical thinking

This session will consider the role of political education and social movements. In particular, it will address the changes to union education over time and what impact this has had on the way that trade unions function. It will begin with a historical overview and look at the factors that led to a change in direction to the type of training that union reps receive. The political education of trade unionists is no longer something most trade unions even consider to be an important part of what they do. There are many explanations of why this is the case, but I think it’s mainly due to the way trade unions have changed over the last 50 or 60 years. The movement prior to this time was led by activists in the workplace much more that it is today. Unions have been ‘professionalised’, by which I mean that recruitment, organising, negotiation, and collective bargaining are mainly done by full-time officers leaving much of union work at grass roots level to be around individual case work. Since the government-commissioned Donovan Report in 1968, which looked the reform of collective bargaining, the introduction of legal restraints on unions, the functioning of strikes and the expansion of industrial relations training, we have seen an increase in skills-based training and a decline in political education. Unions came to rely on state funding for shop stewards’ training courses, but there was a proviso on what could be taught. The focus became on handling of disciplinaries and grievances and health and safety issues––the more functional aspects of the role of a shop steward. This was at the expense of the much broader trade union education of the past that might have included the teaching of economics, politics, and society and how these impact upon the working-class both inside and outside of the workplace.

dr Ignacy Jóźwiak

University of Warsaw

 

 

prof. Bridget Kenny 

Wits University

Bridget Kenny is a Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. She works on labour, gender, race and consumption with specific focus on service work, precarious employment, and political subjectivity in South Africa and in comparative perspective. Her books include Retail Worker Politics, Race and Consumption in South Africa: Shelved in the Service Economy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and Wal-Mart in the Global South, co-edited with Carolina Bank-Munoz and Antonio Stecher (University of Texas Press, 2018). She serves on the editorial/advisory boards of African Studies, the Work in the Global Economy and the Global Labour Journal.  

Title: Trade unions and logistics in South Africa: Racial capitalism returned or new routes to organising? 

This presentation will use my current work on logistics warehouses in greater Johannesburg (Gauteng Province), South Africa to examine how workers experience new forms of warehouse work and how trade unions engage this growing sector. Based on interviews with industry experts, warehouse workers and trade unions in the sector, I outline the labour process in new e-commerce warehouses through the use of digital technology, and I examine the conditions necessary to explain the expansion of e-commerce in South Africa. The presentation focuses on contradictions within trade union organising in e-commerce and discusses global union campaigns around Amazon, which is establishing its own logistics presence in South Africa in 2024, after several years of battles with activist groups. Grounding analysis of Johannesburg warehouses within an expanding literature on critical logistics studies (Tsing 2009; Cowen 2014; Chua et al. 2018; Danyluk 2018; Mezzadra and Neilson 2019) and analysing these practices as ‘conjunctural’ (Hall 1980; Hart 2023), this presentation seeks to pose questions about how South African trade unions engage new technologies and changing economic geographies within longstanding relations of exploitation and oppression. Within this context, it will also examine the relationship between academic research and union concerns.  

Chua, C., M. Danyluk, D. Cowen and L. Khalili. 2018. “Introduction: Turbulent Circulation: Building a Critical Engagement with Logistics,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36 (4): 617–629. 

Cowen, D. 2014. The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  

Danyluk, M. 2018. “Capital’s logistical fix: accumulation, globalization, and the survival of capitalism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36 (4), 630–647.  

Hall, S. 1980. “Race, articulation and societies structured in dominance,” In: M. O’ Callaghan, ed. Sociological Theories: Race and Colonialism. Paris: UNESCO, 305-345. 

Hart, G. 2023. “Modalities of Conjunctural Analysis: ‘Seeing the Present Differently’ through Global Lenses,” Antipode, pp. 1-30, doi: 10.1111/anti.12975. 

Mezzadra, S. and B. Neilson. 2019. The Politics of Operations: Excavating Contempory Capitalism. Durham & London: Duke University Press.  

Tsing, A. 2009. Supply chains and the human condition. Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society, 21 (2), 148-176. 

