Business, Management, and Economics

The high-quality academic books, upper-level student texts and journal articles on our Business, Management and Economics list offer fresh perspectives on the economy, the future of work and organisations, and the relationship between business and addressing global social challenges.  

The list is home to a number of series including Organizations and Activism and Feminist Perspectives on Work and Organization, all of which are edited by leading scholars from the field, along with our journals in the area: Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice, Work in the Global Economy and Global Political Economy.

Business, Management and Economics

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As I argued in the preceding chapter, it makes sense, in the context of an incorporated comparison concerned with processes of deindustrialization, to zoom in on Western Europe and examine different national cases that reflect the variegation of global capitalism. Britain bears hallmarks of a liberal market economy. Accordingly, the institutions characterizing the British political economy reflect the assumption that the market mechanism allocates resources efficiently: the regulation of the financial sector is comparably ‘light’ (see Gallas, 2010; Tooze, 2018); for-profit, private sector companies and public–private partnerships play an important role in delivering public services (Flinders, 2005; Gallas, 2016: 241–2); and economic inequality is higher than in the other Western European countries. Indeed, economic liberalism has deep roots in the country. Paired with colonialism and imperialism, it was a prominent feature of government policy in the age of the British empire in the 19th century. Back then, leading politicians had been promoting the erection of a ‘world market’ based on ‘free trade’ (Arrighi, 1994: 47–58; Gallas, 2008: 283; 2016: 76, 134–5). After the Second World War, economic and social policy shifted. Under the postwar settlement between capital and labour, full employment and benefits were traded for union acquiescence. A welfare state was erected, and successive governments started to experiment with Keynesianism and corporatism. But in reaction to a deep crisis of the British political economy and a wave of rank-and-file militancy on the side of organized labour, leading politicians re-embraced, from the mid-1970s onwards, ‘free market’ ideas.

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Karl Marx famously argued that the historical emergence of the working class as a collective actor resulted from acts of resistance against the continuous extension of the working day, which occurred in the context of the Industrial Revolution and was driven by capitalist competition. In an age where parts of the world experience sustained processes of deindustrialization, this raises the question of what happens to working classes when the factory gates are shut for good. It is possible to address this issue by resorting to strike research and focusing on the service and public sectors. Accordingly, the research question addressed in this book is this: What are the class effects of non-industrial strikes – or how far do they contribute to working-class formation? The author addresses it by taking three steps. First, he shows that the existing global labour studies literature insufficiently engages with class theory; second, he addresses this shortcoming by conceptualizing class and class formation from a critical-realist and materialist angle; and third, he conducts an incorporated comparison of non-industrial strike action around the globe in the age of the Great Crisis by (a) mapping 387 strikes in the service and public sectors from 56 countries and autonomous territories and (b) by zooming in on the railway strikes in Germany, the junior doctors’ strikes in Britain and the general strikes against austerity and the feminist general strikes in Spain.

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Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously ended the Manifesto of the Communist Party with a call to arms – ‘Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!’ [Proletarians of all countries, unite!] (1959: 493; emphasis in the original). Ever since, the issue of transnational solidarity and labour internationalism has formed part of the debates on the strategies and aims of labour movements. And through the ages, these debates have been of concern to scholars, who have not just debated the prospects for solidarity that cuts across national boundaries, but also – and relatedly – the specificities of labour relations in different parts of the world, the issue of labour migration and the geographical scales of labour struggles (see van der Linden, 2008; Gallas, 2016a). In response to the emergence of global production networks from the 1970s onwards, ‘global labour studies’ has emerged as an academic project and a demarcated research field. Sociologists and other social scientists have committed to moving beyond the ‘methodological nationalism’ of industrial relations research and examining labour relations and movements from a global perspective (see Nowak, 2021a). This endeavour has become institutionalized in various ways – for example through the establishment of the Research Committee on Labour Struggles (RC44) of the International Sociological Association in 1990, the Global Labour University (GLU) in 2002 and the Global Labour Journal in 2010.

