ILPC Buenos Aires Report

The 36th International Labor Process Conference was held in Buenos Aires between March 21 and 23, 2018. It was the first time, since its long history, that the conference was held in the Southern Hemisphere and more specifically in Latin America. Holding the conference in a Latin American country allowed bringing new participants to the conference, while opening the ILPC to traditions and perspectives that have not necessarily followed the same course in the north and in the South.

Likewise, the fact of having a public university as the venue of the conference made it possible to disseminate more widely the ILPC. Participation in the plenaries, keynotes presentations, symposiums and parallel sessions during the Conference were open to the general public. This allowed the participation of students, graduates and activists, promoting the circulation of theoretical, methodological and empirical debates beyond the academic audience of the conference while simultaneously reinforcing the centrality of the local university’s public education system. We believe that this combination of academia, university and activism was highly productive and hopefully can be repeated in future ILPCs. The setting in the city and the social science faculty probably gave to the event an extra edge adding to the positive atmosphere.

The conference was one of the most successful in terms of abstracts submissions and participation. We counted on this opportunity with the participation of 254 delegates from 24 countries around the world: Germany, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, France, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, the Netherlands, Paraguay, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Turkey and Uruguay.

A total of 243 papers were presented, distributed in 78 sessions of 1.30 hours each, which took place during the three days of the conference.

The 146 papers sent to the General Conference were organized into 8 thematic groups

  • 1. Labor Conflict and Union Strategies,
  • 2.Cooperation and self-organization,
  • 3.Working lives and the labor process,
  • 4.Labour markets and employment regulation,
  • 5.Work and labor process theories,
  • 6.Class formation and identities,
  • 7.Skills at work,
  • 8. Migrant workers.

Each group was then divided into sub-groups based on papers with overlapping or related themes. This helped to give consistency to the general conference across all its sessions.

The remaining 97 papers were distributed in the 6 streams selected for the ILPC: Stream 1 - Productive and reproductive labor: implications for worker organization; Stream 2 - Class compositions and rural struggles; Stream 3 - Development and Labour Process; Stream 4 - Artificial Intelligence. A service revolution ?; Stream 5 - Precarious Work in Comparative Perspective; and Stream 6 - HR Practice in Labor Process and Workplace Context.

During the conference, six Symposia with the participation of academics as well as militants and activists took place, covering different discussions: from theoretical debates on the labour process, to debates on the forms of organization of workers, through analyses linked to the labour situation in different regions of the world within the framework of current capitalism. The themes of the symposia were the following: "Labor control regimes: Perspectives and Practices"; "The labor reforms in a comparative approach: Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico"; "Workers and unions facing global economic and social change in the 1970s: transformations of productive relations, labor discipline, repressive policies and labor struggles in Latin America"; "Globalization, working class and international solidarity. Theoretical and political challenges "; "Young people between precarious work and social exclusion in Europe: a lost generation?" and "Subjectivity and labor struggle in contemporary Argentina (2013-2017): general tendencies and local imprints".

We were very lucky to have David Harvey, Cinzia Arruzza, Leo Panitch y Sergio Leite Lopes as keynotes speakers. They all contributed to address the theme of this year’s Conference –“Class and the Labour Process”– from different but complementary angles. David Harvey presented a theoretical paper on the current relevance of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value; Cinzia Arruzza presented a feminist perspective on class and the work of social reproduction; Leo Panitch brought the role of the State and political power into the picture of contemporary class composition and organization; and Sergio Leite Lopes reframed social conflict and class in Brazil through an historical ethnographic lens. Apart from their individual presentations, all keynote speakers actively participated in the sessions and symposia. They interchanged with delegates during coffee breaks, meals and other social activities and contributed to the general positive and constructive atmosphere of the conference.

The decision to focus this year’s conference on class and its relation to processes of resistance and organization emerging from within the workplace and the labour process, was critical to a number of organizational decisions in relation to the conference’s content. As organizing team we wanted to have a conference crossing borders not just geographically, but also theoretically, socially and politically, producing discussions and debates useful for researchers and activists alike. In this perspective we saw Class and the Labour Process as an almost natural crossing borders theme, and has thus been fundamental to inspire many of the organizational decisions we have taken: the selection of the keynote speakers, each of them with a different theoretical angle and disciplinary background; the active promotion of papers and streams submissions; targeting individuals and research groups with known interest on class and labour; and the involvement of activists in symposia.

Organizing the ILPC has been a very challenging but also rewarding and inspiring experience from both an intellectual and a personal point of view. We wish to thank you all for the enthusiasm and positive attitude and participation shown in all circumstances, and for the warm messages we have received from many of you. We hope to see you all in Wien!