ISA World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan, July 2014

Research Committee on
Labor Movements, RC44

RC44 main page

Program Coordinators

Number of allocated sessions including Business Meeting: 18.


For sessions program and schedule see

On-line congress program


Asian Labor Insurgency

Session Organizer
Eli FRIEDMAN, Cornell University, USA,

Session in English

Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, Asia’s relative weight in the global economy has expanded dramatically. As this region captures an increasing share of the world’s growth, there has been a corresponding increasing in the dynamism and global import of labor as a political actor. But the contours of worker struggles look quite different in contemporary Asia than was the case in earlier developers in Europe and the Americas, both because of deeper global integration and distinct internal politics.

This session will seek to explore how labor politics in Asia are distinct from countries that industrialized in an earlier period as well as to assess the differences and similarities between countries within Asia. Not only does labor insurgency in East Asia manifest itself in different configurations than it does in other regions, but there are also distinctive challenges and responses in each East Asian country. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam have all witnessed labor militancy, but it has peaked in different time periods and had different organizational and ideological characteristics in each case.

Finally, we will pay special attention to how labor politics in Asia have changed since the onset of the crisis and attempt to draw some implications for the future of globalization.


Authors Meet their Critics
Three New Perspectives in Global Labour Studies. Session with Rina Agarwala, Ruy Braga and Jamie McCallum

Session Organizers
Jennifer Jihye CHUN, University of Toronto, Canada,
Peter B. EVANS, University of California-Berkeley, USA,

Session in English

Not open for submission of abstracts
This session brings three important new books in the field of global labour studies in dialogue with each other: Each book focuses on a new agent of capitalist transformation – from informal and precarious workers to global unions – and examines how they attempt to reconfigure the balance of power between labour, capital and the state in particular local and national contexts. Each book also provides critical theoretical and empirical insight into kinds of economic and political challenges facing workers and labour unions in the new global order, paving the way for the development of new areas of research inquiry.

This session will not only bring the authors together with its critics, but it will also bring authors in dialogue with each other in an innovative panel format.


Building Global Worker Communities among Migrant Worker Diasporas

Session Organizers
Elizabeth TANG, International Domestic Workers Network, China,

Session in English

Transnational migrant diasporas have created new global communities of workers. Increasingly, these communities are learning how to act collectively across borders and within a variety of national contexts to defend labor rights, often times where states and conventional labour organizations have failed to do so, but at other times in collaboration with unions or other labour organizations. This kind of organizing can take different forms. In some cases, political organizations have developed nodes in a variety regional and national contexts to form complex transnational organizational networks that demand that sending and receiving governments provide better working conditions and rights protections for migrant workers.

In other cases, unions and community organizations have innovated their organizational practices and membership boundaries to support new global communities of workers. Even in cases when transnational communities are much more fragmented, home countries experiences and transnational communities make a crucial contribution to the ability of migrant workers to organize.

This session will bring together papers that analyze the role of diasporas in organizing workers around the world, enabling a comparative discussion of their dynamics and effectiveness in different sectors and different national contexts.


Chinese Workers in the Global Economy: Structural Conditions and Agency of Resistance

Session Organizers
Andreas BIELER, Nottingham University, United Kingdom,
Ngai PUN, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China,

Session in English

Chinese development is widely considered to be an example of successful developmental catch-up with double-digit growth rates year on year. Some even talk of an emerging power, which may in time replace the US as the global economy`s hegemon. And yet, there is a dark underside to this miracle in the form of workers` long hours and widespread super exploitative working conditions. This has resulted in rising levels of industrial conflict across China.

The purpose of this session is twofold:
  1. to assess the way China has been integrated into the global economy to understand better the basis of these economic growth rates, but also to investigate how the exploitative working conditions are linked into global production structures
  2. to analyse new forms of resistance be it through the state trade union All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), be it through informal labour NGOs.
Hence, we are interested in three different types of contributions to this session:
  1. papers that concentrate on the structural dynamics of Chinese production in the global economy
  2. papers that focus on resistance to the exploitative working conditions in China
  3. papers that investigate the connections between structural conditions and agency of resistance


Closing the Enforcement Gap: Improving Employment Standards for Workers in Industrialized Market Economies and Beyond

Session Organizer
Leah VOSKO, York University, Canada,

Session in English

This panel/workshop will explore the nature and dimensions of the employment standards (ES) enforcement gap and workers’ organizing efforts to close this gap. It will explore developments, on the one hand, in industrialized market economies (e.g., Canada, the United States, Australia, the UK and Ireland) where, in response to the decline of the standard employment relationship (SER), there is a growing body of research investigating the problems of workers in precarious jobs and, on the other hand, in Asian and Latin American contexts, where the SER never operated as a normative model of employment. 

