Macron’s labour reforms are a major test for France’s trade unions

 

Heather Connolly, Associate Professor of Employment Relations at ULSB (hmc33@le.ac.uk), on why President Macron’s labour reforms are a major test for France’s trade unions. Are they part of a programme of state-led liberalization which will shift the balance of power towards employers and test trade union strength and unity? (This blog was originally published on the SPERI site.)

 

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the current labour reforms in France, for employers, workers and their representatives. The Government seems fully aware of the significance and the potential for extensive opposition and has chosen to push legislation through by decree, avoiding parliamentary debates and votes.

 

The proposed reforms are wide-ranging and include broader social reforms (in the area of unemployment insurance, pensions and training) to come in the following 12 months. The labour reforms have been a priority for the new President, Emmanuel Macron and go much further than the El Khomri law of 2016, that I discussed in an earlier blog. The most significant reforms for trade union practice are: the merging of representation structures from three statutory bodies representing workers to a single body; expanding the number of issues that can be agreed at company level and that supersede sectoral level agreements; and the ability of small companies to by-pass negotiating with trade unions or nominated representatives in favour of conducting a ballot of employees directly on a number of significant issues.

 

In terms of work, the reforms include changing  the nature of permanent contracts to introduce the non-permanent permanent contract, the CDI ‘de chantier’ or ‘de projet’, which allows employers to employ workers on permanent contracts (CDI) but only for the time needed to complete a particular project. The reforms also include changes to make it easier for employers to make workers redundant in the case of poor company performance at a national level (as it stands, companies find it difficult to make workers redundant if a multinational company is in profit at the multinational level), less constraints on employers wishing to make collective redundancies, and upper limits for pay outs from industrial tribunals.

 

All of this (and there is more), of course, works in the interest of employers (and the state), allowing them to budget more effectively for pay outs from industrial tribunals, for example, and use labour more flexibly by employing workers on ‘bogus’ permanent contracts and sacking workers with less constraint. There are measures which arguably work in favour of employees, such as the possibility to work more flexibly, from home for example (le télétravail) and having individual training accounts. However, much of the discourse around flexibility tends to blur the fact that overall there will be a fundamental shift in the balance of power from labour to capital and the measures will undoubtedly lead to increased economic insecurity for many employees.

 

France is often accused of failing to adapt to the realities of globalisation and to hampering job creation and growth by having such ‘rigid’ labour protections. The reforms of the labour code are intended to continue a process that has been taking place over the last few years of loosening up the labour market and reducing employee protection, with the intended outcome being the creation of new jobs. Job creation is held up as the answer for achieving economic growth, but with little attention paid to the types of jobs that will be created as a result of loosening up the labour market and the ((un)intended) social costs that creating more precarious jobs and with it greater economic insecurity has on society more widely. Flexible employment policies are often balanced in favour of employers and encourage a ‘disposable labour model’ which is heralded as the answer to solving productivity problems and economic growth.

 

As I argued in an earlier blog, French governments of various colours hold up the UK as an example of a flexible labour market model that France should seek to emulate. It is worth repeating that the UK is hardly a model that France would want to follow, considering the high levels of income inequality and the proliferation of precarious work in the form of zero-hours contracts, for example. Some argue that the reforms are designed to bring the French system closer to a Scandinavian-style ‘flexi-security’ model but from a close look at the reforms the changes are heavily weighted towards the flexibilisation of work, but without any additional securities for workers. The reforms increase the discretion of employers and are evidence of state-led liberalization of industrial relations in France.

 

There are of course social costs attached to high levels of unemployment and particularly for young workers who find it difficult to enter the core of permanent, protected workers. This is a problem in France, with a 9.6 per cent unemployment rate almost double that of the UK and Germany, and nearly 22 per cent youth unemployment. The question remains whether the answer is to increase economic insecurity and make everyone more precarious in the process of trying to solve the unemployment problem.

 

This blog draws on my British Academy funded research examining the possible futures of trade unions in Europe in the context of growing numbers joining the precarious workforce. Trade unions often struggle to access and represent precarious workers, and in countries where there are low levels of employment protection these workers are even more exposed and more likely to be outside regulated spaces.

 

So how have the French trade unions responded to the reforms? For a start the major confederations have not taken a unified stance in response, with the more radical trade unions (Confédération générale du travail – CGT and Solidaires) staging a number of strikes and demonstrations against the reforms. The more ‘reformist’, and largest trade union confederation in France, the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) hasn’t joined the strikes to date, which has made the trade unions look weaker and perhaps encouraged the Government to push through the reforms by decree. In fact, the CFDT has put in place training sessions for their activists on how to apply the reforms in the workplace, which sets out clearly its pragmatic response.