 

prof. Julia Kubisa

University of Warsaw

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prof. David Ost

Politics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York

David Ost is professor emeritus of Politics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. He has written widely on eastern Europe, with a focus on labor, class, democracy, and the radical right particularly but not only in Poland (where he has also frequently taught). His books include Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics, Workers After Workers’ States, The Defeat of Solidarity, and the edited collection “Class After Communism.” The first two are available in Polish translation: Solidarność a polityka antypolityki i Kleska Solidarności. Recent articles include “Rejecting Lenin for the Left,” and “The Surprising Right-Wing Relevance of the Russian Revolution.” He is currently completing a book titled “Red Pill Politics: Fascism, Right-Wing Populism, and the Nature of the Radical Right.”

Title: Why Workers Often Oppose Democracy

This piece argues that workers and unions are not necessarily a pro-democratic force. The literature arguing otherwise typically looks only at political democracy, or what I call Democracy I. But the democracy that is increasingly under attack today centers on its egalitarian and formal-institutional aspects (Democracy II and III). The paper looks at how both higher and lower-skilled workers relate to the three types of democracy, arguing that the only certain positive correlation is between workers and D-I. “Dominant-essence” workers (those with the privileged ascriptive characteristics of the given national community) often gain by being anti-egalitarian (opposed to D-II), while only college-educated workers have a structural propensity to be concerned with institutional autonomy (D-III). Whether labor supports democracy or helps undermine it depends on their view of democracy, on which party or ideology they accept as their own. Being a worker or a union doesn’t determine much in itself.

Finally, the piece addresses the paradox of Poland’s Solidarność movement. Contrary to the norm in capitalist societies, where workers vigorously support D-I but not D-II or III, Solidarity in its first years, during communist times, supported D-II and III but not D-1. Today, however, long after capitalism’s return, Solidarity reverts to the capitalist-society norm: with firm support for D-1 but not for D-II or III. The paper explains this in three says: the changing class composition of Solidarity’s membership, the transformation of the Polish left, and the economic policies of the populist Right

 

 

 

prof. Paul Stewart

Grenoble Ecole de Management

Paul Stewart was born in Derry City in Northern Ireland. Since the 1980s he has taught and researched in the UK, the USA, Brazil, China, Japan, and France, and was coordinator of the Marie Curie 5-country network ChangingEmployment from 2012-17. His research has addressed five areas: the theoretical origins and contemporary forms of European Sociology of work and employment; the new social and labour migration regimes within Europe and beyond including Brazil; the international automotive sector; employment in newly developing sectors, in particular, platform capitalism; the political economy and state in Northern Ireland. His research has been published in six languages including,

English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Articles have appeared in a range of journals that include Work, Employment and Society; Human Resource Management Journal; International Journal of HRM; European Journal of Industrial Relations; Sociologie du Travail; Sociologie del Lavoro; Sociologia del Trabajo; New Political Economy; Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research; New Technology, Work and Employment; Relations Industrielle/Industrial Relations; Industrial Relations Journal; The Journal of Labor and Society; The Sociological Review; Studies in the Sociology of Work (Latin American Journal of the Sociology of Work) (Brazil and Argentina); Economic and Industrial Democracy.

In 2017 he was awarded the prestigious D’Alembert Chair at Evry-Paris-Saclay. Since 2018 he has been working at Grenoble École de Management, France (GEM) as Senior Professor, Sociology of Work and Employment in the Department of People, Organizations and Society. He has been researching the impact of lean production on automotive workers for over two decades, working with assembly workers and the UK trade union UNITE at national and plant level.

His co-authored book, We Sell Our Time No More (Pluto Books), is a critical sociology of the struggles of car workers against lean production in the UK automotive industry. He is a member of the CFDT and from 2019-2023 was a member of the comité d’entreprise at GEM. He is a founding member of the Critical Labour Studies network. His other areas of research and publication include migration and labour subordination in Brazil; migrants and neoliberal sectarianism in Northern Ireland; the nature of the Northern Ireland state and sectarianism-racism; the nature of the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland. He is currently writing a book on Protestant women in northern Ireland and their republican socialism from 1969-77. He is on the comité de redaction de Nouvelle Revue de Travail (Paris), Capital and Class, and deputy editor of Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation. Between 2001 and 2004 he was editor of the British Sociological Association’s journal Work, Employment and Society.

Title: Critical labour Studies: origins and prospects in the age of neoliberal polycrisis

‘There is a need to invent new forms of communication between researchers and activists, which means a new division of labour between them’ (Bourdieu, 1996).

