Over the past few decades, public employment programmes (PEPs) have played an increasingly significant role in the systems of social assistance of many low and middle-income countries. With the economies of many countries consistently failing to create enough jobs, or enough good quality jobs, to provide for all citizens, many governments have taken up the task of creating jobs directly through PEPs.
Proponents of PEPs see them as addressing not only the economic, but also the social consequences of widespread unemployment and underemployment, in a way that grants and other forms of social assistance do not. A “job”, in many countries, is seen as a key component of full citizenship. It is thought to promote stability by acting as a “tangible and direct response on the part of the state to the challenge of unemployment, which may enhance citizen perceptions of state legitimacy and capacity”.
Organizations are often a mess. Managers implement all sorts of organizational controls (for example, processes, practices, rules and incentives) to coax employees to do their work in particular ways. Employees often defy managers, performing their work the way they want.
The outcome? Employees feel frustrated that managers are constantly bugging them to perform their work in particular ways that they feel aren’t actually effective. And managers are frustrated that all the work they do to define standardized practices and processes to help their employees is meaningless because the employees don’t actually do what they are told.
A key question for scholars and practitioners alike is how to address this enduring tug of war.
The 1970s and 1980s marked a disaster for the U.S. labor movement. Gone was nearly one out of three members in the private sector, once the heart of organized labor. Today unions represent six percent of corporate employees, the same as in 1929.
Facing slow extinction, leaders of large unions and their federations sought to rebuild. It led to prolonged membership campaigns like Justice for Janitors and the creation of an organizing-oriented union federation, Change to Win. There was experimentation with new tactics, one of which was the leveraging of union pension assets to restore labor’s power.
My new book, Labor in the Age of Finance: Pensions, Politics, and Corporations, examines the financial turn. It came on the heels of a shareholder revolt led by public pension plans from blue states and cities, the vanguard being the giant California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). Whereas once most stock was directly owned by households, post-1980 financialization transferred ownership to a relatively small group of institutional investors, including pension funds.
Strikes at Kaiser Permanente, John Deere, and Kellogg’s have brought renewed attention to workers’ clout when they organize unions. Collective bargaining agreements can convert wage gains from a temporarily tight labor market into durable gains for workers. As a result, U.S. employers often pull out all the stops to defeat new union organizing drives. Many employers bet that it’s better to break the law and keep workers from getting a union than to be stuck with collective bargaining for years to come.
Historically, one powerful way that employers have kept unions out is by avoiding hiring union supporters in the first place. If an employer can systematically weed out applications from “bad apples” and pro-union malcontents, then the risk of a successful future organizing drive is mitigated. For example, a case study of hiring in a 1990s foreign auto plant found that managers avoided workers with prior auto experience, because that meant prior employment at the unionized Big Three American automakers. No auto experience, no union problem.