What determines the number on your paycheck? When asked, the vast majority of U.S. workers list their own individual performance as a key factor. Large majorities of pay-setters – senior management, human resource directors, and others directly involved in setting compensation rates – likewise believe workers’ individual performance is very important.
I know, because in a series of surveys conducted over the last few years I asked average workers and pay-setters about their ideas about how our wages and salaries are determined. No matter how I posed the question, no factor garnered as much support as individual performance when it comes to our understandings of pay determination in the modern economy.
Workplaces exert considerable influence in society. They mediate the economic exchanges that enable modern life and facilitate (or block) achieving large-scale, collective goals. As such, they are integral to the advancement of social progress. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they are often implicated in movements promoting social justice.
The substantial research on workplace organizations and social movements focuses primarily on how outsiders target specific organizations through protests or boycotts or on how employee activists leverage insider knowledge to effect change from within.
Our work purposely blurs these distinctions, exploring a case where it was neither simply the work of external agents applying pressure from the outside, nor of insiders skillfully manipulating the internal levers of change, that propelled change. Rather, it was a community of workplace activists, linked together and acting between and through their organizations, to face opposition yet sustain and even expand their efforts with and for each other.
Much of the best sociology of pay-setting from the last twenty years has documented the declining importance of non-market constraints on pay.
The collapse of labor unions means fewer and fewer employers are bound by restrictive collective bargaining agreements. Similar outcomes come from the rise of shareholder value; restructuring and opening up of internal labor markets; erosion of fixed, bureaucratic pay schedules; outsourcing and contracting…The list goes on.
There’s a ton of great research on these important changes. But they can mostly be summarized as changes that eliminate protections from market competition that workers previously enjoyed.
Social science historians have long recognized that war was the rule rather than the exception in early modern Europe. The so-called “Second One Hundred Years’ War”, for example, pitted France and Britain against each other in at least six major confrontations between 1688 and 1815.
The motivations behind these armed conflicts were manifold: religious rifts, dynastic interests, territorial expansion, and commercial rivalry.
But these wars had political implications that are felt to this day. Following Charles Tilly’s dictum, state-making was inseparable from war-making during this period. Armies and navies were costly. To pay for their services, taxes had to be raised.