An article entitled ‘The “Singapore scenario”: the uncertain prospects for labour standards in post-Brexit Britain’, is now available in Wiley ‘open access’ in the Industrial Relations Journal 2018 here. It addresses the possibility of a ‘Singapore scenario’ in terms of a ‘race to the bottom’ in UK labour standards in the event of a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit. To read a PDF version of the article click here.
Published in November 2017, a REMESO TheMES working paper addresses the contested topic of ‘The Politics of Brexit: European Free Movement of Labour and Labour Standards’. Based on an earlier presentation to the British Universities Industrial Relations Association 2017 annual conference, the working paper attempts to reassess the Brexit debate in the UK over immigration and free movement of labour in terms of the politics of austerity. It advances a progressive case for Brexit based on regaining national sovereignty to enable the effective defence of national labour standards outside of the neoliberal European project.
An article by Arunas Juska and Charles Woolfson on the current contested Labour code reform in Lithuania has been published in ‘open access’ on the web site of the journal Critical Discourse Studies, Volume 14, 2017 – Issue 2. It can be accessed at the journal web site at or in the PDF below.
In this short essay, are some reflections on the new possibilities opened up by the Brexit vote for the renewal of democratic politics in the UK. It is an attempt to think creatively about alternatives, instead of leaving that to the extreme right. I hope you find the arguments interesting.
Charles Woolfson’s jointly edited volume with Jeffrey Sommers, The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-Economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model (Routledge 2014) is to be re-issued in paperback format in mid-December following successful hardback sales with an introduction by James Galbraith and back-cover endorsements by Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Mark Blyth and Alfredo Saad Philo. See Publisher’s catalogue here.
Charles Woolfson and Arunas Juska have agreed the common theme of research co-operation with their Korean colleagues during their visit to Seoul in August 2015. Their focus will be on labour market reforms in two contrastive settings and forms the basis of a joint application to national funding bodies in Sweden and Korea under the broad title: ‘Post-Crisis’ Reconfigurations of Labour Relations in South Korea and Baltic Lithuania: Contesting the Global Formation of Precarious Work in Two Semi-peripheral ‘Newer’ Market Economies.
South Korea and Baltic Lithuania are both ‘semi-peripheral’ liberal market economies. Both are ‘newer’ market-oriented societies, which although geographically and culturally disparate, are at a common historical conjuncture, having emerged from economic crisis and now entered into a current ‘post-crisis’ phase, ‘beyond austerity’. Respective governments are attempting to restore economic competitiveness by reconfiguring labour relations through radical ‘reforms’ to protective labour legislation and the labour market. These reforms, if implemented, will produce an unprecedented intensification of the level of precariousness among the workforce, both in Korea and in Lithuania. Korea already has one of the most highly ‘casualised’ labour markets in the advanced industrial world, extreme levels of societal ‘polarisation’, measurable growing inequality between classes and the growing working poor. Likewise in Lithuania, current reforms to the labour code, if introduced, will fundamentally reshape the pattern of labour relations for the foreseeable future, redefining the relationship between labour and capital. The comparative project examines these wide-ranging labour market reforms, the generation of new oppositional ‘discourses of discontent’, and growing social unrest in both societies in an attempt to analyse common underlying global dynamics of contemporary labour precariousness in the new ‘post-crisis’ phase.
The Korean partners are Professor Kwang-Yeong Shin and Professor Byoung-Hoon Lee of the Department of Sociology at Chung-Ang University, Seoul. Professor Arunas Juska is now full professor at the Department of Sociology, East Carolina University, and a long-established REMESO Affiliated Researcher. Juska and Woolfson have written a number of collaborative publications and journal articles over the last five years. Shin and Lee have published extensively in leading English-language peer reviewed journals and are acknowledged leading scholars of labour and contemporary social change in South Korea. Professors Shin and Juska will be guests at a REMESO seminar in late November 2015 where they will give a joint seminar on preliminary research results, to be followed by a field trip to Lithuania to conduct interviews, and to present a lecture to Vilnius University social science students by Professor Shin. Further updates on our progress in this exciting venture will follow.
Charles Woolfson was one of eight researchers from Linköping University who took part in a Swedish Universities internationalisation mission to South Korea along with representatives of university management, the international department and student recruitment office. The delegation participated in a two day Korea-Sweden Excellence Seminar at Hanyang University in Seoul, from 20-22 April 2015.
The collaboration between the Swedish Academic Collaboration Forum (SACF) and the National Research Foundation of South Korea also included the universities of Lund, Uppsala and Stockholm plus Chalmers and the Royal Institute of Technology. This is the first collaborative venture of its kind between so many Swedish universities.
Themes of interest in South Korea were creative economic growth, sustainable welfare, functional materials, health challenges with an expanding aging population and low-carbon dioxide societies.
Charles Woolfson was co-organiser of the stream within the area of ‘Sustainable Welfare for Quality of Life’. “South Korea has developed its economy rapidly during recent decades but social welfare issues have lagged behind. Poverty is high, especially among the elderly. Suicide rates are among the highest in the world, after Lithuania, and it is mostly the elderly who commit suicide. The labour market is very uncertain, with flexible terms of employment and temporary contracts; when we were in South Korea there were, for example, workers striking for more stable conditions,” says Charles.
During the visit Charles found time to develop strong contacts with fellow South Korean researchers. In addition to the Excellence Seminar, he delivered a seminar paper to the Korea International Migration Studies Association (KIMSA), Seoul, 20 April 2015, and a further seminar in the 2015 International Scholar Lecture Series at the Center for German and European Studies (ZeDES), at Chung-Ang University, Seoul on 23 April 2015.
Over the next twelve months, three follow-on international workshops will be held in South Korea and in Sweden on issues relating to social welfare and labour market issues.
“We will be collaborating on welfare issues and employment conditions, and comparing South Korea with the Baltic countries, which have had a broadly similar development with rapid economic growth but inadequate social protection and an uncertain labour market. Now that the economies in these countries have stabilized, issues of social justice have moved up the agenda; we hope that our research collaboration can contribute to development in the area.”
In February 2015 Charles presented seminar papers in the US with Jeff Sommers based on their recent co-edited book. At snow-bound Harvard their host was Jack Trumpbour of the Harvard Law School and the seminar was delivered to the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, in the series ‘Workshops on Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity’. The paper titled ‘Austerity, labour market segmentation and emigration: The case of Lithuania’ is jointly written with Arunas Juska of East Carolina University and is now published in the Industrial Relations Journal (2015), Vol. 46. No. 3. At Brown University in Providence, R.I., their host was Mark Blyth who chaired the seminar at the Watson Institute for International Studies. The joint paper with Jeffrey Sommers, ‘Austerity and the demise of Social Europe: The Baltic Model versus the European Social Model’ is currently published as an early view online in the journal Globalizations.
“Charles Woolfson on Austerity and the Informalization of the Labour Market” AnthroTalking: Podcasts at Stockholm University’s Department of Social Anthropology
Two Masters students, Kinga and Sanna, from the University of Stockholm’s Department of Anthropology have made this podcast interview with me available below. You can listen to it by clicking here.
Our joint article (Branka Likic-Brboric, Zoran Slavnic, Charles Woolfson) “Labour migration and informalisation: East meets West” in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy has been selected for the Literati Award winning contribution as the outstanding paper of 2014. It is available for free download at this link.