We seek papers that discuss the nature and scope of ES violations as well as the evasion, erosion and abandonment of minimum standards; survey alternative models of enforcement; explore employers` responses to changes in ES enforcement.


Confronting the Challenge of Global Corporate Empires

Session Organizers
Bridget KENNY, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa,
Carolina BANK MUNOZ, CUNY Brooklyn College, USA,

Session in English

From Wal-Mart to G4S to Foxconn, workers confront global corporate empires whose operations and economic power extend around the world. Global corporate actors restructure local economies and connection them to global economic networks in new ways. They empires present new challenges to worker solidarity, within and between countries, but they also create opportunities for new forms of resistance.

This panel will compare differences and similarities across a range of national settings in the effects of global corporate strategies on industrial organization, labor relations and state regulatory contexts. It will examine union and worker responses, with the aim of generating more nuanced and systematic analyses that can facilitate global labour solidarity. Papers dealing with country specific examples in retailing, wholesaling, supply chains, service provision are encouraged.


Geopolitical Turmoil and the Fate of the Labor Movement in the 21st Century: A Dialogue with Beverly Silver

Session Organizer
Peter EVANS, University of California-Berkeley, USA,

Session in English


Mobilizing at the Margins: Comparing Informal Worker Organizing Around the World

Session Organizer
Sarah MOSOETSA, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa,

Session in English

Informal workers (those not receiving standard labor protections and work-connected social benefits) make up an estimated half to three-quarters of the non-agricultural workforce in the global South. Estimates for richer countries run about one-fifth of the nonfarm workforce. Just as important, the proportion of precarious informal workers is growing across a broad spectrum of countries, from the US, Europe, to Latin America and Asia, contradicting expectations that informality was a vestige of past forms of production that would be left behind in a process of modernization.

Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that the greatest challenge facing those concerned with decent work and job quality around the world is finding ways to bolster the quality of informal work. Solidarities build around community membership, gender or ethnic identities almost always play a role in creating the capacity for organized collective action among precarious informal workers, but nation-specific economic, political, and social factors give rise to particular organizing and alliance strategies and condition their odds of success.

This session will place informal worker organizing in a broad comparative context by bringing together studies from Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as the global North.


No Borders, No Boundaries: Organizational Changes, Strategic Innovations and Prospects for a Global Labour Movement

Session Organizers
Michele FORD, University of Sydney, Australia,
Michael GILLAN, University of Western Australia, Australia,
Jamie MCCALLUM, Middelbury University, USA,

Session in English

The contours of the global labour movement are being reshaped by a surge of global campaigns, renovations of the organizational structures of global union organizations and the emergence of new organizational forms. Unions and non-traditional labour organizations are collaborating on long-term campaigns to organize within some of the largest corporations on earth. This has included efforts to win global framework agreements, codes of conduct, and social clause provisions.

This panel seeks to assess the divergent strategies currently employed to unite workers across national boundaries ,focusing on both the opportunities and the constraints for the emergence of effective transnational labour networks, with special attention to the relationship between domestic context (inclusive of institutional settings and trade union forms and repertoires) and global labour actors, both traditional and non-traditional. The organisers particularly invite contributions from researchers investigating multi-scalar campaigns and organising initiatives and relations between labour organisations and other actors in global civil society.


Organizing East Asia`s Precarious Workers

Session Organizers
Xin TONG, Peking University, China,
Nobuyuki YAMADA, Komazawa University, Japan,

Session in English

The expansion of precarious work is an endemic problem for workers across East Asia, but the challenge and the efforts to organize responses to it take different forms in different countries. In China, informal employment, outside of the reach and/or grasp of existing labor laws such as 2008’s Contract Labor Law, has exploded and the All China Federation of Trade Unions, the state-and-party-affiliated lone labor federation in China not offered an effective response, but on the margins, a lively set of labor NGOs serving, advocating for, and organizing informal workers has arisen.

Japan’s stagnating economy has also pushed workers, especially young workers, into precarious employment relations, and these workers have also shown remarkable resilience in creating new organizations, such as “individually-affiliated unions” to improve their lot. Korea and other smaller East Asian countries have also witnessed creative responses to the challenges of precarity.

This panel aims to bring together analyses of experiences in organizing precarious informal workers in East Asia to explore both distinctive national patterns and commonalities.


Precarious Employment Regimes: Divergent Trajectories of Regulation and Union Mobilization

Session Organizers
Bridget KENNY, Witwatersrand University, South Africa,
Iain CAMPBELL, RMIT University, Australia,

Session in English

Precarious employment has come to characterize a significant trend in diverse labour markets. Categories of work that fall short of the rights and entitlements in a ‘standard employment relation’ are growing in importance in many countries, and scholars such as Guy Standing argue that these categories underpin the emergence of a new global precariat.  Yet amongst the common trends are significant differences, especially at a national and sub-national level, where differences reflect the continued legacy of distinct historical trajectories of regulation and worker mobilization. These differences have substantial implications for the way in which workers and their organizations can pursue policies and politics in the present day to combat precarious work. 