 

There have been three days of strike action since September and the number of strikers and demonstrators has dwindled with each action. Recently, however, the third largest confederation, Force Ouvrière (FO), joined the action alongside education trade unions and students that is planned for 16 November 2017. It remains to be seen whether a stronger and more unified response will emerge as the reforms become reality (some of which already have) and touch wider forms of social protection. Trade unions in France have traditionally been able to halt or amend reforms through mass mobilisation and protest including the watering down of the El Khomri laws in 2016.

 

The financial resources from union membership fees is low (membership levels are less than 10 per cent of the French workforce) and the changes being made to the workplace representation structure will impact the institutional resources of trade unions (in terms of the time paid for by employers to carry out representational duties). It is through representational structures that much of the class consciousness raising and identity work of trade unions is carried out.

 

If the trade unions are unable to amend or halt these reforms they will need to find renewed ways of demonstrating their relevance and maintaining a multi-level power base in French society.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

Invisible Hands, and the Market as Storytelling

 

Valerie Hamilton, co-author of Daniel Defoe and the Bank of England with Martin Parker from ULSB muses on the way in which Adam Smith and subsequent economists have used the famous metaphor of an ‘invisible hand’.

 

The invisible hand of Adam Smith turns up everywhere these days, as for example in George Monbiot’s recent article for the Guardian – ‘A Lesson from Hurricane Irma: capitalism can’t save the planet – it can only destroy it’. The hand is used to call up the idea of the free market – a now well-worn metaphor. The image assumes a godlike figure attached to the hand who will operate the market in the best interests of the participants. The pushing and pulling of the hand supposedly reflect the rules of the market. Adam Smith is often understood as a founding father of, and supposed supporter of, present day neoliberal economics.

 

The problem is Adam Smith never referred to the invisible hand. Such a godlike force could not have been further from his mind. He was far more concerned with the nature of accident and the uncanny in the operation of the market, and very clear about the inability of the individual to master such forces. But then he was a son of the Scottish Enlightenment and perhaps much more broadly educated than today’s economists.

 

The passage from ‘The Wealth of Nations’ used to support the usual interpretation of Adam Smith’s reference to the hand does not in fact refer to the hand, on the contrary it talks of an invisible hand. This is a very different image because it suggests that there could be many hands, doing many different things. Smith simply says that human selfish ends do not always turn out badly and indeed man’s self-interest often ends up arranging society ‘more effectually than when he really intends to promote it’. This is a far cry from the invisible hand of the market. On my reading, the passage suggests the frailty and limitations of individual intentions, not the theological supremacy of the market.

 

Smith’s use of the metaphor is generally tracked back to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a nicely literary beginning. Smith is known to have lectured on this play, and on imagery in Shakespeare in general. Having killed Duncan and ascended the Scottish throne, Macbeth must now kill Banquo in order to cover his tracks:

 

“Come, sealing night,

Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day,

And, with thy bloody and invisible hand,

Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond,

which keeps me pale.”

 

Smith’s later use of this rather gothic image suggests the whim and accident of fortune, not hidden laws. He is interested in the uncanny patterns that can sometimes be discerned in events when there appears to be a narrative at work. This is a process of making sense after the fact, not predictions based on a dismal science.

 

It seems to me that this idea has more kinship with the experience of writers rather than economists. Many creative writers describe a sense of an invisible hand that seems to take over the text as if the writer is a mere projector of the events and meanings described. They are a passage through which the story comes into being. George Eliot remarked “that in all that she considered her best writing, there was a “not herself” which took possession of her, and that she felt her own personality to be merely the instrument through which this spirit as it were, was acting”. Writers frequently refer to this invisible force. It is almost as if a hidden hand were directing their work, rendering them into puppets of other forces.

