The unionisation of precarious workers : representations, problematisation and experiences in Swedish blue-collar unions in the construction and hotel-restaurant sectors

University essay from Mälardalens högskola/Akademin för hälsa, vård och välfärd

Abstract: From the Polanyian perspective on the double movement of labour commodification and self-protection of Society, the aim of this study was to examine how unionists perceive and problematise precarious employment and what are their practices for unionising and thereby securing precarious workers. A double case study was conducted in the hotel-restaurant and construction sectors in Sweden with the participation of blue-collar unionists with diverse backgrounds and experiences. The results show that precarious work is associated with labour market segmentation, subcontracting and fragmentation of economic organisations, deskilling of work, loss of autonomy and sometimes over-qualification of workers. Perceived difficulties for unionisation are fear, lack of knowledge of precarious workers about their rights, membership cost, status frustration and lack of interactions with other workers. Reported practices for unionising precarious workers consist of dealing with these barriers in order to build trustful relations and empowering workers through education and inclusion in leadership positions. Actions taken to protect and secure precarious workers are strongly interlinked with their unionisation and seem to rest mainly on negotiations. The main conclusions of the study are that precarious work means a loss of control by workers over their work life stemming from labour commodification and flexibilisation due to increased management control and lack of rights and protections surrounding work. The formation of solidarities needed for unionisation is hindered by the detachment of precarious workers from the work community and by inequality regimes. The domination of fear manifests the prevalence of emotions. Therefore, the care and emotional work of unionists is essential for making workers feel confidence. Unions practices tend to lean also, to some extent, towards organising and community building models. Thereby, union agency appears to be able to engage in an interplay with structures to exert some influence on employment and industrial relations.

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