Presented by Daniel Evans 

Much sociological research has focused on the gig economy as the most egregious example of the changing world of work, particularly regarding the issue of control within the labour process (now often referred to as ‘algorithmic control’ as workers are disciplined through artificial intelligence technologies). Yet as Greisbach et al (2019) argue, although these methods of technological control seem new, in reality they are simply replicating historical features of control of the labour process, and in many cases these new technological forms blend with ‘classic’ or more simple forms of control. Braverman himself of course wrote that ‘there is a general impression, which is fostered by official academic and journalistic opinion, that all of this is happening because of the rise of scientific technology and the development of machinery [when] this process of degradation is not really dependent upon technology at all” (Braverman, 1974:314).

Thus while the focus on the gig economy is not exactly a red herring, we should not exceptionalize platform work but instead reflect upon how the control imperative- which is common across all forms of work- manifests itself in different ways in different workplaces; the commonalities and differences between sectors; the continuities and breaks with historical forms of control; and the role of technology as a form of control within traditional, ‘low tech’ sectors. With this in mind, WISERD civil society package 3.4 focuses on the changing world of work across different sectors, exploring the changes that have occurred to the labour process; the response by trade unions to these changes; and the forms of organic resistance which have emerged (if at all).

Postal work is a former state-run public service which has experienced years of privatization, casualization and deskilling; and the increasing penetration and domination of the logistics and postal industry by gig economy courier companies. Postal work is also an area which- unusually within the context of falling union density and militancy across the UK- is highly organized, with a historically militant union in the CWU (cf. Beale, 2003; Darlington, 2002, 2003; Gall, 2003; Beirne, 2013; Mustchin, 2017). It is currently experiencing a wave of bitter industrial action between the CWU and Royal Mail. It is therefore a perfect sector in which to study the aforementioned changes as well as worker resistance.

This seminar presents the interim findings from the first wave of fieldwork, conducted with postal workers across Wales.