 

Based on my experience, I think that this is a much more realistic and interesting metaphor for the operation of the market. A market, as with any evolving narrative, operates at the whim of fortune, by accident, coincidence, benevolence and malevolence, the uncanny and the canny. It cannot be predicted. It can only be found out. What rich and imaginative possibilities could be conceived if we could approach the market in this way, as a story which produces futures? I think that it matters greatly that there is only an invisible hand in Adam Smith’s treatise. So, every time you see ‘the’, correct it and see how that changes the possibilities.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

New Paper: Beating, ditching and hiding: consumers’ everyday resistance to marketing

Here’s a new paper I contributed to. We interviewed around 80 consumers to probe their experiences of marketing – which were mainly negative – and discovered the various subtle ways in which they see to beat, ditch and hide from marketing and marketers. We had some really surprising findings. For example, some consumers would happily invite marketers to interact with them so that they could toy with them. They would keep marketers on the phone only to beat them at the last minute. It’s interesting stuff!

Originally published at socialstudiesofmarketing.wordpress.com

Performing performativity

 

Ekaterina Svetlova, associate professor of accounting and finance at ULSB (es285@le.ac.uk), and Ivan Boldyrev (Humboldt University, Berlin) recently published an edited volume “Enacting Dismal Science: New Perspectives on the Performativity of Economics” which is concerned with the question of how the concept of performativity (still) matters. In this post, she discusses why her book matters.

 

Sixty years since the famous lecture series by the philosopher J L Austin, fascination with the idea of ‘performativity’ has not subsided. The idea that language performs the world has become a central part of linguistics and the social studies of science, and now also in social studies of finance and accounting, marketing as well as in management and organization studies. The number of publications on the topic continues to grow.

 

At the same time, the idea behind performativity is seemingly very simple: language and knowledge do not merely describe reality, but also actively shape and even create it. I personally think that the ongoing fascination with the concept relates exactly to this “wonder of creation”: performativity seeks to explain how social reality (social facts such as money, marriages, prices etc.) comes into being. It invites a glimpse into the nature of a generative, world-producing power which allows to create something that was not here before. The deep philosophical problem of how things “come into being” has fascinated human kind for centuries and performativity seems to bear some of this fascination.

 

Indeed, in order not to be just a truism (people talk and thus change the world, or economists design markets and intervene in policy, so what?), performativity must relate to the emergence of novelty. The contributions in the book we have edited are concerned exactly with the performative mechanism of bringing various economic phenomena into being. Juliane Böhme uses the sociological perspective of ethnomethodology to show in rich empirical details how economic actors are performed in economic laboratory experiments. Francesco Guala addresses the creation and formation of agents’ beliefs as conventions in game theory. Carsten Hermann-Pillath suggests an account of performative mechanism that explains the functioning of managerial incentive schemes. Fabian Muniesa investigates the very nature of economic reasoning and economic phenomena, phenomena that do not “exist” such as “economic preferences”, “transaction costs”, “credit risk” or “cost of capital” and are, at first sight, purely scientific constructs.

 

Also in the book, Philip Roscoe relates performativity to this act of description: the way that economic methods of analysis describe a certain problem and thus determine aspects of it. For example, the efficient allocation of transplant organs for maximum benefit of the entire population as settled by economic and medical modelling excludes other considerations such as justice, sympathy or right of rescue. Or, the algorithmic matching mechanisms that underlie the online dating co-define “love” and “happy marriage” in tangible terms; thus, a particular reality – “one where a happy marriage exists as a specialised knowledge, and can be operationalised by economic protocols” – has been created by a series of descriptions. Similarly, macroeconomic models such as the IS-LM model discussed in the contribution of Hanno Pahl and Jan Sparsam can also be considered as such performative descriptions.

 

Finally, in my chapter, I claim that performativity has the potential to address the issue of novelty in economics by shedding light on the emergence of institutions. In particular, performativity cannot be understood without paying attention to its theatrical nature (performance). The process in which institutions come into being is not strictly constitutive: A new state, a new political party or a firm do not appear at the very moment when somebody declares them as existent. There is always a time lag between the theatrical declaration of their existence at the social stage and their emergence as a social fact. In between, rhetorical processes of persuasion, becoming accepted, i.e., processes of formation of common beliefs and expectations, take place. At the heart of every institution is the theatrical creation of a common fiction.

 

The cover of our book with the chess playing Turk on it, the mysterious automaton with the open door, reflects the preoccupation of the volume with the “black box” of the performative mechanism. Indeed, we hope that the book allows a glimpse inside the performative practices of various fields. Importantly, the picture on the cover also highlights that performative practices are by far more complex than solely descriptions, declarations, classifications and theories. There is no unambiguous causal mechanism behind performativity. In the fields of markets and economic policy-making, scientific models may be important, but they also fail or become negligible due to the institutional environment, regulatory framework and bureaucratic constraints as well as due to political considerations. In other words, theories and models are not always and automatically performative exactly because they are a part of the non-linear contexts of their application.

