New special issue on precarious labour from Work, Employment and Society

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[We are pleased to welcome Gabriella Alberti, Ioulia Bessa, Kate Hardy, Vera Trappmann and Charles Umney from Leeds Business School. They recently edited a special issue for Work, Employment and Society on precarious labour.]

The special issue In, Against and Beyond Precarity: The Struggles of Insecure Workers received almost 100 submissions, one of the highest in the history of the British Sociological Association’s journals. The call for papers was launched following the 2016 Work, Employment and Society conference organised by Centre of Employment Relations Innovation and Change at the University of Leeds. The volume of submissions reflects the level of academic interest in the topic and its political relevance. As workers’ power relative to capital has weakened, the use of the term has rapidly expanded. It is often used to describe a rise in contingent forms of employment (such as short-term or zero-hours contracts), but also to denote an increase in more subjective perceptions of insecurity among workers. There is therefore a risk of overusing the term, or stretching its meaning beyond recognition. We sought to address some of these problems in compiling the special issue.

In our introduction, we argue that it is more useful to think of ‘precarity’ not as the defining characteristic of a particular social group or class (as in Guy Standing’s notion of the “precariat” which is widely influential among many sociologists) but as a process of precarisation that encompasses increasing insecurity observable across a much wider range of employment contexts, and an increasing uncertainty through peoples’ life courses. The articles selected in the special issue identify different drivers of precarisation. Sometimes, it is driven through employer efforts to directly undermine workers’ job security. Companies may rely on outsourcing or forcing workers into dubious self-employment to secure more ‘flexible’ (read: insecure) labour sourcing (as shown by Moore and Newsome’s article). Governments themselves may also restructure their own supply chains leading to intensified insecurity for public service workers, or else normalise insecurity in the wider economy through changes to welfare systems (as discussed in Jaehrling et al. and Rubery’s contributions to our issue respectively).

Other contributions also show how restrictions on people’s wider rights as citizens can have profound effects on work. In different ways this is evidenced by two contributions on China: by Pun and Smith who examine the legal restrictions which subordinate the emerging Chinese working class, and in Choi’s study of Chinese taxi drivers forbidden from owning their own vehicles. It is also demonstrated by Simola’s discussion of “citizenship precarisation”: in which young university-educated intra-EU migrants’ access to benefits, health and social assistance have become increasingly conditional upon complex entitlement requirements.

Finally, it is also important to recognise a much more diffuse process of implicit ‘precarisation’, which is revealed in many studies of working life extending well beyond only those focusing on low-paid, low-skilled jobs. In our special issue, this is compellingly illustrated by Hassard et al., who show how company policies in pursuit of competitiveness have led to a much stronger perception of job insecurity among managerial professionals (along with a belief among younger managers that this was becoming the new normal).

Which actors are best placed to combat these processes of ‘precarisation’? First, we should not be defeatist about the role that can be played by workers themselves. Manky’s study of outsourced Chilean mine workers shows the surprising levels of industrial power they were able to wield given support from sympathetic political actors. Alternatively, Jaehrling’s study shows the value of direct political interventions (such as implementing clauses in government procurement contracts) in mitigating the consequences of supply chain restructuring. Ultimately, the special issue underlines the urgent need for a research agenda which is more empirically grounded and more imaginative in engaging with people’s security in work and the diverse ways in which it is being undermined.

The special issue In, Against and Beyond Precarity: The Struggles of Insecure Workers is free to access until 2 July 2018.

Happy Labor Day from Management INK!

1118679421_b0d120d892_zIn honor of Labor Day in the United States, we’re pleased to feature a collection of articles from ILR ReviewThe collection includes nine articles related to Labor Economics. One paper, entitled Workforce Reduction at Women-Owned Businesses in the United States,” authors David A. Mats and Amalia R. Miller find an association between female business leadership and increased labor hoarding. The abstract for the paper:

The authors find that privately held firms owned by women were less likely than those owned by men to downsize their workforces during the Great Recession. Year-to-year employment reductions were as much as 29% smaller at women-owned firms, even after controlling for industry, size, and profitability. Using data that allow the authors to control for additional detailed firm and owner characteristics, they also find that women-owned firms operated with greater labor intensity after the previous recession and were less likely to hire temporary or leased workers. These patterns extend previous findings associating female business leadership with increased labor hoarding.

Another paper in the collection, entitled “Revisiting the Current Issue CoverMinimum Wage–Employment Debate: Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater,” from authors David Neumark, J.M. Ian Salas, and William Wascher revisit the minimum wage debate with a new approach to the research design. The abstract for the paper:

The authors revisit the long-running minimum wage–employment debate to assess new studies claiming that estimates produced by the panel data approach commonly used in recent minimum wage research are flawed by that approach’s failure to account for spatial heterogeneity. The new studies use research designs intended to control for this heterogeneity and conclude that minimum wages in the United States have not reduced employment. The authors explore the ability of the new research designs to isolate reliable identifying information, and they test the designs’ untested assumptions about the construction of better control groups. Their analysis reveals problems with the new research designs. Moreover, using methods that let the data identify the appropriate control groups, their results reaffirm the evidence of disemployment effects, with teen employment elasticities near −0.15. This evidence, they conclude, still shows that minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others.

You can read these two articles and more from the Labor Economics collection from ILR Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from ILR Review? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Happy Labor Day from Management INK!

