Resistance, solidarity and empowerment: an ethnographic study of precarious migrant workers’ organising in the Italian logistics sector

Cioce, Gabriella (2021) Resistance, solidarity and empowerment: an ethnographic study of precarious migrant workers’ organising in the Italian logistics sector. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Precarious migrant workers experience diverse forms of injustice at the workplace and beyond. Within Anglo-American Industrial Relations and the sociology of work, most studies of the responses to such injustice have a union-centred approach. By contrast, this thesis adopts an actor-centred approach. It presents an ‘extreme’ case study which examines what happens when migrant workers’ highly precarious conditions and identities meet union organising.

An ethnography of 8 months was conducted in Italy, mainly in Bologna and Milan. Fieldwork started in 2017, including 43 semi-structured interviews, 31 conversations, 15 group interviews and participant observation at 120 events. These events involved protests, demonstrations, picket lines, strikes, helpdesks, assemblies, union meetings and negotiations, training, and educational sessions. Most of the research participants consisted of first-generation migrant workers (i.e. Africans, Latin Americans, and Eastern Europeans) employed as logistics workers and unionised with a social movement union named S.I. Cobas. Interviews were also conducted with native union militants, mainstream union officers, and activists.

This study shows that precarious migrant workers frame informal cultures of resistance without union intervention. Yet, effective organising entails a deep and transformative process involving union practices that centre on actors’ agency and subjectivities. This process occurs through a bottom-up articulation of mechanical and organic solidarity processes unfolding at different levels of union engagement. The empowerment that migrant workers achieve includes both material and subjective gains.

Overall, the thesis makes a contribution to our understanding of migrant workers’ organising by grounding the study of collective actions in migrant workers’ views and rebalancing the ethnocentrism of the studies on the topic. It offers direction for theory and research, providing extensions to conceptualisations of institutionalist models to include how precarious migrant workers mobilise and organise, the type of solidarity they embrace, and the forms of empowerment achieved through these actions. Thus, if the risk of misrepresenting vulnerable actors - such as precarious migrant workers - is taken seriously, more attention should be given to the experiences of these actors both by researchers and practitioners.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Korczynski, Marek
Però, Davide
Keywords: migrant workers; union organising; logistics; solidarity; resistance; empowerment; ethnography; Italy
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 64602
Depositing User: Cioce, Gabriella
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2023 10:52
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2023 10:52

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