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Power, Politics, and Influence at Work

Discover the causes of global employment (in)equalities, and how workers can gain a better voice for a fairer future.

2,413 enrolled on this course

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  • Duration

    5 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Help build workers’ rights and a better future for employment and society

With the world of work in unprecedented flux, the role of workers’ rights has never been more pressing, as society grapples with issues such as how to ensure better employment equity and safety.

On this course, you will get an introduction to the world of ‘work and employment studies’ (WES), from experts at the Work and Equalities Institute at the University of Manchester, the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Limerick, and Liverpool University Management School.

You’ll explore how global employment conditions have become ever more fragmented and unequal, before examining the different frameworks of power and politics that relate to your workplace, learning how employees can find a voice through trade unions.

Ultimately you’ll explore what the future of work and equalities themselves could look like – and how employment could become more just.

“Almost everyone has to work, but why is it so unequal? This unique, timely, and engaging course pulls back the curtain to reveal the sources of power differentials and ways to redress them. Take this course to become empowered in your work, it’s critically important”

Professor John W. Budd (University of Minnesota, USA)

Carl Roper, Trades Union Congress (TUC), National Education & Organising Manager

Tish Gibbons, Head of SIPTU College, Dublin

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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Hello and welcome to the course: Power, Politics and Influence at Work. The purpose of the module is to stimulate learning and hopefully conversations around big ideas affecting us all in the world of work. For example, do we have a satisfactory voice in our workplace, why is there growing inequalities in society, and who has the power to influence things for the good, and what can workers and activists - say trade unions - do to improve the work experiences and the equality for people in a society. The course is supported by a book of the same title. It is published by Manchester University Press. It is short, relatively cheap, and it’s available on most outlets and online providers.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds It will help to have the book as you work your way through each of the five weeks that make up the module. In addition to the book there are a series of materials each week to support your

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds learning: discussion prompts, video talks, video interviews, short articles to read online, and some multiple-choice quizzes. In week one, this week, the objective is to review the context of the world of work along with the different frameworks to understand power in the workplace. We will shortly touch on the historical developments of some worker struggles, how to define power, and the subject area of work and employment studies. In week two, the objective is to explain the rise in precarious and non-standard forms of employment, along with the discussion about new technologies, the gig-economy, and how this is changing people’s working lives.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds In week 3, the goal of describing the role of the state will be considered, along with the law and how things like bogus self-employment, gender inequalities among other issues affect the world of work. The objective for week 4 is to discuss who speaks for whom in the workplace. In week five, the final week, we will look to a decent work agenda for the future. We will review three particular scenarios, each of which may be shaped by the power capacities and the mobilizing forces of workers, and to try and improve rights and agendas


  • Week 1

    Introductions: power, work and employment studies

    • Hello and welcome

      In this first activity we'll introduce you to the course and give you the opportunity to meet each other. We'll also give you a chance to discuss your experiences of work and employment.

    • Introducing Work & Employment Studies

      After introducing the module as a whole, in this short Activity we introduce the content of week 1.

    • Defining work, power and influence

      In this activity we discuss what is work and consider the meanings of work.

    • Labour indeterminacy and frames of reference

      In this activity there are 5 steps to discuss unequal power balances at work, explaining some key concepts in further detail.

    • Summarising week 1 and moving to week 2

      In this Activity we reflect on the previous steps in the week, and provide a short multiple choice quiz, before moving on to Week 2.

  • Week 2

    History, global capitalism and the importance of contexts

    • Introducing week 2

      The following video gives a short introductory talk explaining the structure and concepts to be studied in week 2

    • The importance of historical legacies

      History frames and can shape what we do. Our actions are - in part - determined - by the legacies of the past. This section will outline the importance of understanding history and the context we exist and act within.

    • Globalisation and financialisation

      This is an outline of the debates and issues related to the negative features of globalisation and the growing importance of financialised capitalism

    • The fragmentation of work

      The section deals with how work is getting worse and why labour markets are changing and fragmenting

    • The gig-economy and new (digital) technologies

      This section now turns attention to the critical issues of the role of new technology, the rise in gig-work and the gig-economy, and how these affect the nature of power at work.

