The Labour of Logistics: Dockworker organising across scales and networks

Authors: Jonathan Jones*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: logistics, trade unions, supply chains, labour regimes
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Hampton Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The logistics revolution and the rise of transnational supply chains and global production networks have wrought enormous changes to labour regimes in the logistics sector. Gregson (2015: 2) notes that there have been “only a handful of studies that have considered the implications of the logistics revolution for labour”, despite the popular assertion that the structural position afforded to workers in the logistics industry offers them significant potential power, raising the possibility of developing links of solidarity across supply chains.

This paper will discuss attempts to establish and extend trade union organisation at a major UK port. Via data gathered from interviews with workers and trade union activists, I will explore the ways in which campaigners were able to apply leverage via protests against supply chain customers, and engage rank-and-file networks of solidarity with dock workers overseas, in order to succeed despite bitter opposition from employers. I will then examine the ways in which the campaign laid the basis for ongoing workers’ organisation on the docks that has been able to contest management attempts to impose an unfavourable labour regime and to establish forms of co-determination over the labour process on the docks.

The research contributes to our understanding of the ways in which workers develop and utilise various scales and networks while contesting social relations, and the ways in which workers’ self-activity can develop capacity for reconfiguring the frontier of control within labour regimes, while posing questions about the replicability of these methods in other forms of logistics work.

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