Consent, High Performance Work Systems and Trade Unions in Automotive Global Production Networks: The case of UNIFOR in Southern Ontario, Canada

Authors: Tod Rutherford*, Syracuse University
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: consent, trade unions, high performance work systems, global production networks, automobile industry
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Hampton Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While research on global production networks (GPN) in economic and labour geography has focused welcome attention on the agency of workers and unions, this has been focused primarily on struggles outside of the formal workplace via strike action and wider community struggles (see Cumbers et al, 2008; 2016; Rainey et al, 2011 Coe and Hess, 2012). Less attention has been paid to how unions engage in the workplace with new forms of work organization and how firms seek to gain their consent to such systems. Based on 21 interviews conducted in 2017-18, with managers and unions in the Canadian automotive assembly sector, we address this lacuna by drawing upon the work of Gramsci (1971) and Burawoy (1985, 2012) to examine how high performance work systems (HPWs) adoption has involved both struggles by UNIFOR union locals against increasing work intensity and the incorporation of such resistance by firms into strategies to secure union consent and workplace hegemony. While HPWS is being adopted by many automotive assemblers on a global scale, how it is implemented and strategies to seek union and workforce consent also reflect local and plant specific factors. We conclude by considering the implications of our study for GPN research in economic and labour geography.

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