The origins of Critical Labour Studies (CLS), established in 2004, are to be found in the development of a critical labour sociology at the height of the age of fordism. Beginning in the 1960s as a response to the institutionalised character of the sociology of work, principally in the UK and the US, a new form of radical sociology began to take shape in the academy. This radical departure would challenge taken-for-granted nostrums about the way in which sociologists should practice the discipline, the types of methodologies deployed, and an understanding of the ways in which research might be understood. Committed to theoretical and practical interventions in, inter alia, the automotive and textile industries, this new way of critical research engagement would begin to transform the myriad ways in which anti-system labour sociologists could work. In this respect the new radical departure would provide a platform for co-operative and radical research and education within a variety of labour and social movements that would bring together non-academic and academic research activits. However, in the period of the early development of new radical approaches, there was never an attempt, nor was there a desire, to codify a new approach. This was to come later as a result of changes in the wider political economy which had transformational effects on the ways in which researchers within and beyond the academy could work. The value-based approach embodied in collaborative relationships founded on Freirean principles, distinguishes the CLS from a number of critical social science approaches to research and social engagement. This presentation will explore the origins and character of CLS including its critique of the both the Critical Management Studies School and the International Labour Process Conference. CLS is committed to engaging those hidden, silenced, and neglected voices in relation to the diversity of the experience of labour. The arguments presented will address the nature of the radical agendas available to committed researchers in the longue durée of neoliberalism.

prof. Valeria Pulignano

Catholic University of Leuven

Valeria Pulignano is Professor in Sociology at the Centre for Sociological Research (CESO) – KU Leuven. She is titularis of a Francqui Stichting Research Professorship and member of Leuven.AI – KU Leuven Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fellow at IRRU University of Warwick and LISER (Luxembourg) and Co-Researcher at CRIMT (Centre for Globalisation and Work) at the University of Montreal and Laval in Canada. She has published extensively on topics related to the sociology of work, comparative European industrial (employment) relations, labour markets and inequality, working conditions, job quality and workers’ voice. She serves as Principal Coordinator of the research network on Work, Employment and Industrial Relations within the European Sociological Association and as member of the Executive Committee of the ILERA (Industrial and Employment Relations Assocation). She is PI of an ERC Advanced Grant ResPecTMe where she studies the forms of unpaid labour in the platform economy, creative industries and care and the way in which they account for– and develop a measurement of – precarious work. She is Editor of Work, Employment and Society and previously Chief-editor of Work, Employment and Organization – Frontiers of Sociology. She seats the board of several international peer reviewd journals in the area of the sociology of wrk, employment and industrial relations.

She is author of several books among which

(2020) Shifting Solidarity (with Van Hoyweghen I. and G. Meyers) Palgrave;

(2018) Reconstructing Solidarity: Labour unions, precarious work, and the politics of institutional change in Europe (with Doellgast V. and Lillie N.) OUP;

(2016) Employment Relations in an Era of Change (with H.D. Köhler and P. Stewart), ETUI;

(2013) The Transformation of Employment Relations (with J. Arrowsmith), Routledge;

(2008) Flexibility at work: critical developments in the international automobile industry (with Stewart, P., Danford, A. and Richardson, M.), Palgrave

Title: Unpaid Labour and Inequality in Precarious Work. Theorizing Adaptations in Employment Relations Research

Debates on precarious work often revolve around the aspects of paid employment arrangements. Within the realm of employment and labour relations research, scholars use the term ‘wage theft’ to describe unpaid labour in paid employment, viewing it as a crucial element of precarious work. However, there remains a need to delve deeper into the connection between unpaid labour and precarious work and to explore how the job market is influenced by this issue. This exploration is vital in understanding the inequalities inherent in precarious work. While it is true that unpaid labour in paid employment can contribute to precarious work, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation, as its impact varies based on individuals’ access to individual and collective resources. Those with higher resources, including those who can rely on social reproductive and gendered (unpaid) labour, may be more capable of affording to engage in unpaid work. As a result, precarious work may not automatically affect everyone in the same way. In my ongoing research, I am aiming to shed light on the role of unpaid labour in various sectors and work areas across diverse European countries, which are often associated with precarious conditions. This research seeks to address the issue of inequality in precarious work, where inequality is understood as stemming from class-based distinctions based on income, gender, prestige, and race. Moreover, the research underscores the importance of welfare and collective bargaining institutions as factors that can help mitigate inequality for individuals engaged in unpaid labour and facing precarious work situations. These institutions play a critical role in providing support and protection for those vulnerable to precarious conditions in the labour market.

 

 

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