 

Our book supports the recent shift to more pragmatic understanding of performativity in speaking, interacting and performing (also in the sense of theatrical acting and performance) and continues, of course, to perform performativity.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

The Business of Bikes, and Cycling for England

 

 

Charlotte Smith, a lecturer at ULSB and world class cyclist, discusses the tensions between amateurism and commercialism in the world of international cycling.

 

On the 27th of August I rode for Great Britain Masters at the Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi, France. I’ve competed in various sports all my life and have often dreamed that I might represent my country one day. So when I qualified as a cyclist at a fast ride in June I was elated even though I am primarily a long-distance triathlete. The race soon came around and as I sat in departures at Gatwick and the British camaraderie grew exponentially, with blue, red and white kit donned everywhere, my excitement was only just about containable. Cycling is known for its spectacles and Grand Tours (e.g, Tour De France) and this event which is also organized by the Union Cycliste Internationale was hopefully going to be one of them. The series even has its own sports marketing agency.

 

As I arrived in France I was starting to feel a little torn though. I was still ‘living the dream’, but at the same time the whole thing was starting to epitomise what most of us academics detest about corporate branding: lots of shiny logos and expensive items with the consumer being inordinately out of pocket. This race had already cost a small fortune too. Some mandatory purchases I had to make included: £200 for compulsory British Kit, a €90 race fee and £40 for a GP medical certificate declaring I was fit. This was before the flights and accommodation which had evidently been increased threefold, it being an August bank holiday.

 

I am an amateur and despite probably being good enough and often needing it, I have not applied for the growing commercial sponsorship programmes on offer. These require further commitment from an already time stretched amateur such as twice weekly reporting and physical presence at many exhibitions. As I continued my transfer, something else was also bothering my obsessive cyclist self. Race day would only be 59 miles (plus 10 warming up), all over in about 3 brief hours. It would be a very hard effort, but it would fall significantly short of the 100 miles that I ride most Sundays. Nor was it the distance I should be riding for the solo 24-hour bike race I will be doing on the 16-17th September.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder if I had myself available at UCI’s convenience, paid a large sum of money for a short-glorified bike ride, albeit on perfect roads, but one that didn’t fit my race schedule. I understood my participation meant nothing to this organization, my place could have very easily been ‘rolled down’ to the next qualifier. As I walked around the event village and Albi town before race day, amidst the ‘Festival of events’ put on and hundreds of other pasta seeking cyclists, I was enjoying myself but was still hoping I hadn’t paid for some pleasurable but very expensive miles come Sunday morning.

 

And then Sunday came, I’m an athlete, racing makes me ‘tick’. This was a different type of race excitement though. I was riding for my country. As I pinned my race numbers on my GB jersey, I realised I had to accept this meant a lot to me and in this moment I needed to forget about the assumptions deriving from being a critical academic.

 

The race didn’t go exactly to plan but I finished and have a world ranking of 46th. I’ve written and blogged elsewhere about ‘what happened’ but it was very hot, fast and I was in a bit of pain. The result though in no way detracted from the special occasion. I am glad that I gave myself those moments of pride, glory and euphoria of riding for my country. Those who I know who would have given everything to go, those who couldn’t afford to, all of us who have sacrificed sleep for training before and after a day’s work. I was reminded of this by the constant roars: ‘Go on GB’, ‘Allez allez allez GB’ from the multi-national spectators lacing the roadsides. They didn’t know me but evidently appreciated what I was fortunate enough to be doing.

 

Some might that say the amateurs are the true heroes. We don’t have the resources or many helping hands to deal with the laborious work and organization that goes into being an athlete, but instead a huge amount of passion. I’m not comfortable with the commercialisation of sport, despite having an Ironman M-Dot Tattoo branded on my wrist, holding a Bronze Ironman All World Athlete status for 2017 and owning several very expensive bikes. So I suppose I had embraced commercialism, with the compelling performative promises of kit, a beautiful setting and potentially ‘the best race ever’. This turned out to be a small but very meaningful return on investment. So much so that my application for 2018 qualification in Italy is already in.

 

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

Google made me do it

I recently watched the footage of Dylann Roof’s police interview on the New York Times. Roof killed nine African Americans in their church

I found the whole thing fascinating. But what really struck me was the seemingly banal role of Google Search in the story. As the Times reports:

He said his “racial awareness” had been inspired by a Google search of the phrase “black on white crime” after the reaction to the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. ”That was it,” he said.

