Research Committee on
Labor Movements, RC44

RC44 main page


Program Coordinator

Andreas BIELER, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom,

Number of allocated sessions including Business Meeting: 14.

Call for Abstracts
14 April 2015 - 30 September 2015 24:00 GMT

Anyone interested in presenting a paper should submit an abstract on-line to a chosen session of RC/WG/TG
on-line submissions
The abstract (300 words) must be submitted in English, French or Spanish.

Sessions in alphabetical order

Author Meet Their Critics

Session Organizer(s)
Alexander GALLAS, University of Kassel, Germany,
Rina AGARWALA, Johns Hopkins University, USA,

Session in English

The purpose of this session is to discuss in detail up to four recently published books by RC44 members. Any RC44 member, who has published a research monograph, either single-authored or co-authored, between January 2015 and April 2016, is invited to submit this book to Alexander Gallas at and Rina Agarwala at Four books depending on quality but also on contents to ensure a fairly coherent session will be selected for this session.
This session is organised by the editors of the Global Labour Journal. Since Autumn 2014, the Global Labour Journal has become the official journal of RC44, co-hosted by the Global Labour University and supported by the International Center for Development and Decent Work (ICDD) in Kassel and the Penn State Center for Global Workers’ Rights.


Economic Crises, Labour Movements and Resistance in Central and Eastern Europe

Session Organizer(s)
Adam MROZOWICKI, University of Wroclaw, Poland,

Session in English

Despite neoliberal transformations and cyclic economic crises in the last two decades, the intensity and scope of trade union mobilization and protests in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries have been rather limited. This was explained by the socialist legacies, structural labour weakness and the expansion of market-liberal workers’ subjectivities. Unsurprisingly, collective bargaining solutions to the consequences of the 2007+ global economic crisis have also been rare. Due to the weakness of social dialogue institutions, trade unions have tended to resort to unilateral strategies against austerity measures, involving organising, street protests and public campaigns targeting the issues of precarious jobs. In many countries, we have also observed collective mobilisation beyond traditionally understood employment relations in which the opposition against neoliberalism was framed in nationalistic terms. Simultaneously, the “exit” strategies through migration abroad have continued.
The goal of this session is to discuss the variety of workers’ individual and collective responses to the consequences of the 2007+ economic crisis. Can we observe the “disenchantment of market” in Eastern Europe? What are the relationships between labour movements and other social movements of protest? Were trade unions able to meet new challenges, such as the rise of new forms of precarious work, the decomposition of social dialogue institutions, mass migration abroad and the rise of nationalist movements?
We invite paper proposals which explore the sources, mechanisms and consequences of the emergent forms of workers’ resistance against neoliberalism in CEE countries. The papers presenting the results of comparative research are particularly welcome.


Economic Crisis and New Forms of Worker Organizing

Session Organizer(s)
Kim VOSS, University of California, Berkeley, USA,
Bryan EVANS, Ryerson University, Canada,
Maurizio ATZENI, Loughborough University, United Kingdom,

Session in English

The economic crisis that engulfed many countries beginning in 2008 has had profound and varying effects on worker organizing. According to a recent ILO World of Work report, strikes and street demonstrations increased in some countries and declined in others. Almost everywhere, however, traditional union structures and modes of politics have been challenged by a new reality. This session invites both theoretically engaged and empirically rich papers that examine new forms of worker organizing that have been experimented with in the course of the last decade.
Theoretically, we especially encourage papers that connect specific dynamics of the economic and political crisis to workers’ organization and mobilization. In both the Global North and South, people contend with deep insecurities of work and of life. Yet it remains unclear how these deep insecurities are articulated with the question of who, where and how capital is produced in historically and geographically uneven world regions or how different compositions of capital and politics create new subaltern groups, new collective subjectivities and new (or renewed) forms of struggles.
Empirically, we are interested in a wide range of campaigns by workers and community groups to redressing insecurity and low-wage work, from living and minimum wage struggles to innovative strategies of trade unionism to altogether new alternatives.


