Table of contents: "Making Change at Walmart" - Extending the Domain of the Struggle - An Apprenticeship under Tension - Between Exit and Voice - Working Class Origin as a Resource within Elites in France, the United States and India - In the Shadow of Recognition - Two Decades of Structural Transformation in the German Economy Read More
"Making Change at Walmart": Solidarity Unionism Takes on the Global Retailer
This article focuses on an emerging labor dispute within the retail giant Walmart, one of the foremost bastions of union-busting, at a particularly difficult time for the US labor movement. Through ethnographic research carried out during the Chicago Black Friday protests in November 2013, we will examine the structure and daily operations of the "Making Change at Walmart" campaign and the “Our Walmart” association. The study of the rhetorical and practical strategies employed by the workers and their supporters highlights a union-funded campaign conducted with multiple actors on many fronts. While this recent movement appears to contain the potential for going beyond the dominant model of bureaucratic unionism, which contributed to the decline of the US labor movement, it nevertheless harbors the risk of reproducing the same failings, i.e. turning into a mere service-provider for a limited section of the workforce.
Extending the Domain of the Struggle: The Internationalization of American Activist Expertise in the Labor Union Campaigns of Central America
In massively externalizing their production to the countries of the Global South, many Western companies have concealed from consumers the commonly illegal labor conditions that characterize work in factories engaged in international subcontracting. Going beyond campaigns to raise consumer awareness concerning these practices, in the 1980s American and international labor unions launched direct labor organizing campaigns targeting southern hemisphere workers employed in the sub-contracting factories of electronics and clothing multinationals, particularly Central American sweatshops. The present article describes the origin of this labor union repertory in the context of the externalization of production to the South, focusing on labor organization campaigns in Central America.
An Apprenticeship under Tension: Teaching Labor Unionists How to Go on Strike in France
How is activist expertise regarding the use of strikes transmitted in France's service sector? To respond to this question, I draw upon ethnographic observation of the training and activist support work carried out by one of the CGT's territorial labor union structures. In fact, in sectors lacking a robust tradition of labor union agitation, training for new activists in the techniques of labor union action mainly takes place in local spaces of labor union organization. I first consider the technical and political apprenticeships through which members are in various and competing ways initiated into the use of strikes. I then underscore the many factors that obstruct transmission of such practical activist expertise as well as the principles of activist action in the use of the strike. Two matters are thus considered here: on the one hand, the organizational limits of training labor union members in activist practices and the principles of action with which their confederation identifies; on the other hand, the impediments to expanding strikes in professional domains characterized by a low rate of labor union participation.
Claude Didry, Annette Jobert, Yi Zhenzhen
Between Exit and Voice: Labor Conflicts in Chinese Public Enterprises
This article is a study of the specificity of labor conflicts in contemporary Chinese public enterprises. Its analysis is based on comparison of two cases: a purely public enterprise and a joint-venture with a multinational group. The employee mobilizations studied here reveal significant evolution since the major restructuring of the 1990s. Labor law is no longer simply a tool in the service of business policy; it has become a resource used by employees to express their own interests. In open collective conflicts, it is seized upon in support of mobilization but it also allows for more individual strategies of mobility faced with what employees perceive as incoherent managerial policies. The discussion draws upon the classic exit/voice categories developed by Albert Hirschman to analyze the spectrum of mobilization, which ranges from open collective conflict to individual mobility.
Working Class Origin as a Resource within Elites in France, the United States and India
This study is based on 150 interviews carried out in three countries among individuals of working class origin who have experienced very rapid social advancement. My approach consists of three stages. First, I establish a typology of the many forms taken by attempts to rehabilitate their working class origins among those interviewed. Second, I draw upon this typology to open up avenues for reflecting on what makes it possible to present working class origins as a resource. In this respect, it would seem that the narrative skill with which this experience is recounted – a matter of genuine social competence – constitutes a decisive factor. The conception of working class origins as a resource is above all permitted by a process of mystification which seeks to obscure the fact that this value is the product of an effort of selfnarration. Third, I take a comparative approach to show that such individual strategies of narration remain extremely contingent on the cultural specificities of the countries in which they take place.
Lorenza Belinda Fontana
In the Shadow of Recognition: Identity Politics and Social Conflict in Bolivia
The recent political and constitutional reforms that gave birth to a new plurinational state model in Bolivia took place in the framework of a larger international debate over the “indigenous question”. Drawing upon a multidisciplinary and diachronic perspective as well as the findings of two years of field work in Bolivia, I underscore the effects these reforms – which may more generally be classified under broader “politics of recognition” – have had on processes of identity construction. I also examine how the relationship between identity and resource allocation has been consolidated in order to explain the process by which identity has been ethnicized, resulting in new conflicts between rural communities (indigenous people vs. peasants). Drawing upon the views expressed by individuals as well as their actions, I offer a (ontological and operational) critique of this type of politics and its effects on a social environment already marked by economic weakness and social exclusion.
Two Decades of Structural Transformation in the German Economy: Some Iconoclastic Lessons
Germany has long had a polycentric and voluntarist industrial policy centered on the medium term. Thanks to the outstanding structural and technological competitiveness of German industry, this country’s rulers have not had to pursue major structural reforms. Faced with the shock of reunification and the opening up of the country’s frontiers, they instead embarked on site-specific policies centered on the attractiveness of their territories. They thus decided to improve the cost-competitiveness of the eastern portion of the country via large scale liberal socio-fiscal reform. The country’s public finances were not spared the internal tensions of unification. On the eve of monetary unification, Germany’s leaders chose to thoroughly reform the West German model by way of budget austerity. This strategy was further extended following major European enlargement in 2004. The natural hinterland of the ex-RDA, German firms undertook productive reorganization at the continental level. The Lisbon strategy and the Stability and Growth Pact allowed the country’s leaders to reform the German model, an orientation that was legitimated by the financial crisis. In this configuration, the country pursues a mercantile industrial policy and socio-fiscal competition that are a source of deadly tension for the pursuit of European integration.