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Labor, Urbanization

Good jobs, nae jobs, bad jobs: Skills, workfare and struggles over work. Alternative Economy Strategy seminar.

Political concerns over work and employment in recent years have firmly centred around two main issues. Firstly, training policy has increasingly focussed on questions concerning skills and individual employability. New skills sets are ostensibly required to fulfil the needs of a restructured post-industrial and knowledge economy with their emphasis on soft skills as individual attributes.

Glasgow: Real Work Experience
Glasgow: Real Work Experience (Thanks to thinkpublic)

These have almost entirely eclipsed a shortage of skilled manual workers and the diminished institutional capacity to afford training opportunities in such skills. Secondly, the criminalisation of social policy has seen existing benefits and welfare systems being replaced by increasingly punitive and conditional ones. These are geared towards delivering individuals into work and training with little care about the quality of such ‘opportunities’. Here, the successive waves of new deals for unemployed, young people, lone parents, ex-prisoners and now the restructuring of Incapacity Benefits to the Employment and Support Allowance are marking a deepening of workfare approaches.

Against this backdrop, an increased level of union activity and militancy is becoming noticeable, especially in the public sector where working and training conditions are under attack through privatisation initiatives and moves to introduce greater market discipline. There has also been a growing movement for decent wages and conditions for lower paid workers more generally, evidenced by the living wage campaign in the UK, an idea itself transplanted from the US.

Critical questions that arise here are the extent to which work, employment and its absence might give rise to forms of resistance, agency and progressive struggles in broader processes of restructuring. These range from individual interventions to collective organisation with or without traditional unions. More specifically, we are interested in the following questions: what is there to fight for in the politics of work? What is meant by a ‘good’ job? To what extent do market-forms deliver progressive employment opportunities? Where do concerns for a good life fit within broader employment trends? Here, the British debates around work-life balance seem like an attempt to integrate any ‘free’ time into the neoliberal project, and thus need to be interrogated about the extent to which they offer any potential for critical engagement. Perhaps it is time to revisit some of the early critiques of work as reducible to (male) wage labour and to cast the net wider to understand the interdependency between production/reproduction, or precisely: work beyond the workplace.




The seminar is organised around themed panels. All panellist are invited to talk for 5-10 mins to their papers before the discussion is opened up for all participants.

Panellists are asked to circulate short position papers (1-3 pages) to all seminar participants in advance of the event.



Registration and coffee



Welcome and introduction




Panel 1: Contemporary working experiences and conditions

* Christine Cooper (University of Strathclyde) et al. The ICL/Stockline Disaster: An Independent Report on Working Conditions prior to the Explosion

* Kendra Strauss Challenging hegemonic deregulation? The Gangmaster Licensing Authority as a model for the regulation of casual work

* Gerry Mooney (Open University Scotland) and Tricia McCafferty (University of Strathclyde) Resisting Public Sector ‘Modernisation’: The Recent Experiences of Scottish Public Sector Workers




Panel 2: Work beyond the workplace

* Katy Fox (University of Aberdeen) Work, Value and European Integration in Rural Romania

* Maud Bracke (University of Glasgow) ‘We opened a second front’ Gender and the workers’ movement in 1960s-70s Italy

* Andy Cumbers, Gesa Helms and Marilyn Keenan (University of Glasgow) Beyond aspiration: young people in urban labour markets


11.45 Coffee Break




Panel 3: Labour policies in practice

* Margaret and Jim Cuthbert (University of Strathclyde) Using Public Expenditure Effectively to Grow Employment Opportunities

* Kirsten Forkert (University of London) What's wrong with success?

* Dave Whyte (University of Liverpool) Alternative forms of Justice in the Workplace


1.00 Lunch




Panel 4: Reworking work and welfare

* Volker Eick and Jens Sambale (FU Berlin) The Intensification of a Punitive Labour System in Punitive Urban Environs: The Case of Hartz IV in Germany

* Vincent Pattison (University of Manchester) Beyond wages: Tackling working poverty in the UK

* Mike Danson (University of West of Scotland) The role of volunteers in a workfare society: agenda for the left


3.00 Coffee break




Panel 5: For a politics for labour

* Ailsa McKay (Caledonian University) Arguing for a Citizens Basic Income: A Question of Values?

* Gregor Gall (University of Hertfordshire) For workplace democracy in a socialised economy

* Stephen Boyd (STUC) Rebuilding collective prosperity

* Peter Kelly (Poverty Alliance Glasgow) Reform, Recession & Security: Economic Crisis and Welfare Reform






Registration form

Alternative Economic Strategy Group

One Day Seminar

Good jobs, nae jobs, bad jobs:

Skills, workfare and struggles over work


Friday 13 February 2009

Scottish Trade Union Council

333 Woodlands Road


Glasgow G3 6NG


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Seminar Fee: £35

Reduced Fee (student, voluntary sector or low-waged): £20


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Please return the completed registration form either by email or post to address below by Monday 9 February 2009. Payment may be made by cheque/ or in cash. If paying by cheque, please make payable to The University of Glasgow.:


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Please send this form by Monday 9 February to Geoff Whittam, Business School, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley PA1 2BE, Geoffrey.Whittam@uws.ac.uk

You can send a cheque with your registration form or pay by cheque/in cash on the day.