Global Care Gaps, Modernity and Capitalism

Photo: Kin Mun Lee, CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Care for one’s self and others are issues moving fast upwards on the societal and sociological agenda in the countries of the Global North. Market fundamentalism, the crisis of finance in 2008, and austerity schemes have been threatening and destroying former standards of working conditions and welfare policies. In these parts of the world the fordist promise of a strong conjunction between economic growth, so-called technological progress, and welfare for all or at least most society members obviously failed. But the issue, in new ways, is emerging in the Global South, particularly in the context of the economies and welfare policies of the middle-income countries. Continue reading

Green Transition? Just Transition?

Photo: Asian Development Bank, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What is the role of workers and unions in the green transition? Over the last few years Nora Rathzell and David Uzell have brought together activists and analysts from around the world demonstrating that the question is both relevant and timely. Projects in various countries, such as Austria and Canada, explicitly seek to understand the agency of workers in this process. As one looks at these efforts it becomes apparent that there are lineages of thought and practice that we need to reclaim and that the role of workers and unions in the green transition is as pressing as it is contested.

Looking into the past may reflect a certain degree of nostalgia for a period of time when emancipatory futures seemed more possible. But there are also practical reasons for doing so. In immediate terms, we can learn that the issue of work and the environment has been with us far longer than we may think, albeit without using those terms. By the 1970s the relationship between the two was on the agenda of some unions and some environmentalists in terms that we all now recognize and during the 1990s sociotechnical systems served as the core analytic of a US project on work and the environment, green jobs were an important issue in Australia, and greening industrial relations was the subject of an international project in the European Union.

But we can also learn a great deal by examining labor’s record with respect to transitions involving gender, ethnicity and race. Continue reading

Labor-Environment Relations: An Enduring Conflict or Transformative Alliance?

The relationship between workers and environmentalists is often described as an “enduring conflict” in which workers’ jobs are pitted against the ecological concerns of environmental activists. The presumed trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection contributes to a jobs versus the environment rhetoric that is dominant in media and political debates over environmental regulations.

Photo: M H, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Divisions between unions and environmentalists are related to differences in economic interests and social class as well as cultural, social and generational dynamics of the different groups. Unions have often prioritized jobs and economic growth, particularly in heavily polluting industries, while the mainstream environmental movement has historically neglected working class and economic issues. In the U.S. these conflicts have played out around logging versus protection of endangered species, and air pollution regulations on power plants. Workers have pushed against conservation and pollution-reduction when these policies are perceived as threatening their livelihoods. Continue reading

SOZNET – Austrian Research Network on Labor and Employment Research

SOZNET is an Austrian research network of university and non-university social science institutes focusing on labor and employment research. The aim of this cooperation is to strengthen research on work-related issues and to intensify the cooperation between institutes.

Map of Austria showing the location of different SOZNET partners
Austria_all“ by Andreas Griessner, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Up until a few years ago, Austrian research on working life was centered in the non-university research sector. Recent developments at the universities of Linz, Vienna and Graz opened new possibilities and chances for cooperation. This reassignment is now used to promote an intensified cooperation between the research institutes. Continue reading

Austria – A Leisure Society? On The Complexity of Working Time Statistics

Compared with other countries Austria is considered to have an above-average amount of annual paid leave (25 days) and many public holidays (approx. 13 days). Christoph Neumayer of the Federation of Austrian Industries (Industriellenvereinigung) even called Austria a “leisure society”. Contrary to this, trade unions point to long working hours and the high amount of overtime in Austria which amounted to 270 million hours in 2013. So do we work too much or maybe even too little?

In the debate on working time, statistics play an important role. Particularly when it comes to international comparison various statistics come into play and working time can mean quite different things, depending on the operationalization. For example “agreed working hours” are the collectively agreed working hours, “actual weekly hours” are the hours worked in a reference week including overtime but also absence and “usual weekly hours” refer to the hours worked in a normal working week over a longer period of time including overtime.

What can we learn from these statistics and is Austria indeed some kind of “leisure society”? Let´s have a look at the figures. With collectively “agreed working hours” of 38.8 hours per week Austria is slightly above the European average of 38.1 hours. Even when deducting annual paid leave and holidays, Austrian full-time employees still work above-average hours in the European Union, projected to the year as a whole (AT: 33.3 and EU-28: 32.9). However, overtime is not included here. When referring to “actual working hours” per week we see that Austria ranks in the upper middle field of working hours in the European Union (AT: 40.1 and EU-28: 39.6). Starting from “usual working hours” we get a very different picture. Here, Austria climbs to the top of the European ‘ranking’ with 41.8 hours per week, even when annual paid leave and holidays are taken into account.

Table showing the working hours in European countries Continue reading

Separating Work From Life – Cross-Border Commuters in Central Europe

The research project “TRANSLAB – Cross-Border Labour Mobility, Transnational Labour Markets and Social Differentiation in the Central European Region” at the Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, aims to provide an in-depth look at commuters from Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic bordering on Austria. This transnational labor market is particularly interesting as a specific historical political context in which global societal processes and European transformations interact. The focus of the project is on commuters’

a) reasons for commuting,

b) labor market integration and occupational trajectory,

c) integration into social networks and dynamics of social inequality.

The TRANSLAB project builds on the established methods of ‘ethnosurvey’ data collection and associated, more recent applications for the European setting. Based on quota sampling the social research department GfK Austria and its Central European partner institutes carried out face-to-face interviews with a total of 1.345 commuters to Austria and a reference group consisting of 1.334 non-commuters. Additionally we interviewed 20 experts consisting of EURES employees, business owners as well as local mayors and trade union representatives. At the moment a survey of biographical interviews with commuters is conducted.

Vienna is not only the capital and largest city of Austria, it is also the cultural and economic center of the Central European Region (Centrope). Centrope is one of many Euroregions that encourage cooperation among the border regions of Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria. One of the starting points of the political project is that wage levels and unemployment rates still tend to diverge quite significantly. Therefore mobility of labor is a core aim of the Centrope Strategy 2013+.

Graphic 1: The Central European Region

Map of the Central European Region with Vienna at its center

Continue reading