    • The future of work

      This section takes a broader look and approach to how work is changing - Week 5 picks up on some of these issues later on

    • Summarising week 2 and moving to week 3

      There will now be a chance to complete the Week by engaging with a set of reflective questions

  • Week 3

    The state, the law and equality

    • The state, the law and equality

      This will be a week that introduces to the important issue of how the state frames and influences the nature of work and employment. It looks at the state generally, the question of the law, and the dimension of equality.

    • The role of the state as a work and employment relations actor

      This outlines the broad role of the state and it diverse forms of intervention in work and employment

    • The changing nature of employment law

      The activity covers the way the nature of employment law is changing and how this is further creating tensions and issues in relation to work and employment

    • Regulating for equality.

      The role of regulation and the state in relation to equality and inclusion are discussed in this section.

    • Summarising week 3 and moving to week 4

      This is a basic review of what has been done and what is to come next week

  • Week 4

    Who speaks for whom?

    • Introducing worker voice

      This activity will introduce the concept of worker voice and ask you to reflect on a time you attempted to have a say about issues affecting your work.

    • Institutional voice

      This activity focuses on the first form of voice covered this week, institutional voice.

    • Union voice

      This activity will focus on the second form of voice; that of 'union participation'. It looks at the benefits of unions, what union representatives do day-to-day, and some positive impacts from unions.

    • Partnerships and collective bargaining

      This activity will focus on union-employer partnerships and collective bargaining which relates to 'union voice' discussed in the previous activity.

    • 'Non-union voice and CSO/NGO voices beyond the workplace

      This activity will focus on the final two types of workers voice, namely 'non-union voice' and 'voices of new actors' such as CSOs and NGOs who are beyond the workplace.

    • Summarising week 4 and moving to week 5

      This activity will summarize week 4 and give you an opportunity to reflect on your learning through a quiz.

  • Week 5

    The future of power, politics and influences at work

    • Introduction to week 5

      In this Activity we introduce the final part of the course. The aim is to outline the different possible developments related to work that might take place in the coming future.

    • Future Development 1: Are things getting worse?

      In this activity we outline the features and issues that relate to a diminished capacity for worker influence. There is a view that we may see further deterioration and change within work and employment.

    • Future Development 2: Reinvigorated (minimal) state roles

      In this activity we discuss some options when the state (and public policy) play a supportive role but in a minimal and hands-off manner

    • Future Development 3: Soft de-regulation & voluntary dialogue

      This sections looks at the way a new set of voluntary and flexible regulations are emerging in some cases

    • Future Development 4: Collective alliance-building and mobilisation

      In this activity we present a fourth future development around collective power and future of work scenarios.

    • Summarising week 5 (and course conclusion)

      This is the final section. We hope you found the course interesting and engaging. We certainly did. In this final section there are some reflective questions on week 5, a finale video of us, and our acknowledgements and thanks.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the dimensions of work and employment studies as a discrete field of study
  • Describe different models of power that affect employment conditions
  • Assess the way Government (e.g. the State) regulate employment equalities
  • Discuss the way new technologies can influence employment relationships and work conditions
  • Evaluate different systems for worker voice
  • Debate different developments and scenarios that can affect the future of work

Who is the course for?

This course would appeal to workplace representatives and trade unionists, as well as those who work or volunteer for social and political movements concerned with labour and citizenship rights.

It would also benefit policymakers and policy influencers.

Who will you learn with?

Miguel Martinez Lucio is a Professor at the University of Manchester, England.
He researches on questions related to work, employment, representation and regulation.

Tony is a Professor at the University of Limerick, Ireland; and Visiting Professor at the Work & Equalities Institute, University of Manchester.

Emma Hughes is a lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Liverpool Management School.

Roger is Honorary Lecturer in Labour and Employment Law at Alliance Manchester Business School and a member of the Work and Equalities Institute, Society of Legal Scholars and Industrial Law Society

Who developed the course?

The University of Manchester

From splitting the atom to giving the world graphene, The University of Manchester has a history of world firsts and brilliant discoveries.

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