The Fragmentation of Social Conflicts in Western Europe. a Typology of Non-Institutionalized Labor Protests

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Seminarsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Steffen LIEBIG, Friedrich Schiller-University Jena, Institute of Sociology, Germany
Stefan SCHMALZ, Friedrich Schiller-University, Germany
During the last few years, Western Europe has experienced a new cycle of social unrest. This wave of conflict was caused by the financial and economic crisis since 2008/09 and the following austerity politics in EU member states. Besides economic recession, the crisis has led to severe social cuts, interventions into collective bargaining, and lower wages. Therefore, many of the recent struggles focus on social issues and the working environment. However, significant proportions of these conflicts such as bossnapping in French companies 2008/09 or riots in London 2011 and Stockholm 2013 take place outside the established institutions of industrial relations and the parliamentary system respectively. We argue that social conflicts in Western Europe increasingly fragmentize. As a result, there is a growing number of “non-institutionalized social conflicts”, which remind on former epochs of capitalism like 19th century industrialization or food riots in late 18th century. In order to make this hypothesis plausible, we apply a three-step argument: Firstly, we propose a theoretical framework that allows an appropriate explanation of the ongoing “barbarization of social conflict” (Honneth). We state that “institutional isolation” (Dahrendorf) of class conflict, which in the postwar period was established on three levels (welfare state and parliamentary system; sectoral collective bargaining; co-determination on the plant level), erodes today. This erosion of formerly well-established conflict facilitating institutions eventually leads to a greater appearance of “non-institutionalized social conflicts” characterized by a new repertoire of contention. We then, secondly, present a typology of these new conflicts consisting of (I) mass protests and political strikes, (II) plant occupations and (III) urban riots. Thirdly, we use original data from JenaConflictDataset (n=5521) to analyze frequency and distribution of these conflicts in the last decade. Additionally, two case studies of Germany and England for what qualitative data is adopted are briefly introduced.