28. Labour conflicts: transformations and frictions inside and outside the workplaces

This panel aims at investigating the current transformations in the labour market and the society at large, by looking at how work-related conflicts arise and develop within and outside the workplaces. The interest devoted to labour conflict has changed throughout history, across disciplines, and according to different scientific approaches; nevertheless, it remains a pivotal topic to understand ongoing economic, social, and cultural transformations.

Ethnographic investigations, and especially labour process analyses, have traditionally studied conflicts related to several aspects of the employment relation, such as the definition of the salaries, working times, the pace of work, workload, work environments, as well as workers’ autonomy (Edwards 1986; Thomspson and Smith 2010). Moreover, investigations have encompassed struggles around employers’ attempts to control labour turnover and flexibility, and workers’ mobility power across sectors, between cities and countries (Smith 2006; Alberti 2014; Ceccagno and Sacchetto 2020). In addition, research interests include also frictions around workers’ social divisions: gender, race, ethnicity, migration status, and age, conceived as ‘tools’ used to produce a differentiated and often competing workforce (Tsing 2009); or, alternatively, as social ties mobilized in the process of “the making of the working class” (Thompson 1963).

Currently, the changing nature of labour – that expands outside the perimeter of workplaces, penetrating inside private houses or spreading around the cities – urges a need to ethnographically investigate how these changes transform the forms assumed by labour conflicts. These do not involve just the workplaces, but condition the intimate sphere and everyday life of workers, thanks to the pervasiveness of digital technologies, which also affect personal relationships, individual well-being, and workers’ perceptions of themselves and their role in the labour market.

By focusing on these changes and starting from the perspective that conceives labour-related conflicts as embedded in more extensive societal conflicts, this panel would like to collect papers that investigate: which are the new emerging forms of workplace and labour-related conflicts? What are the aspects of novelty and those of continuity? Which new forms of individual agency and collective organizing are nowadays emerging? Under what conditions workplace and labour-related conflicts are fostered or, alternatively, dissuaded?

This call for paper aims at addressing scholars in labour and organizational studies, industrial relations, social movement studies, migration, and intersectionality studies, coming from a sociological, anthropological, historical, and geographical background. It aims at collecting contributions, among other topics, on:

  • Traditional and emerging labour conflicts on work time, space, technology, control and autonomy, looking in particular at new work scenarios (e.g. remote working; digital and platform work, etc.)
  • Labour conflicts and social frictions related to the health-job blackmail, fostering an analysis of social and economic inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Struggles emerging around the prioritization of work vs. environmental issues, pushed by the urge for greening policies and companies’ green transition
  • Development of novel labour conflicts around labour market segmentations, gender segregation, racialized forms of subordination and the governance of workers’ mobility
  • New forms of organized labour conflicts: revitalisation of traditional organizations (i.e., trade unions) and/or emerging of new grassroot movements and networks

Keywords: labour conflicts, digitalization, heath-job blackmail, greening and labour, agency and mobility power, labour organizing, intersectionality

References (selection)
Alberti, G. (2014) “Mobility Strategies, ‘Mobility Differentials’ and ‘Transnational Exit’: The Experiences of Precarious Migrants in London’s Hospitality Jobs.” Work, Employment and Society, no. 28 (6): 865-81.

Ceccagno, A., D. Sacchetto (2020) “The Mobility of Workers Living at Work in Europe.” Current Sociology 68 (3): 299-315.

Edwards, P. (1986) Conflict at Work: A Materialist Analysis of Workplace Relations, Oxford, Blackwell.

Smith, C. (2006) “The Double Indeterminacy of Labour Power: Labour Effort and Labour Mobility.” Work, Employment and Society, 20 (2): 389-402.

Thompson, E.P. (1963) The Making of the English Working Class, London, Victor Gollancz.

Thompson, P., C. Smith, eds. (2010) Working Life: Renewing Labour Process Analysis, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Tsing, A. (2009) “Supply Chains and the Human Condition.” Rethinking Marxism 21 (2): 148-76.

Valeria Piro is Assistant Professor at the University of Padua. Her main research interests include migration policies, migration and labour processes, workers’ agencies and mobility power, labour organizing and processes of unionization.

Giuliana Sanò is Assistant Professor in Anthropology at the University of Messina. Her main research interests are migrant labour, refugees and asylum seekers, urban and rural spaces, conflicts, and social transformation.

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