"Balancing the “Gig Economy” Spirit? How Local Labor Unions Cope with Workforce Atomization & Entrepreneurial Culture "

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
David SANSON, Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) - Lyon, France
Amongst numerous disruptions, the usually-called “gig-economy” strikingly reinforced the development of individualized working relationships. This is particularly salient in traditional industries, where “up-to-date” managerial instruments deeply affect the well-established social order, based on power of collectives and the prevalence of unions in social contestation. In this study, we highlight some consequences of new forms of appraisal developed in a factory after a recent merger. We focus on the reshaping of power-resistance relationships, shedding light on the processes through which performance reviews restrain collective contestations from traditionally mobilized and unionized workers, while enhancing individual commitment and “consent” at work.

We therefore question factory workforces ‘modalities of “fighting”, while unions, collectives and solidarities have been deeply affected by these individual assessments. We focus on the varied and differentiated nature of conflictualities and labor movements, all the more ambiguous as they react to new types of domination, challenging local unions in their traditional ability to lead and canalize mobilizations. This presentation will draw on an ethnography conducted since 2014 in a French industrial company, “working-class bastion” with historically well-established “politicized” unions. Our data consist in 67 interviews with a broad panel of employees, numerous observations and diverse archive documents.

The study suggests how, behind a rhetoric of freedom and autonomy, the competitive context leads to a “constrained compliance” containing collective actions through workforce atomization and the slow erosion of solidarity. We also study the “gig-economy” spirit simultaneously endorsed by management promoting flexibility and producing consent by shaping workers as entrepreneurial selves, acculturated to individual reading grids of organizational reality, thereby de-legitimizing conflicts, social demands or protests. We therefore analyze the differentiated forms of resistance they can collectively oppose to these constraints, to understand whether unions can still mobilize and unify dispersed workers, so as to produce effective counter-speeches channeling fragmented complaints against management.