Unlimited Free Access to Unscripted Voices of 21st Century Workers “On the Front Line”

gears-94220_640[We’re pleased to welcome Paul Brook, one of the editors of Work, employment, society. All 10 articles in the On the Front Line (OTFL) collection are being made permanently free as part of Work, employment and society’s wider commitment to public sociology.]

These powerful testimonies of employees’ accounts of their working lives form a series of vivid, ‘behind the scenes’, portraits of the contemporary world of work. Each story is told frankly and all brim with a rich mixture of hope, despair, enjoyment and anger, revealing the hidden, often harsh, realities of work in the 21st century.

These popular and compelling stories are being increasingly used for university teaching but can now be taken-up by schools, colleges and others keen to get ‘under the skin’ of today’s world of work and employment. In doing so, we hope to introduce individuals and groups outside of the academy, especially young people, to the richness of what C. Wright Mills called the “sociological imagination”.

F1.mediumThe OTFL collection includes accounts of the indignities of working as a cleaner in a luxury hotel; an activist’s story during a protracted factory strike; the dangerous health consequences for a slimming club consultant striving to ‘look the part’; the unremitting time demands on a supermarket manager; the endemic abuse and violence suffered by a trainee haute cuisine chef in Michelin starred kitchens; and the personal struggles of a pioneer woman priest.

OTFL also offers first-hand accounts of major political-industrial events, such as working inside HBOS bank during the 2008 financial crisis; a pit supervisor’s experience of Britain’s miners’ strike of 1984-85; organising inside the factory occupation movement as part of the Argentinian anti-IMF uprising of 2001-02; and the disturbing account of work under hazardous conditions in a Scottish plastics factory shortly before a devastating explosion that killed nine workers in 2004.

Unlike standard research articles, OTFL contributions are co-authored by the worker and an academic/s. Each one is preceded by a brief scene-setting commentary written by the academic. If you would like to write an OTFL article, the Work, employment and society website has guidance. You can also contact us to discuss your ideas further.

Making OTFL free access is part of Work, employment and society’s wider commitment to public sociology. We want to encourage more scholars to work with workers and employees, especially the less powerful, to help give voice to their hidden experiences and unheard views. We also want to make our small contribution to ensuring that workers’ experiences, views and ideas will not be consigned to the “enormous condescension of posterity”, as E.P. Thompson famously claimed was the fate of earlier generations of workers.

Book Review: Hazard or Hardship: Crafting Global Norms on the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

80140100093600LHazard or Hardship: Crafting Global Norms on the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work. By Jeffrey Hilgert . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press/ILR Press, 2013. 224 pp. ISBN 978-0-8014-5189-8, $45 (Cloth).

Read the review by Guy Mundlak of Tel Aviv University from the January 2015 issue of ILR Review.

“Workplace health and safety has now become an area of labor and employment relations that is ‘extensively regulated’ with ‘intense legislative activity worldwide’ in recent years” (p. 159). This apt observation by Jeffrey Hilgert can also account for the ILR_72ppiRGB_powerpointmarginalization of health and safety issues from the agenda of many labor scholars. Health and safety is often associated with technical standards on matters such as safety procedures on cranes or maximum exposure levels to toxic substances. Many scholars acknowledge that health and safety is important to human life, reaching into the heart of the labor rights–human rights intersection. Scholars of international labor law also pointed at the omission of health and safety from the roster of core labor standards in the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Few, however, are willing to plunge into the challenge to unveil the human rights dimension of what may seem a highly technical field.

In Hazard or Hardship, Hilgert provides a fascinating account of the missing link. This exploration of the link does not commence with a general theory of regulation or human rights, but instead with a very focused and seemingly minute corner of the health and safety field—the right to refuse unsafe work. The author begins the book with details, with stories, with human lives, and workers’ attempts to assert their rights; some were successful, many were not. Why focus on the right to refuse when so many other issues are at stake in the field, from standard setting, to enforcement, compensation, and rehabilitation? The reader is quickly initiated, learning that the right to refuse is a door through which many dilemmas are admitted and woven together in nonconcentric circles. The plot therefore involves multiple themes, ranging from the process of juridification and the substitution of collective bargaining with statutory rights, to the new policy-based regulatory trend in which fixed mandatory standards are replaced by processes in the workplace. The story flows from the individuals’ fight for health and safety to national legislation and adjudication, and to international standards. On the way, the author draws on fundamental concepts that are necessary for understanding governance of work—rights, power, commodification, and citizenship. This book is not for the technicians of health and safety, but rather for those who want to rethink the broader themes of labor governance, international labor law, and human rights.

You can read the rest of the review from ILR Review for free by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest research and reviews from ILR Review? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!