Building on a previous Connected Communities project (Places for All?), this strand will work alongside current and former food supply chain and distribution workers and community-based organisations in a provincial city in eastern England. It aims to learn more about worker creativity, agency, dignity assertion and resistance in the context of lean management regimes and struggles over urban citizenship.
Workforces in the food factories, retail distribution centres, horticultural fields and packhouses in eastern England have long included high proportions of international migrant workers. Workplaces on the edges of the city of Peterborough and in the Fens to its east have, since 2004, drawn many nationals of central and eastern European states recently acceded to the European Union. Building on an earlier agricultural tradition of gangmastering in the region, whereby gangs of workers were transported between fields and orchards for harvest work, most of the people currently working the industrialised food supply chain workplaces are hired by recruitment agencies that move workers from place to place according to variations in demand.
This hub of food supply chain employment is part of a larger national and international food industry structure whereby demand for workers emanates from large corporate retailers, which ‘[exert] their economic power over their myriad suppliers, pushing down wage rates and tightening job controls’. The ‘lean’ workplace regimes identified with this retail food supply chain, also extend into food service (restaurants and catering) and, more generally, into distribution centres run by mail ordering businesses, such as Amazon (Beynon, 2016:311-2). Many Polish participants in a recent workplace ethnography in a UK food factory described the factory using the metaphor of a ‘labour camp’ (Lugosi et al, 2016:10). An interview- based study with workers in a contemporary Australian food warehouse similarly found a regime that was ‘temporally fast-paced with few opportunities for breaks, which were short and highly policed. Workers there described extreme forms of work intensification’ (Wise, 2016:484; see also Rogaly, 2008 on intensification in UK horticulture).
The UK national context for this strand of research is one of major political, ideological and policy change, following the majority vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union, and the importance given by the various leave campaigns, and subsequently by the UK government, to ending the free movement of workers from the EU. At the time of writing debates and negotiations are continuing about the residency status of non- British EU nationals already in the UK; meanwhile the referendum and its aftermath have also been associated with a spike in hate crimes against people assumed to be foreign nationals because of their accent, language or dress, as well as against minority ethnic British nationals (Burnett, 2016).
The wider political, economic and ideological context is likely to continue to change during the period of the research as the UK negotiates the terms of its exit from the EU, the policies and actions of the current US administration play out in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.
Beynon, Huw (2016) Beyond Fordism, in Stephen Edgell, Heidi Gottfried and Edward Granter (eds), The SAGE Handbook of the Sociology of Work and Employment, London: Sage, pp306-328.
Burnett, Jon (2016) Racial Violence and the Brexit State, London: Institute for Race Relations.
Rogaly, Ben (2008) Intensification of workplace regimes in British horticulture: the role of migrant workers, Population, Space and Place, 14: 497-510.
Lugosi, Peter, Hania Janta and Barbara Wilczek (2016) Work(ing) dynamics of migrant networking among Poles employed in hospitality and food production, The Sociological Review, on-line early view, doi 10.1111/1467-954X.12393.
Wise, Amanda ( 2016) Convival labour and the ‘joking relationship’: humour and everyday multiculturalism at work, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 37(5), 481-500.