The Organizations of Immaterial Labour: Knowledge Worker Resistance in Post-Fordism

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Brophy, Enda
Knowledge Work , Immaterial Labour , Trade Unions , Social Movements , Post-Fordism
Liberal-democratic theories of knowledge work suggest that labour and capital are no longer at odds in the information society. This dissertation critiques such a position, proposing that knowledge worker professions, or ones it describes as involving forms of immaterial labour, are subject to new regimes of exploitation and emergent modes of resistance within post-Fordism. The study begins by surveying competing theoretical perspectives on knowledge work, and moves on to consider the ethical questions, epistemological foundations, and methodological choices involved in carrying out engaged inquiries into collective organization by immaterial labourers. The dissertation’s empirical contribution is comprised of three case studies of labour organization by knowledge workers. The first is the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, an “open-source” union formed in 1998 by contract workers at Microsoft. The second is the Aliant clerical/call-centre workers in Moncton, New Brunswick, who certified a bargaining unit through the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union in 2001. The third is the Collettivo PrecariAtesia, a self-organized group of Roman workers formed at Atesia, Europe’s largest call centre, in 2004. Drawing on these and other contemporary examples, the dissertation suggests that, in its most promising articulations, the organization of immaterial labour is occurring at the intersection of spontaneous struggles by workers and a process of union renewal underway within certain sectors of the established labour movement. These cases also point to the potential of collective organizing occurring around precarity, or the increasing financial and existential insecurity arising from the flexibilization of labour. Both of these processes, the dissertation concludes, involve a process of adaptation to post-Fordism, in which new forms of organization, new subjectivities, and new social demands are being produced.
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