This panel seeks to gather together scholarship linking regulatory processes to the emergence of particular regimes of precarious employment. It aims to provoke discussion that can tease out differences and similarities in the distinct configurations of casual, contract, temporary, part-time and irregular work found in different places. It is particularly interested in exploring contexts where new forms of precarious work such as ‘casual’, ‘temporary’ work or ‘irregular’ work are becoming dominant. 

We encourage papers that are sensitive to the different realities lurking under common labels such as ‘casual’ work and that examine the trajectories of regulation as well as trade union mobilization and negotiation and worker politics.  Ultimately we aim to provide a platform for renewed debate around contemporary politics of labour market reform.


Precarious Work and Employment Risks in East Asia

Integrative Session: RC02 Economy and Society, RC44 Labor Movements and RC30 Sociology of Work
Not open for submission of abstracts.


RC44 Business Meeting


RC44 Roundtable IA: Labor Sociology in Capitalist Peripheries

Session Organizer
Adam MROZOWICKI, University of Wroclaw, Poland,

Session in English

This panel aims at comparing experiences and developing support networks among labor sociologists in central, peripheral and semi-peripheral countries across the globe. We particularly focus on capitalist peripheries and invite scholars/activists who undertake attempts to labor sociology under hostile conditions of authoritarian and post-authoritarian and new neoliberal regimes.

We hope that discussion during the panel will provide insights into mechanisms of rebirth of labor sociology in the countries in which it was repressed in the past (e.g. as a result of authoritarian socialism or military dictatorships) and thereafter became a subject of neoliberal attacks. Our goal will be to document similarities and differences across the countries in the centre and peripheries of capitalist system with respect to the situation of labor sociology and to discuss the possibilities of its revitalization in cooperation with labor activists, community groups and social movements.

The socio-historical analyses of local and transnational cooperation between sociologists and labor activists and the case studies of good practices of such cooperation at the present moment in peripheral and semi-peripheral regions of world capitalist system are particularly welcome.


RC44 Roundtable IB: Structural and Associational Power in the New Global Order

Session Organizer
Jamie MCCALLUM, University of Middelbury, USA,

Session in English

How have shifts in the global political economy reshaped the power resources of workers and their organizations? The common answer is that globalization has undermined labor’s prospects at the local level, and successfully guarded against cooperation at the global level. Indeed, even the leading global and national unions are still declining in density and grappling with how to successfully respond to conditions commonly associated with neoliberal globalization. But, recent scholarship suggests that other dynamics are at play as well. Certain types of global industrial developments, including the “logistics revolution” may enable workers to exploit the vulnerabilities of a globalizing capitalist order and exercise structural power. At the same time, workers in certain locations, especially the service sector, have found new ways to use symbolic power to make new claims on employers and states.

This roundtable seeks to evaluate the different sources of power that workers can access depending on their location in the global political economy. Factors to be considered might include regional/national location, industrial/sectoral settings, existing union structures, legal and political structures and local labor histories.


RC44 Roundtable IC: Global Capitalism, Uneven Development, and Local Labor Regimes in Comparative and World-Historical Perspective

Session Organizers
Lu ZHANG, University of Temple, USA,
Phillip HOUGH, University of Florida Atlantic, USA,

Session in English

This session will bring together research and analysis that explores the ways in which the spatial-temporal uneven development of global capitalism are transforming the nature of work and employment and producing divergent forms of labor oppression and resistance in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as in the Global North.

Contributors are particularly encouraged to put the present economic crisis and restructuring and its impact on workers and their movements in comparative and world-historical perspective, with the ultimate goal of rethinking the relationship between capital and labor, the waged and unwaged, the employed and jobless, and the linkage between land, labor, and livelihood.


RC44 Roundtable ID: Promoting Worker Organizing and Social and Economic Justice through Activist-Scholar Research Collaborations

Session Organizer
Jenny CHAN, University of London Royal Holloway, United Kingdom,

Session in English

How does research promote worker organizing and social and economic justice? This roundtable will discuss collaborative efforts by scholars and activists to develop action-oriented research projects. We invite participants with a range of research experience with workers and worker organizations, including but not limited to hands-on, community-based research, strategic campaign research, policy-oriented research, popular education, and participatory action research. We will discuss best practices models for how academics and practioners can work together to achieve common goals and the use of diverse media outlets (e.g. social media, more traditional news media, etc.) to disseminate research findings.

We will also discuss how power dynamics in the research relationship and organizational structures influence scholar-activist research collaborations.


