Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 9: Hyper-flexibility in the IT Sector: Myth or Reality?
Isabelle Berrebi-Hoffmann, Michel Lallement, Martine Pernod-Lemattre and François Sarfati INTRODUCTION: THE DEBATE ON FLEXIBILITY In the developed countries, globalization has generally been associated with more flexibility of work and less stability of employment contract for workers. Since the 1980s, flexibility has been moreover a constant theme with politicians and economists, and has become the criterion of ‘excellence’. It is a very variable notion (Boyer, 1986), and can in truth designate the opposite of excellence, such as those totally precarious situations of men and women – in supermarkets for instance – hired on shaky labour contracts to work for very short periods of time and puny salaries. As Sennett (1998) has shown, that sort of flexibility heralds outbreaks of social unrest, for several reasons: because it responds to market exigencies by giving priority to the short term, turns uncertainty into the norm, and transforms the lack of recognition of people’s aptitudes into strategies for management. Thus flexibility contributes directly and powerfully to the disintegration of professional communities and the crisis of professional identities. Other possible models of flexibility in a work environment do, however, exist. Without even mentioning financialization and the economic crisis that ensued, the mutations of contemporary capitalism have also given birth to new forms of activity and new ways of making a career. Boltanski and Chiapello (1999) have pointed to the fact that one of the main figures in the rhetoric typical of today’s spirit of capitalism is the highly skilled worker, master of his or her own destiny,...
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