European Labour and the Struggle Against Austerity

Session Organizer(s)
Andreas BIELER, Nottingham University, United Kingdom,
Richard HYMAN, London School of Economics, United Kingdom,
Philippe POCHET, European Trade Union Institute, Belgium, PPochet@ETUI.ORG

Session in English

Since the onset of the Eurozone crisis, austerity has been increasingly pushed across the European Union (EU). The so-called Troika of Commission, European Central Bank and IMF imposed austerity directly on Greece, Portugal and Ireland in exchange for bailout packages. Nevertheless, the new economic governance structure around the Six Pack and Fiscal Compact has extended austerity to the other EU member states too. This also includes Eastern European members like Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary among others, which have experienced huge pressures for austerity.
Austerity has had a dramatic impact on European labour movements, partly because it has implied high unemployment and drastic cuts to income and working conditions of their members, partly because it often signified a direct attack on established trade unions rights. More broadly, it also included pressures to privatise public utilities and services. And yet, workers and trade unions have not simply accepted cuts and privatisation, but started to fight back. This is also expressed in Syriza’s electoral success in Greece.
This session is intended to bring together papers with a focus on different responses, different strategies of resistance to austerity by European labour movements. “Labour movement” has to be understood here in a broad sense beyond the formal sector and official trade unions as institutional expression, including also informal workers and different organisational forms of workers’ unrest. Papers can engage with particular labour movements, sectoral trade unions or struggles based on broader alliances between trade unions and social movements.


Gender, Precarious Work, and Labor Organizing

Session Organizer(s)
Ruth MILKMAN, CUNY Graduate Center, USA,

Session in English

Gender is a defining feature of precarious and informal work in the 21st century. Women have long been disproportionately concentrated in temporary, casual, seasonal, part-time, and contract work. Recently, men’s jobs also have begun to resemble those once relegated to women, as traditional forms of employment security as well as labor rights and legal protections have been eroded. A growing literature examines the gendered dimension of these expanding types of work, but the gender dynamics of collective efforts to challenge precarity and informality have received far less attention.
This session will focus on the relationship of gender to collective action repertoires among precarious/informal workers, and on the ways in which the organizations they have are gendered. In contrast to traditional labor unions, such organizations are disproportionately led by women, address concerns traditionally associated with women workers, and adopt strategies that appeal to women. This is often the case even when the workers involved are predominantly male.
The session will explore these new forms of organizing in the United States, South Africa, India, and South Korea. We will center the session on two key questions: How does precarious/informal worker organizing vary cross-nationally among countries with distinct political regimes, gender arrangements, trade union structures, and levels of economic development? What is the role of gender in structuring work and organizing strategies among precarious/informal workers, and why have organizations of these workers been led disproportionately by women?


Labour, Nature and Corporate Strategy: Resolving Core Contradictions

Session Organizer(s)
Nora RÄTHZEL, Umea University, Sweden,
David PEETZ, Griffith University, Australia,
David UZZELL, University of Surrey, United Kingdom,

Session in English

Fossil-fuel based economies are having a serious, potentially irreversible effect on the climate and thus on human life. Simultaneously, we experience a labour crisis, characterised by hundreds of millions of people unemployed and widespread precarious employment. So the two most fundamental crises are the environmental crisis and the labour crisis, and there are two critical contradictions to be faced. 
First, many scholars and activists concerned about environmental degradation advocate zero growth, while those on the side of labour are engaged in strategies for economic growth. Between both we find a smaller group of scholars and trade unionists drawing up scenarios of “green growth”. They are caught between a rock and a hard place: the demands of workers for jobs now, not in any distant future and the relentless growth strategies of governments worldwide.
Second, unions and employees are, simultaneously, antagonists of and collaborators with capital, and deeply affected by the actions of corporations and their impacts on the climate. Yet the ways in which they can influence corporate priorities and strategies on seemingly non-industrial issues – particularly those relating to the climate crisis – are unclear. 
This session therefore asks: how can labour and environmental activists resolve the growth contradiction? Second, how can labour influence the strategies of corporations on climate change issues, and what conditions facilitate such influence? In both respects, what are the opportunities for alliances, with whom and under what circumstances? Scholars from different disciplines and trade unionists will discuss possible solutions to these contradictions.


Mining, Labour and the Contemporary Struggles for a Better World

Session Organizer(s)
Ercüment ÇELIK, University of Freiburg, Germany,
Andries BEZUIDENHOUT, University of Pretoria, South Africa,

Session in English

The deaths (or killing) of the striking mineworkers in the Marikana area in South Africa in 2012 and of the mineworkers in the country’s worst-ever mining disaster in Soma, Turkey in 2014 call for renewed attention to labour in the mining industry worldwide.
With the so-called objective of investing in new technologies and modernising mines, many governments implement policies towards privatisation of mines, which have so far resulted in mass retrenchments of workers and worsening of employment conditions, as well as the deterioration of mining health and safety conditions (particularly in coal mining) and increasing damage to the natural environment and livelihoods in mining areas (particularly in gold mining). Faced with these challenges, a switch away from the traditionally most powerful unions on the mines, to the new, more militant unions is being experienced. Moreover, an increase in the number of wildcat strikes are observed.  
In light of this, the proposed session seeks to generate a renewed discussion on labour in mining industry and to explore challenges and prospects of mineworkers and trade unions in their struggle for a better world. Papers are welcome on the following themes:


