Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 4: Legitimating Precarious Employment: Aspects of the Post-Fordism and Lean Production Debates
4. Legitimating precarious employment: aspects of the postFordism and lean production debates Dan Coffey and Carole Thornley INTRODUCTION At the end of what is now conventionally thought of as the ‘long boom’ following reconstruction after World War II, the mature capitalist economies of North America and Western Europe entered a more turbulent phase, combining rising unemployment with inflation and marked by heightened social and industrial unrest. The traumas of this period were by no means evenly distributed. In America and Britain most particularly, each experiencing in the 1970s a weak productivity performance not only in comparison with preceding decades but also in comparison with other advanced capitalist economies, the reaction – fully evident in the 1980s – was a sharp swing in economic policy towards market liberalization, including deregulated labour markets. One impact of this has been a marked change in the experience and expectation of work, not least with regard to what many social science commentaries now study under the heading of ‘precarious employment’. This can be broadly construed to encompass job tenure and security, job roles and task allocations in the workplace, uncertainty in pay, status and hours, and even uncertainty as to ‘employer’ or place of work (as, for example, with the growing use of agency work and workers available on short call); a development, moreover, not lacking in transatlantic policy enthusiasts enamoured of market flexibilities and chary of suggestions that workers’ employment rights be shored up. All of these developments have occurred within an increasingly globalized economic system....
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