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Luxemburg shows how class struggles act as a catalyst of class formation. She highlights the importance of often localized and sectoral labour struggles and argues that they became interlinked in the revolutionary conjuncture of Russia in 1906. According to her, these struggles can be both spontaneous and the result of the strategic calculations and tactical considerations of mass organizations, and the latter can be revitalized through their involvement in struggles (Luxemburg, 2008: 128, 135). This suggests that there is a specific strategic role for mass organizations in facilitating advances of labour, which raises the question of how they advance or block processes of working-class formation. As I have argued in Chapter 5, there is a tendential separation of economic, political and cultural class struggles in capitalism, which has a stabilizing effect on capitalist class domination. Connected to this separation is the official recognition of class struggle, that is, its legalization and institutionalization. In a broad understanding, any activity with direct, unidirectional class effects can be seen as constituting an instance of class struggle. But if a capitalist state under the rule of law exists, ‘official’ procedures of the class struggle tend to emerge. These are legally enshrined mechanisms that institutionalize collective action. They invite negotiations between capitalists and workers over the distribution of material and ideational resources and the organization of society, whose outcomes are relevant for the class relations of forces. There are three sets of mechanisms that are particularly important in this context: the regulations surrounding labour disputes (economic dimension); political procedures that create binding decisions concerning the way society is run (political dimension); and the rules and conventions sustaining public fora in which battles over imaginaries and ideas take place (cultural dimension) (Table 5.6; see also Althusser, 1969: 96; Poulantzas, 1974: 15; Esser, 1982: 232–5). Historically, these mechanisms emerged as a result of class struggles that had not yet been channelled.

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The commitment to taking seriously a global angle is at odds with a lot of research in the fields of political economy and labour studies. Single country case studies and comparative studies of a small number of countries are common currency. Both have contributed significantly to our understanding of different capitalist social formations and the fact that institutions and configurations of actors at the national level matter and differ. Through establishing differences and communalities across national states, they enhance our understanding of what the capitalist mode of production is, and what specificities of macroregional or national contexts are. Many of those studies exhibit a research strategy that can be called ‘methodological Fordism’. With this term, I refer to a set of methodological choices starting from the implicit assumption that Fordism is the standard mode of capitalist development. This does not mean that all research in this mould studies ‘Fordist’ or ‘post-Fordist’ configurations or uses the corresponding terminology. My point is that it has a family resemblance with scholarship that explicitly does so and shares with it a number of guiding assumptions: the primary unit of analysis is the national state; the study of manufacturing and of the labour relations in the sector – frequently referred to as ‘industrial relations’ (see Nowak, 2021) – are key to understanding national political economies; and contemporary capitalism can be deciphered by focusing on a relatively small number of highly industrialized core countries.

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Observers discussing the present-day, multifaceted crisis of global capitalism are sometimes invoking the gory imagery of horror films. After the global banking crisis had struck in 2007 and 2008, Chris Harman (2009) and Jamie Peck (2010) spoke of ‘zombie capitalism’ and ‘zombie neoliberalism’, respectively. Around a decade later, Raul Zelik reclaimed this trope (2020a). Witnessing the acceleration of climate change and lack of decisive interventions to slow it down as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, he referred to the people suffering under the yoke of global social order the ‘undead of capital’. This is reminiscent of some of the metaphors employed by Marx in the first volume of Capital (1976), who stated that ‘[c]apital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’ (Marx, 1976: 342; see Carver, 1998: 14–20). The purpose of using these metaphors is obvious. They highlight the fact that we are in a nightmarish situation. Global capitalism lives off the toil of workers around the world, depriving them of their vitality and their ability to actively take control of their lives. But despite the fact that more people than ever are sucked into the system of wage labour and have to submit to the imperatives of capital, it is still teetering on the brink of collapse. Turning people into zombies, it keeps on surviving – but is becoming weaker and weaker in the process.