RC44 Roundtable IE: Does Economic Growth Mean Ecological Catastrophe? Challenges for Labour?

Session Organizers
Nora RATHZEL, Umea University, Sweden,
Jacklyn COCK, Wits University, South Africa,
David UZZELL, University of Surrey, United Kingdom,

Session in English

The proposed session would be structured around one question: How is the labour movement responding to the crisis in nature? Labour movements all over the world are responding very differently to the crisis in nature. This crisis is deepening and one aspect – climate change – is having devastating consequences on the working class in the form of rising food prices, crop failures, water shortages and displacement from extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.

At the same time the increasing marketisation of nature in the name of `the green economy` is providing new sources of accumulation for capital.The global impact of these events raises important questions about attempts to conceptualise differences between the global North and South, notions such as `the environmentalism of the poor` and `Southern Theory`. The central question is open enough to allow for a variety of very different theoretically informed and empirically based papers.


RC44 Roundtable IIA: Redefining the Spaces of Politics: Gender, Migration, Subjectivity and Affect

Session Organizer
Rina Agarwala, Johns Hopkins University, USA,

Session in English


RC44 Roundtable IIB: Precarious Labour: Perspectives from Europe

Session Organizer
Kim Voss, University of California Berkeley, USA,

Session in English


RC44 Roundtable IIC: Challenges of Building Labor’s Collective Strength in Asia

Session Organizer
Eli Friedman, Cornell University, USA

Session in English


RC44 Roundtable IID: Informally-Employed Workers Engaging Capital and the State: From Neighbourhoods to Public Spaces

Session Organizer
Sarah Mosoetsa, Wits University, South Africa,

Session in English


RC44 Roundtable IIE: New Organizing Strategies for Confronting Gender Bias and Discrimination for Women Workers

Session Organizer
Akira SUZUKI, Hosei University, Japan,

Session in English

New strategies and institutional channels are being used to challenge on-going gender disparities in wages, working conditions, and employment relations and job security.

This session seeks papers that examine how various organizations, including unions, community organizations and women’s organizations, are using innovative strategies to support the struggles of women workers against gender-based discrimination, especially discrimination against women in lower-paid, non-standard forms of employment.

Gender discrimination is a particularly acute problem in East where the gender pay gap is the highest among all OECD countries, normative gender roles restrict women’s labour force participation and career mobility, and male-dominated unions tend to neglect and sometimes actively perpetuate gender-based employment discrimination.

Therefore, papers dealing with Japan, Korea and other countries in the East Asian region are particularly encouraged, although focusing on other regions and national contexts are welcomed.


The Global Migration of Gendered Care Work. Part II

Integrative Session: RC02 Economy and Society, RC32 Women in Society and RC44 Labour Movements
Not open for submission of abstracts.


The Politics of the Precariat: A Dialogue with Guy Standing

Session Organizer
Marcel PARET, University of Johannesburg, South Africa,

Session in English


Workers’ Livelihood Struggles and New Collectivities in the Global South

Session Organizers
Shruti TAMBE, University of Pune, India,
Sanjukta MUKHERJEE, DePaul University, USA,
Kiran MIRCHANDANI, University of Toronto, Canada,

Session in English

This panel explores newly emerging patterns of labour struggle and mobilization which have manifested in the newly industrializing countries of the global south including Latin America, Africa and South, East and South-East Asia. As neoliberalism makes inroads in new sectors, the survival-livelihood issues have become more pertinent. Basic livelihoods are challenged and labour politics takes new forms. It is important to flesh out the details of these processes in particular contexts, so that some broad trends of labour mobilisation can be discerned.

The papers in this session explore questions like: How has neoliberalism impacted the labor and livelihoods of people in different sectors and regions? What are the various forms of labor struggles in response to neoliberalism? What is the scope of collective action around particular labor issues? What kinds of new collectivities with common political attributes emerge in these contexts? What are the cultural particularities of these collectivities in different regions of the global south?


Joint Sessions

Click on the session title to read its description and the scheduled day/time.

Intimate Labor in Asia

Joint session of RC32 Women in Society and RC44 Labor Movements [host committee]


Labor and Environmental Movements

Joint session of RC44 Labor Movements and RC48 Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change [host committee]


Land and Labor in the Global Political Economy

Joint session of RC02 Economy and Society and RC44 Labor Movements [host committee]


Organizing the Production of Alternative Visions to Support Social and Eco-Justice

Joint session of RC02 Economy and Society [host committee] and RC44 Labor Movements


The Global Migration of Gendered Care Work

Joint session of RC02 Economy and Society , RC19 Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy [host committee] and RC44 Labor Movements


Unionism and the Critique of the Work Organization. Syndicalisme et critique de l`organisation du travail. Part I

Joint session of RC30 Sociology of Work [host committee] and RC44 Labor Movements



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June 2014