Movements on the Job: Theorizing Strikes and Workplace Protest in Comparative Context

Session Organizer(s)
Chris RHOMBERG, Fordham University, USA,

Session in English

Can workers still act collectively in the workplace to achieve lasting change? The strike has long been recognized as one of the most important ways that workers’ movements can mobilize to exercise power. Strike theory, however, is badly in need of an overhaul. Emerging in the post-World War Two era along with the institutionalization of collective bargaining in advanced capitalist countries, it viewed strikes as a routinized tactic within mature systems of Fordist industrial relations.
As workplaces have changed and those systems have experienced varying levels of decline, the power of the traditional strike has been challenged. Yet some unions have continued to win notable victories, new forms of job-based action have emerged, and there has been an upsurge of militancy in developing countries without a broad base or history of institutionalized collective bargaining.
These events highlight the changing forms and meanings of workplace mobilization, and call for a revival of theory from a broader comparative perspective. Among the questions to be considered on this session are:


RC44 Business Meeting

Session in English


RC44 Roundtable Session

Session Organizer(s)
Bridget KENNY, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa,
Rebecca GUMBRELL-MCCORMICK, Birkbeck College, United Kingdom,
Nobuyuki YAMADA, Komazawa University, Japan,
Sarah SWI

Session in English

This session brings together six parallel roundtables. When you submit a paper proposal online, please specify to which roundtable it is.


Transformations in Labor Politics in the Global South

Session Organizer(s)
Eli FRIEDMAN, Cornell University, USA,

Session in English

The initial decades of the 21st century have seen the comparative evolution of labor politics in the Global South break out of the conventional analytical frames developed in the final decades of the 20th century.
In the 1980’s Brazil, Korea and South Africa were considered dynamic new models for labor’s political role in the South. Today, however, the political role of South Africa’s labor movement is an example of chaotic conflict, critics of the Brazilian labor movement see it in grave danger of slipping into a corrupt corporatist complacency, and the Korean labor movement seems to be checkmated by a combination of factionalism and repression. 
At the same time, insurgency is breaking out in labor movements in repressive but economically dynamic regimes like China and Vietnam. In India, formal sector trade unions continued to be fragmented and mired in political factionalism and attention has shifted to organization in the informal sector. 
It is clearly time for re-thinking old comparative frameworks for dealing with labor politics in the Global South. What do the different political trajectories of labor movements at the national level suggests for divergence (or convergence) of national trajectories in terms of democratization or social protection? What do they suggest in terms of the overall global prospects of labor? Equally important, what kinds of revisions do they require of traditional conceptual categories like “corporatism” or “social movement unionism” and what new conceptual frames do they suggest?


Using Global Comparisons to Understand 21st Century Labor Movements among Informal Workers

Session Organizer(s)
Rina AGARWALA, Johns Hopkins University, USA,

Session in English

In the 20th century, massive labor movements transformed work to regulate and protect it. But in the century’s closing decades, firm subcontracting, government deregulation, and large-scale migration flows contributed to a shift of large areas of work outside labor laws. Traditional labor unions have had difficulty organizing such workers, and have lost density and power. Now new labor movements of informal workers have increasingly taken up the slack, building associational and symbolic power.
Cross-national comparisons have greatly advanced our understanding of formally protected workers’ labor movements. Recent research on informal worker organizing, however, has largely been limited to country-level case studies.
This session aims to push research on contemporary informal workers’ movements forward by inviting papers that highlight cross-cutting themes across multiple countries and sectors. The session seeks to address the following questions:

The session would build in part on an existing comparative research network spanning Brazil, Canada, Central America, China, India, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and the United States. Sectors under consideration include textiles, construction, street vending, domestic work, and waste picking. We also seek to include practitioners.


Joint Sessions

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

Careworkers Organizing Challenges, Strategies and Successes

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


Migrant Labor and Development in Comparative Perspective: Lessons from the Chinese Case

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


Silos or Synergies? Can Labor Build Effective Alliances with Other Global Social Movements?

Joint session of RC44 Labor Movements [host committee] and RC47 Social Classes and Social Movements





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International Sociological Association
April 2015