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Threats and Possibilities facing Nordic Working Life

| Text: Bernt Schiller

Guy Standing has analysed the devastating effects for the labour market of deregulation and un-limited competition and found a new social class emerging from the shattered well fare society – the precariat – “The Dangerous Class”.

Earlier this year over 250 Nordic scholars in the field of working life could here him explain the new concept at the Nordic Working Life Conference (NWLC) at the University of Gothenburg.

Guy Standing, professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, was the introductory speaker. In recent years Standing has caused sensation through his description of the social and societal consequences of globalization. 

His concept of the precariat consists of the growing number of people dissatisfied by their insecure life, moving from one shaky job to another or to un-employment. It is ‘a class in being’ in the drastic words of Guy Standing – a ‘monster’, which is awakening.

In his keynote speech, the audience of work scientists was not only presented with the future threats to social stability. Guy Standing also outlined a strategy, which might de-mobilize the threat of upheaval to the present capitalist society. It would give the precariat freedom and security at the same time, a future paradise or, perhaps utopia, where people enjoyed creative and secure work and occupational citizenship in a fair system of economic distribution.

Polarization or upgrading?

At the same conference Donald Storrie presented results from Eurofound’s “Jobs Project” on working conditions. He discussed whether these new trends could be described as polarization or upgrading. 

In other keynote presentations Mari Kira, Aalto University, discussed sustainable work related to employees’ good and bad experiences and Peter Hasle, Aalborg, described how sustainability systems in the healthcare sector are squeezed between between economic restraints and increased demand. Line Eldring, Fafo, took a critical look at the sustainability of the “Nordic Model” in a Europe “on the move” and Ann Bergman, as the last keynote speaker, returned to Guy Standing’s subject of the future in a more general way and urged the scholars to involve themselves in debates on the future and be active in forming it, not risking to leave it entirely to economic and political interests which don’t hesitate to articulate their “truths”.

The conference papers, no less than 165, were distributed on 26 streams, which gave different perspectives on a number of issues. 

In addition, articles will be published in the Nordic Journal of Working Life and in Arbetsmarknad & Arbetsliv, mouthpiece for the Swedish Association for Working Life Research (Forum för Arbetslivsforskning, FALF), which had made the conference a joint venture through merging its yearly conference with the NWLC.

In the Book of Abstracts researchers and practitioners will find entrances to their interests in working life, whether they concern labour flexibility, security, health, whistleblowing, management, aging, corporate restructuring, migration, teachers working life, you name it. The perspectives of the papers are often individualizing and collective approaches as work force participation, trade unions and solidarity are more difficult to find.

The conference ended with a panel debate on the general theme of the conference Threats and Possibilities Facing Nordic Working Life. 

The next conference will be held in Finland in 2016. A Nordic working group has been formed to serve for continuity between the conferences. For an initiator of the first Nordic Working Life Conference, held in Kungälv outside of Gothenburg in 1985, it is amazing to notice the growth of work science as a research area, which has been demonstrated since the revival of the conference in Elsinore in 2012.

About the Conference

The Nordic WLC2014 was held on June 12 2014 in Gothenburg.

The Organizing Committee consisted of Tommy Isidorsson (chairman), Kristina Håkansson, Margareta Oudhuis and Bernt Schiller.

The conference was was supported by The Nordic Council of Ministers; The Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare; AFA försäkring;, Work and Employment Research Center (WE) at University of Gothenburg; City of Gothenburg and Unionen.

Several articles from the conference will be published in Nordic Journal of Working Life.

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