Power to the Workers?
Labor Struggles and Representation in a Post-Corporatist Era
Author: Preminger, Jonathan , email@example.com
Department: Sociology and Anthropology
University: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
Supervisor: Prof. Uri Ram
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English
, organized labor
Areas of Research:
, Economy and Society
This study investigates the public status of organized labor in Israel following the weakening of neocorporatism (the Labor Movement regime) and the increasing hegemony of the neoliberal capitalist approach to the formation of sociopolitical policies, from the 1980s onwards. It has two main objectives: (1) to investigate the new organizing initiatives and recent workers’ struggles, which have been subject to few detailed analyses in the existing literature; and (2) to understand organized labor’s social and political status in Israel today. However, given the critical role of organized labor in Israel’s history and its central position in the Zionist project, this research has an additional objective: (3) to investigate organized labor’s relationship to the political community and its current “nationalist political” role. Thus my main research question is: Following the decline of the Israeli (Zionist) variant of neocorporatism, what is the status of organized labor in Israel today, and what is its current role in the representation of workers in the Israeli socio-political regime?
In addition, I ask how organized labor is struggling against the forces and processes which are depoliticizing it and pushing it out of the political arena, and what the implications and consequences of this struggle are.
The research concludes that Israeli society has completely abandoned organized labor as the vehicle for the national project. The ethos which linked the working class identity to the national identity has disappeared, sharpening the line between labor and capital and opening the way to class-based organizing. However, paradoxically this has happened in parallel with another, contrary, process: the status of “worker” is becoming increasingly complex, dynamic and sometimes contradictory. As labor rights are increasingly intermingled on a conceptual and practical level with other concerns drawn from the human rights discourse, work and workers are increasingly mixed up in other issues and struggles. Similarly, as non-union organizations spread into traditionally union territory, the privileged position of the workers is undermined. Thus the traditional boundaries of organizing and representation – within which unions once staked their claim – are increasingly porous, and it becomes increasingly hard to define “labor” as a separate sphere with its own particular interests and demands.
In short, organized labor has moved from being a legitimate political player to being on the defensive. The central premises of corporatism have been rejected by the State and eroded by labor market developments which have been promoted by political and economic elites. The corporatist structures at all levels have been undermined, leaving organized labor fighting a rearguard battle. Organized labor is in an unsettled period: the new initiatives on the margins, the new organizations and alliances which have blurred the boundaries of the “sphere of labor” have not (yet) consolidated into clear structures of representation or even into accepted patterns of political behavior. Meanwhile organized labor is trying to renegotiate its place vis-à-vis the “old” social partners, the new organizations, and a public which, mostly, does not identify itself as “workers” and does not accept labor’s claim to represent it.