*Coffee shop image attributed to Dave Bleasdale (CC)

 

Understanding Vocational Education in Industrialized Countries

[We’re pleased to welcome Nuria Rodriguez-Planas. Nuria published an article in ILR Review in March  2015, entitled 14138116143_b385d032d2_z“A Road Map to Vocational Education and Training in Industrialized Countries” with co-authors Werner Eichhorst, Ricarda Schmidl and Klaus F. Zimmermann.]

Our contribution to the ILR Review was motivated by a background study of IZA contributing to the Worldbank’s World Development Report on Jobs in 2013. We started from the observation that young people have been among those most affected by the 2008/09 financial crisis and its aftermath in many world regions. While the recession led to steep increases in youth unemployment, policies aimed at stimulating labor demand do not fully tackle the root of the problem. Rather, we also need to understand the institutions governing the transition from school to work. Vocational education and training (VET) is often viewed as the silver bullet for the youth joblessness problem. In ILR_72ppiRGB_powerpointthis article, we provide a better understanding of VET in industrialized countries, proposing a typology with three types of vocational systems: 1) vocational and technical schools, 2) formal apprenticeships, and 3) dual apprenticeship systems that combine school training with a firm-based approach. We first describe the strengths and challenges of each system. Then we review the evidence of the effectiveness of VET versus general education and the relative effectiveness of the different VET systems. In our view the results indicate that VET is a valued alternative beyond the core of general education and that the use of apprenticeships combined with institutional learning tends to be more effective than school-based VET. Hence, improving the performance of VET can be one element of a medium-run solution to difficult school-to-work transitions.

The abstract for the paper:

Young people have been among those most affected by the recent financial crisis. Vocational education and training (VET) is often viewed as the silver bullet for the youth joblessness problem. In this article, the authors provide a better understanding of VET in industrialized countries, proposing a typology with three types of vocational systems: 1) vocational and technical schools, 2) formal apprenticeships, and 3) dual apprenticeship systems that combine school training with a firm-based approach. They first describe the strengths and challenges of each system. They subsequently review the evidence of the effectiveness of VET versus general education and the relative effectiveness of the different VET systems. Results indicate that VET is a valued alternative beyond the core of general education and that the use of apprenticeships combined with institutional learning tends to be more effective than school-based VET.

You can read “A Road Map to Vocational Education and Training in Industrialized Countries” from ILR Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from ILR ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Image attributed to UC Davis College of Engineering (CC)

*Werner Eichhorst is affiliated with IZA. Núria Rodríguez-Planas is affiliated with Queens College of CUNY and the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). Ricarda Schmidl is affiliated with the University of Mannheim and IZA. Klaus F. Zimmermann is affiliated with IZA and Bonn University. We thank Costanza Biavaschi, Corrado Giulietti, Michael Kendzia, Alexander Muravyev, Victoria Finn, and Janneke Pieters for their input and support. Inquiries can be directed to nrodriguezplanas@gmail.com or Eichhorst@iza.org.

Book Review: Unions and Class Transformation: The Case of the Broadway Musicians

Unions and Class Transformation Book Cover

Unions and Class Transformation: The Case of the Broadway Musicians. Catherine P. Mulder; New York and London: Routledge, 2009, xiii + 147 pp. DOI: 10.1177/0486613415574474

Costas Panayotakis of New York City College of Technology recently took the time to review the book in the December 2015 issue of Review of Radical Political Economics. From the review:

One of the features of our age is the decline of organized labor. This decline has been especially dramatic in the United States and has led to numerous books and articles investigating its causes, effects, as well as the labor strategies that could reverse it. As many of these works have recognized, responsible for this decline are both the loss of industrial jobs as a result of new labor-saving technologies and capital’s increased ability to scour the global economy for cheap labor.

Catherine Mulder’s contribution to this problem is unique in a number of ways. First of all, it recounts the experience of Broadway RRPE 2015musicians. They are a segment of organized labor that goes beyond the usual suspects of unions within industrial manufacturing or even the public sector unions that have increasingly captured people’s attention as they have become the largest segment of unionized labor in the United States. While focusing on a segment of the labor force that does not figure prominently in scholarly analyses of organized labor, Mulder also makes clear that both the issues faced by Broadway musicians and the lessons that can be drawn from their experience are broadly relevant. In this respect, Mulder’s book constitutes a genuine contribution to the debate on the future of organized labor rather than simply a monograph on a union local that had not been studied in the past.

You can read the full review from Review of Radical Political Economics by clicking here. Like what you read? Click here to sign up for e-alerts and have all the research and reviews like this sent directly to your inbox!

What’s Really Wrong With the Economy?

As 2012 draws to a close, U.S. legislators are scrambling for a foothold at the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” but what led us there–and is there a real solution?

The latest issue of the Review of Radical Political Economics (RRPE) features insightful and innovative articles and book reviews on the current economic situation. Learn about the RRPE_v45_72ppiRGB_150pixWorigins of the financial crisis in the article by Dr. Bill  Lucarelli of the University of Western Sydney, “Financialization and Global Imbalances: Prelude to Crisis.” Listen as Michael Perelman discusses his article, “What Went Wrong: An Idiosyncratic Perspective on the Economy and Economics,” on the RRPE podcast, where the question is asked: can economists move us in the right direction?

Sign up for e-alerts from the Review of Radical Political Economics to stay abreast of the latest research covering all areas of political economy, and click here to learn more about the journal.