Between Class and Society. The Role of Ideas in Union Strategies in the Italian Retail Sector

Friday, June 24, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
206 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Stefano Gasparri, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom; University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom
Retail workers - often young, women, low-skilled, hired on temporary basis - are under-represented (Grugulis and Bozkurt 2011; Ikeler 2011). Revitalization studies clarify union strategies to overcome this gap, elaborating the basic distinction between mobilization and partnership (Frege and Kelly 2004). However, the focus tends to linger on institutions and downplay the role of ideas in shaping these strategies (Simms and Holgate 2010; Hodder and Edwards 2015). To shed light at this shadowy corner, the article compares the strategies of ideologically different unions within the same institutional context. Italian unionism provides a fertile ground for such analysis: its identity stands in-between class and society (Hyman 2001), with two main forces bending opposite directions (Cgil towards class, Cisl towards society). The issue at stake is the representation of retail workers on zero-hours contract, observable along the three main levels of industrial relations: the national (political action); the industrial (multi-employers collective bargaining); the workplace (here Abercrombie&Fitch). Results are twofold: a) strategies differ among unions, with ideologically different unions catching different institutional opportunities; b) strategies differ within the same union, expressing the same idea of unionism in different ways according to the level of action. Overall, the article argues that union strategies are a synthesis of institutions and ideas, contributing to still open debates on structure/agency (Morgan and Hauptmeier 2014; Hauptmeier and Heery 2014) and multi/rival unionism (Pawlenko 2005; Harcourt, Lam and Wood 2014).