Competitive Europeanisation and Multiscalar Fragmentation – Political Economy meets Sociology of Work and Industry
University of Salzburg, Austria
Even before the current economic crisis, sociology of work and industry put particular attention to phenomena of wage-pressure, site-competition, rising flexibility, insecurity and precariousness of work in nearly whole Europe. However, up to now, debates and findings from this discourse are not really connected with the most important critical theoretical approach to Europe, which is the frame of its “competitive architecture” (coming from Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, Dorothee Bohle, Patrick Ziltener and many others). In my talk I will argue that it is highly necessary to develop a link between the two disciplines, for both, empirical as well as theoretical reasons. Empirically, only with focus on labor and work, ruling discourses about nationally framed European “winners” and “losers” can be questioned. Thus, theoretically, the focus on labor and work allows the deepening and further development of the competitive Europeanisation frame, i.e. its identification as multiscalar competitive Europeanisation which includes inner-national scales such as regions, production sites, workforce-categories etc. On the other side, sociology of work and industry will doubtlessly profit from the widening of the critical European Political Economy perspective, in particular with the chance to overcome its still widespread self-limitation as a case-study-discipline.
EUROPEANISATION AS DEPOLITICASTION: INDUSTRIAL RESTRUCTURING IN THE FRENCH STEEL SECTOR (1980-1984)
The University of Warwick, United Kingdom
The recurrent crises of the steel industry have constituted a thorn in the side of European countries for the past 40 years. At the same time the management of European steel has since the late 1970s increasingly become an affair of the European Commission. Drawing on the growing literature on depoliticisation, this paper examines the causes behind the delegation of responsibility for the restructuring of the sector to the Commission. It is argued that this process constituted a calculated political strategy enacted by national governments who wanted to insulate themselves from the domestic political pressures that accompanied the socially painful industrial adjustment. To substantiate these claims this paper proposes an analysis of the French Ministry of Industry’s archives from 1980 to 1984. The evidence found indicates that both centre-right and socialist governments had formulated a preference for an extensive devaluation of the sector's obsolete capacities to counter overproduction in the steel market. In order to bypass labour's resistance to restructuring, the French state urged the adoption of a European-wide restructuring plan imposed by the Commission. Scapegoating the latter, allowed French authorities to wed the objectives of industrial rationalisation and tacit acceptance of the measures by the sector's workers.
Based on French steel's experience, this paper attempts to bring further insights about the inclination of national governments to outsource the responsibility of popularly abhorred economic policies to European or other supranational institutions in order to safeguard their political legitimacy. This phenomenon, ultimately, calls into question the capacity of a government, regardless of its ideological colours, to curb the imperatives of capital accumulation.
The hegemonic projects of EU labour market governance and the crisis of European integration
University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
In this paper, I use the case of EU labour market governance to contest prevailing arguments in Critical Political Economy on the relationship between European capitalism, institutional reforms, and neoliberal governance. Particularly, I question the extent to which the strengthening and de-democratization of economic governance at the European level is indicative of a crisis of neoliberalism. Rather than interpreting EU institutional reforms as indicative of a crisis-ridden and increasingly authoritarian phase in transnational neoliberalism, I draw on a critical integration theory to construe the reforms as the outcome of competing hegemonic projects operating in the context of a profound crisis of the European integration project itself. I argue that recent reforms of EU labour market governance have significantly strengthened the surveillance and enforcement mechanisms of the dominant neoliberal project of European market integration, but have not resolved the fundamental social conflicts over European integration. The conflicts operate along two lines: between neoliberals and social democrats, over the relative emphasis on market liberalisation and social cohesion, and between pro-European and more national projects, which cut across typical left-right distinctions. While pro-European social democrats and neoliberals have been able to reach tentative compromises for the principles for EU labour market governance, a growing Euroscepticism in both camps threatens to undermine this compromise, and indicates the growing crisis of European integration. The problem for progressive forces, I ague, is that the crisis of integration will not necessarily upset the neoliberal trajectory of European politics.
The Political Economy of Rail Privatisation in Britain
SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom
The nature of ownership of Britain’s railways has become a highly contested social issue in recent years. The Railways Act of 1993 disposed of the state operator British Railways in favour of a complex structure of private ownership and regulation, ostensibly for the purposes of generating greater levels of economic efficiency through intra-industry competition, in order to lower state subsidy and fares. Instead, privatisation has led to vastly increased costs, and therefore both subsidy and fares have increased significantly, while the system had suffered from perennial outbreaks of operational and financial crises. Work in the field of Critical Accounting has shown why this is the case. Railways in Britain are inherently loss-making in their own right, even if they do provide great benefits to the wider economy. In an industry thus reliant on state subsidy, any form of private sector involvement increases claims on revenue, which will either need to be met by increasing user charges, or state subsidy, or both.
This paper argues that rail privatisation should be seen as a form of neoliberal Accumulation by Dispossession (Harvey), whose main beneficiary is private finance. Put this way, the ‘failure’ of rail privatisation can be recast as a success, insofar as it has successfully provided a vehicle for the redistribution of wealth from passengers and taxpayers upwards. The paper ends with a consideration of the difficulties a progressive government would face in attempting to renationalise the railways, given the entrenched position of the financial sector in the industry.