Sub-theme 51: Precarity, Solidarity and Conflict at Work ---> MERGED with sub-theme 42

Annalisa Murgia
University of Milan, Italy
Andreas Pekarek
The University of Melbourne, Australia
Markus Helfen
University of Innsbruck, Austria

Call for Papers

Solidarity and conflict are fundamentals of capitalist organization and for the people working in and for them. Within the fields of organization studies and employment relations, the politics and practices of forging solidarity and managing conflict have often been made central to understanding the labour process, job quality, employee participation and social inclusion, as well as alternative forms of organizing and corporate governance. However, at a time of accelerating change in the worlds of work and organization, there is a renewed urgency to questions of solidarity and conflict. The confluence of technological advances, demographic changes, growing inequality, environmental challenges and global migration are confronting established institutions and practices of work and organization, posing both opportunities and challenges for employers, workers, and regulators (ILO, 2017). These developments suggest a need to re-examine what we know about solidarity and conflicts and devise new ways for thinking about their sources, manifestations, dynamics and effects in contemporary workplaces and organizations.
Notwithstanding important recent efforts to (re)position work at the centre of organizational analysis, and place organization within its context of economy, politics and society (Delbridge & Sallaz, 2015) we lack a systematic, comprehensive engagement with the dynamics and context of conflict and solidarity involving workers, employers, and other actors in the world(s) of work. Similarly, while it is a central assumption of much writing in the industrial and employment relations literature that the potential for conflict as well as solidarity is inherent to work and employment, we know little about how these phenomena might materialize in dynamic organizational contexts of the current era. Consequently, we see a need to understand better the relations between workers and managers within organizations, as well as between organizations and stakeholders in their wider political and institutional contexts. For example, Sallaz (2015) has argued that a permanent pedagogy of cultural control is replacing the ‘carrot and stick’ management systems characteristic of Fordism.
At the same time, the workers in these settings may lack the ‘commitment’ that might see them exercise voice, rather than quit, to resolve conflicts at work. Similarly, Kuhn and Maleki (2017) suggest that the rise of the digital platform challenges the very notion of the employment relationship as the nexus between organization and work, with important implications for managing work, for example when opaque and unilateral mechanisms for rating performance and allocating jobs cause worker frustration. Also, little is known about how established systems for conflict resolution through workplace consultation and representation, collective bargaining, and labour politics fare if put to the test by new organizational arrangements and their accompanying new fault lines in the wage-effort bargain (e.g. Johnston & Land-Kazlaukas, 2018). Going well beyond digitalized platforms, for example, McGrath-Champ and colleagues (2015) have identified global destruction networks as a development that excludes workers from voice options.
These examples point to an organization that is a more multi-layered, complex, diverse, evolving terrain for the identities, interests and relationships between workers and employers. It is therefore timely to revisit the persistence of old cleavages in employment and work relationships, and to explore the significance of new fault lines as a basis for solidarity and conflict in a changing world of work by focusing on:
Identity and diversity. Most observers would start with the long-standing observation that conflict and solidarity both form around identity and interests, usually following traditional cleavages. However, growing diversity in the composition of labour markets and organizational workforces puts worker identities and interests in flux. For example, various sources of identities apply in the workplace context, from occupational status to material income positions. Identity and diversity are essentially intertwined at the level of the organization as workers and employees bring their social background and worldviews, values and principles to the workplace, thereby crossing societal divides in situ. Similarly, institutions interact with identity in complex ways. For example, legal requirements pertaining to gender equality can help reinforce identity and inclusion by granting new rights and changing normative expectations around gendered capacities in areas such as corporate leadership. – Specific questions include:

  • How do multiple worker identities intersect to create new opportunities and challenges for diversity, solidarity, and conflict?

  • How does the changing nature of work threaten established worker identities and their articulation, thereby creating potential for conflict?

Organizational dynamics. Changes to organizational practices and forms have important implications for conflict and solidarity. Corporate restructuring not only tends to create insecure working conditions and undermine labour’s voice, it also creates potential obstacles to inclusion and solidarity (e.g. Weil, 2014). Restructuring involves separation and (re)integration across borders of all sorts and thus fuels the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion and, by extension, creates conflict potential. These developments warrant further examination including the processes and consequences of the valorization of work, and occupational evaluation more broadly, which goes beyond a mere sorting exercise in ranking occupations on quality, status and material worth and thereby assigns meaning to what a person does for a living, which in turn has profound impacts on individual life chances (Bechky, 2011; Gray & Kish-Gephart, 2013). At the field level, the entry of new organizations may give rise to power struggles and unexpected cross-class coalitions and paradoxical and unintended effects of management initiatives (e.g. Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010, Putnam et al., 2014). – Questions might include:

  • How do union and societal campaigns politicize corporate restructuring by bringing conflict and solidarity into the workplace?

  • How do local socio-cultural, institutional and politico-economic contexts impact on the dynamics of solidarity and conflict around restructuring?

  • What explains how labour shapes and is shaped by questions of exclusion and inclusion, expulsion and integration?