Later he talks about how he came to see things in racial terms and I wonder whether and how Google supported this. Did it confirm what he already thought or give Roof the impression that his beliefs were fact because Google said so? And Google doesn’t lie. They aren’t evil.

Let’s ask a counterfactual question:

What if, when Roof searched, he’d found some different results? Would it have changed things? We know that Google matches results to a users interests. So, if someone demonstrates latent “fascist potential” (as it’s called in the Authoritarian Personality studies) what if Google used this to restrict their access to provocative material? I’m not saying they should but things might be different. Doesn’t that mean Google Search has some active role in this crime?

As regular readers (all zero of them) will know, the logic behind this matching of search results is largely driven by an appeal to advertisers and a need for Google’s business model to work for the myth of matching to be applied across Google Search. I don’t want this to fall into yet another “aren’t algorithms evil” post but I think it’d be interesting to consider Google Search’s role in radicalisation. As I understand it, in the UK it’s a crime to encourage terrorism.

Originally published at socialstudiesofmarketing.wordpress.com

Ad blocking

It’s a few years old now but I just came across this series of posts by Ad Block Plus  in which they surveyed users of their Adblocker about the service. One of the questions asked why people used Adblocker. The results are quite interesting.

They gave respondents 7 possible reasons and forced a choice through a four point scale (ie there was no ‘neutral’ option). Forcing choice in this way can distort results as it, obviously, forces people to express an opinion on a matter they might not care about.

I think we can group 3 items as ‘content issues’ (distracting animations and sounds, offensive or inappropriate content and missing separation of ad an content); 3 items as ‘provider issues’ (security concerns; privacy concerns and page load times); and one as a personal issue (ideological reasons). If this was done more robustly we might separate each of these items out into multiple dimensions and see how they inter-relate. But it wasn’t.

Just eye-balling it, it seems that most of the motivations for Ad Blocking relate to a lack of trust – provider issues.  This is followed by content issues. Although ideological reasons motivated about half the sample (and given the selection bias you’d expect this is an over estimation), that leaves about one-third of the sample who block ads not because they are “anti branding” but just because they don’t trust advertisers to act responsibly and because their ads are kind of annoying.

If I were a brand I’d find this very hopefully as these are much easier to fix than overcoming ideological opposition to ads. In fact, the same problem has already been solved on other media through regulation initatives (see my other blog on advertising governance).

 

Originally published at socialstudiesofmarketing.wordpress.com

Professor Alan Bryman: 1947-2017

 

Alan Bryman, Emeritus Professor in the of the School of Management (now Business School) at the University of Leicester died on Thursday the 20th July 2017 at the age of 69. According to his wife, Sue, the cancer progressed very quickly in the last few weeks. He was not in pain, was very peaceful, and his family were with him.

 

Alan joined the School of Management in August 2005 after working for 31 years in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University. He was Head of School at Leicester from January 2008 to December 2009. His main areas of research and writing were leadership and other issues in organizational sociology; books on Disneyization and McDonaldization; and a long-standing interest in social research methods. In the latter area he was the author and co-author of two of the best-selling texts on methodology – Social Research Methods and Business Research Methods (with Emma Bell). More recently he was researching material on the explorer Ernest Shackleton for a piece on leadership.

 

These books, together with a great deal of work published over forty years, led to him being an extraordinarily well cited and internationally renowned social scientist. He was a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and had recently been given a lifetime achievement award by the International Leadership Association.

 

But Alan was never just an academic. Alan and Sue enjoyed travel, cocktails, and red wine. He watched county and international cricket, often walking down from his house in West Bridgford to Nottingham Trent Bridge Cricket ground, where he was a season ticket holder. He even had his 40th wedding anniversary at the club house, overlooking the pitch. Several colleagues will know he liked all sorts of music, from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, Human League to Roxy Music, and Arcade Fire to Fleet Foxes, and went to many concerts.

 

Alan will be remembered by his friends at Leicester as a careful and thoughtful colleague. He was someone who was prepared to take public responsibility as well as showing private kindness and humour. His fascination with popular music and culture (lately ‘Game of Thrones’ and Scandi-Noir), his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, and his claims about his lasagne skills will be missed. Even his puns will be missed. Most of all though, his humility. For someone so renowned to be so modest is remarkable, and a measure of the man.

 

He is survived by his mother, his wife, Sue, his daughter, and two young grand-children, whom he and Sue adored.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/