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New Deals in the New Economy

Final Report Summary - NEWDEALS (New Deals in the New Economy)

European workplaces have been transformed and workers now enter a workplace that combines autonomy with new forms of control, learning and knowledge with automation, and flexibility with unpredictability of hours, income and employment. This is the new contested ground upon which workers and employers negotiate the new politics of work and employment.

Our statistical research on work arrangements in the EU15 show that these negotiations result in a range of different “workplace regimes” where high autonomy Learning and more tightly controlled Lean regimes are gradually replacing systems of less complex and more routine work. Different “worlds of capitalism” have different mixes of kinds of workplaces – with Learning regimes most widespread in the Nordic social democracies and least common in the Mediterranean countries. Our research also shows that while these new regimes typically generate better outcomes in terms of income and security there are costs in terms of intensity and intrusion on non-working life. However, we also find new possible coalitions to support social protection and redistribution, including those workers on the margins of these new, dynamic workplace arrangements. The effects of these workplace regimes also depend heavily on how workplace learning and autonomy are combined with pressures around control by managers, colleagues and customers and how working time is organised.

Our research also looks deeper inside these workplaces, using in depth interviews in Denmark and Ireland to investigate the working lives of nurses and software developers – the first emblematic of the public sector, largely female professional workforce and the second representative of the private sector, largely male commercialised knowledge workers. Our research shows that these workers face different versions of a “paradox of empowerment” where increased responsibilities and learning are typically accompanied by intensified pressures on work tasks, working hours, relations with colleagues and professional identities. While most organisations follow very similar, internationally known ‘scripts’ for organising work – ‘lean healthcare’, ‘Silicon Valley start up’ and so on – there are significant differences between countries in how these are put into practice. For example, Danish software developers are more likely to be able to directly negotiate project deadlines than their Irish counterparts. This also means that there is greater pressure on Danish managers to plan more effectively for managing ‘project time’.

Finally, we investigate how national economies are managing the transition to a world where most workers are employed in these paradoxical systems of empowerment, organised through lean and learning production systems. Again we look at Denmark and Ireland, as exemplars of social democratic and liberal economies. Ireland has strong tendencies towards institutional fragmentation with weak capacities for integration across different sectors, production systems and workforces -even though public institutions play a key role in certain areas (eg enterprise policy). In Denmark, the direct, discrete interventions of government are less significant, but existing collective bargaining arrangements still cast a long shadow across even sectors with little union representation. Nonetheless, these arrangements are under increasing pressure as financialised capital and fragmented labour shrink the reach of collective agreements within the economy.

Together, these different strands of the project map out the challenges of social democratic and liberal pathways to postindustrial employment and the economy and society built around it.

Project website: http://newdeals.maynoothuniversity.ie/