Institutional responses. Conflict and solidarity involve institutional work, where the organization is subject to contestation and negotiation over its boundaries. Cohesion and collaboration in evolving organizations may be difficult to organize as templates are not readily available and institutionalized types of organizing, regulating and representing workers with heterogeneous backgrounds have their limits. All types of organizations – corporations, state agencies, unions and NGOs – may face external and internal tensions as they seek to balance diversity and integration (e.g. Kalev et al., 2006). Unions, like managements, could benefit from promoting solidarity in more contingent and diverse workforces. However, organizations face dilemmas in practicing diversity along a distinction between representing diversity and diversity in representation. Examination of how managers and workers, organizations, unions, associations, state agencies and the courts engage with and shape organizations in conflicts around diversity and identity at work is overdue. This includes the critical examination of how various categories of work – from low paying jobs to professional and self-employed labour – are socially constructed, justified and sanctioned in the labour process, but also where and how workers and their representatives shape the conditions for inclusion and exclusion in struggles and negotiations. These are crucial issues in current debates on the future of work and skills in the context of technological change. – Specific questions include:

  • How can unions and other meta-organizations engage in institutional responses towards rising level of conflicts and greater challenges for defining solidarity?

  • To what extent are societal inequalities intensified or ameliorated through institutional responses and societal discourses on institutional failure?

  • What might alternative and traditional forms of working in and for organizations contribute to devising proper institutional responses?

Based on the above, we invite short papers that aim to deepen our understanding of the dynamics and tensions of solidarity and conflict in contemporary workplaces and organizations. This Call for Papers is inclusive but is primarily intended to address recent developments that are central to interpreting issues of solidarity and conflict – in particular, diversity, identities, new technologies and ways of working, changes to arrangements for worker representation – and to providing a forum for the interface of organization studies with employment relations that has been well received in three previous sub-themes (held at EGOS Colloquia 2017–2019) and connects also to the Organization Studies Summer Workshop on organizing sustainably (to be held in May 2020).
The sub-theme will also be host for research that connects organization studies with wider societal questions such as equity, equality and inclusivity and the wider politics of organization. We invite submission of both empirical and conceptual papers that engage with comparative institutional examination, various forms of institutional work, and the enactment of labour processes and work organizations. To the same extent, we are curious about contributions from diverse theoretical perspectives such as social movement theory, CSR & corporate sustainability, Marxist organization studies, the sociology of the professions, micro-politics, labour law or diversity management.


  • Bechky, B.A. (2011): “Making Organizational Theory Work: Institutions, Occupations, and Negotiated Orders.” Organization Science, 22 (5), 1157–1167.
  • Delbridge, R., & Sallaz, J.J. (2015): “Work: Four Worlds and Ways of Seeing.” Organization Studies, 36 (11), 1449–1462.
  • Gray, B., & Kish-Gephart, J.J. (2013): “Encountering Social Class Differences at Work: How ‘Class Work’ Perpetuates Inequality.” Academy of Management Review, 38 (4), 670–699.
  • ILO – International Labour Office (2017): World Employment and Social Outlook. Sustainable enterprises and jobs: Formal enterprises and decent work. Geneva: ILO.
  • Johnston, H., & Land-Kazlaukas, C. (2018): Organizing On-Demand: Representation, Voice, and Collective Bargaining in the Gig Economy. ILO Conditions of Work and Employment Series, No. 94. Geneva: ILO.
  • Kalev, A., Dobbin, F., & Kelly, E. (2006): “Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies.” American Sociological Review, 71 (4), 589–617.
  • Kuhn, K.M., & Maleki, A. (2017): “Micro-entrepreneurs, Dependent Contractors, and Instaserfs: Understanding Online Labor Platform Workforces.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 31 (3), 183–200.
  • McGrath-Champ, S., Rainnie, A., Pickren, G., & Herod, A. (2015): “Global destruction networks, the labour process and employment relations.” Journal of Industrial Relations, 57 (4), 624–640.
  • Putnam, L.L., Myers, K.K., & Gailliard, B.M. (2014): “Examining the tensions in workplace flexibility and exploring options for new directions.” Human Relations, 67 (4), 413–440.
  • Sallaz, J.J. (2015): “Permanent Pedagogy: How Post-Fordist Firms Generate Effort but Not Consent.” Work and Occupations, 42 (1), 3–34.
  • Weil, D. (2014): The Fissured Workplace. Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Zietsma, C., & Lawrence, T.B. (2010): “Institutional Work in the Transformation of an Organizational Field: The Interplay of Boundary Work and Practice Work.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 55 (2), 189–221.
Annalisa Murgia is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Milan, Italy, and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at CERIC – Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change, University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on how precariousness is shaping contemporary subjectivity and on the forms of resistance raised by precarious workers. Her research has been published in several international journals, such as ‘Culture and Organization’, ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’, ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Work Organization, Labour & Globalisation’. Annalisa is member of the editorial board of ‘Organization’ and of the associate board of ‘Work, Employment and Society’. She is the PI of the ERC project “SHARE – Seizing the Hybrid Areas of Work by Re-presenting self-Employment”.
Andreas Pekarek is a Lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing at The University of Melbourne, Australia. He has published in such journals as ‘British Journal of Industrial Relations’, ‘Industrial Relations Journal’, ‘European Journal of Industrial Relations’ and ‘Industrial, and Labor Relations Review’. His research focuses on unions and worker representation, collective bargaining, professional work, and interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to work and industrial relations.
Markus Helfen is Professor of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations in the Department of Organisation and Learning, Faculty of Business and Management, University of Innsbruck, Austria. Markus has recently published in leading management and industrial relations journals like ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘British Journal of Industrial Relations’, and ‘International Journal of Human Resource Management’. His research focuses on management, industrial and employment relations, advances in institutional theory and collective action in inter-firm networks.