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If we take the normative foundation of global labour studies seriously, the aim is to produce knowledge that is strategically relevant for workers. Consequently, it makes sense to focus on their collective agency, that is, on their capacity to actively shape the social world through joint action. The strike weapon is risky to use but forceful. Workers across the entire globe are resorting to it time and again – and have done so since labour movements emerged in the context of early industrialization. As such, it is of high strategic relevance – and ideally suited as a research object for global labour scholars. But the question remains what kind of categories are needed to analyse it systematically. An obvious choice for this endeavour is the PRA. It represents the most elaborate attempt to date in the field to develop a research framework that can be used to produce strategically relevant knowledge. Furthermore, it is a low-threshold approach. It works with clearly defined, parsimonious categories and thus is easy to use. The use value of the PRA is reflected in a plethora of studies based on it, which are usually aimed at identifying strategies for labour revitalization. A significant number of students in German GLU programme, most of whom are union officials or labour practitioners, employ it in their coursework and dissertations.

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The general strike stands out as a form of labour unrest because of its openly visible class dimension. It calls the entire labour force across a society to stop work. By definition, stoppages only count as general strikes if they are based on cross-sectional, inclusive solidarity. Sometimes this is done exclusively for political aims, for example when people protest against an authoritarian government. But often, general strikes are organic strikes: They articulate economic and political demands and formulate a general, class-based agenda. In so doing, they usually concern the organization of work across the whole of society and create a divide between workers on one side and capital and the government on the other. Consequently, they are of particular interest when one examines working-class formation. The Spanish state is a useful test case for examining the demands, constituencies and dynamics of general strikes. Since la Transición, there have been ten union-led, national, general strikes (1985, 1988, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2010, 2012 [March] and 2012 [November]); two general national strikes with mass participation led by feminist organizations (2018 and 2019); and a number of regional mobilizations. In what follows, I will focus on the two most recent cycles of struggle and explore their connection: the cycle spanning the beginning of the Great Crisis and the sovereign debt crisis from 2008 until 2014, which includes three general strikes against austerity, and the subsequent cycle encompassing the two feminist general strikes against violence against women, the precarity of women workers, the disregard for care work and the effects of austerity on the social infrastructure.

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Karl Marx famously argued that the historical emergence of the working class as a collective actor resulted from acts of resistance against the continuous extension of the working day, which occurred in the context of the Industrial Revolution and was driven by capitalist competition. In an age where parts of the world experience sustained processes of deindustrialization, this raises the question of what happens to working classes when the factory gates are shut for good. It is possible to address this issue by resorting to strike research and focusing on the service and public sectors. Accordingly, the research question addressed in this book is this: What are the class effects of non-industrial strikes – or how far do they contribute to working-class formation? The author addresses it by taking three steps. First, he shows that the existing global labour studies literature insufficiently engages with class theory; second, he addresses this shortcoming by conceptualizing class and class formation from a critical-realist and materialist angle; and third, he conducts an incorporated comparison of non-industrial strike action around the globe in the age of the Great Crisis by (a) mapping 387 strikes in the service and public sectors from 56 countries and autonomous territories and (b) by zooming in on the railway strikes in Germany, the junior doctors’ strikes in Britain and the general strikes against austerity and the feminist general strikes in Spain.

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Sitting at my desk and composing this last section of my book, I revert to looking at images of work, this time two pictures on my wall. Up in front of me is a reproduction of a painting by Mancunian artist L.S. Lowry from the mid-20th century. It depicts a football match on a bleak, grey day in what is presumably the Northwest of England. We see a goal and two teams battling it out on pitch. Two of the players, one representing each side, are jumping towards the ball, probably with the aim of heading it. They are surrounded by their respective teammates. In the foreground, there is a perimeter, and a few people watching who are positioned in front of it, mostly with their backs turned towards the observer. In the back, an industrial cityscape is visible: smoking chimneys, factory buildings and a gasometer. In Lowry’s painting, we glimpse what philosopher Bertrand Russell called, with dismissive overtones, the ‘industrial civilization’ (2010). He referred to a way of life centred on industrial work and the factory, which was prevalent, in the 19th and 20th century, in many parts of Britain, Western Europe and the wider world. Lowry’s imagery indicates that this civilization is characterized by strenuous, manual labour and a popular culture that celebrates comradery and confrontational physical activity (see Gramsci, 1971: 277–320; Hobsbawm, 1984: 182). And arguably, he depicts a male-dominated world. In the picture, there are only two females – a woman and a girl watching from outside the perimeter.

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