International Labour Process Conference 2014 Review

Dr Susan Sayce – Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, University of East Anglia, UK and Co-Editor-in-Chief of IPED.

Welcome to the review of the 32nd  international Labour Process Conference 2014. The conference took place on the banks of the River Thames in April at Kings College, London UK and 194 papers were accepted and 250 delegates registered. The labour process conference aim is to expand debate between theory and research in the labour process. While the focus can be on management , labour, political context, capitalism and so on it is how this impact on the workers themselves, their struggles their experiences as workers in a changing global market that also comes into focus.

To this end there were five special streams and two keynote speakers to help develop knowledge in this area. The keynotes were from Paul Edwards (University of Birmingham) who presented a master class in doing research in his paper ‘critical social science and emancipation some rules of engagement with policy and practices’  While Vicki Smith

(University of California, Davis) spoke impressively about how the recruitment process can be used to bolster the infrastructure of workplace to create ‘appropriate workers’ in her keynote ‘Controlling for consent: Recruitment as an under-theorized mechanism for control’.

 There were 5 major streams for this conference that explored:

  • Professional Work: Digital Technologies and new managerial practices
  • Reconceptualising employability through a labour process lens.
  • The Missing Manager: Management through a Labour Process lens
  • Occupational segregation in the global economy: Impacts across gender, ethnicity and immigration
  • Workplaces regimes and worker struggles in developing countries.

 The streams generated lots of international papers around both new contemporary themes such as using social media and tweeter in worker resistance to more classic themes such as developing employability and career making in a low wage labour market.  The missing manager theme generated lots of paper about the complexity of management in areas such NGOs and their labour process as well as how managers deal with conflict.

However, as an academic interested in equality and diversity it was the last two streams that I followed the most as authors discussed problems about work labour markets in transition. In one session we had a discussion about the corporatization of mining work in Peru, the difficulty of change in Russian mining towns and then moved straight to Venezuela to discuss the ‘modelo Obrero’ and its impact there.  International research also featured in the discussion of outsourcing and its destabilizing impact on work and representation in Brazil, India  and segmented workplaces in Korea. 

The stream on occupational segregation indicates the historical link between labour process frameworks in conjunction with feminist thinking to give research insight into topics such as domestic labour, the wages of housework within a global market amongst others.  Also there was a lot of interest in a group of papers that discussed the impact of trade liberalisation on job market dynamics and the challenges that this raised in diverse countries such as the Ukraine, Spain and Poland while one session discussed domestic partnership in Sweden, women’s work in the family business in the Japanese textile industry as well as intersectionality in the Turkish tomato industry focusing on women and Kurdish workers. 

The many doctoral contributors found the conference friendly and supportive as they exposed their research work to public scrutiny for the first time to receive useful feedback. Overall there was a real mix of theory and practice in the delegate’s contribution to the conference, which was both reassuring but also inspiring as one heard about the experiences of workers and their struggles elsewhere.

So see you in April 2015 at the 33rd International Labour Process Conference in Athens Greece. http://www.ilpc.org.uk/

Susan

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