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Work, power and struggle

The experiences of work are steeped in political power struggles. This video reflects on past struggles and the importance of place and space.
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On Sunday afternoon 16th of August 1890 60,000 people lead a peaceful protest in Manchester. Peterloo was people expressing their concerns of a lack of voice. They were expressing their concerns about their working conditions, about technology taking jobs in cotton mills and they wanted to articulate their concerns in a collective organized way. Yet local magistrates opposed to political reform at the time, sent in the local yeomanry and the cavalry. They attacked these peaceful protesters, indiscriminately. 18 of them were killed and around 650 seriously injured, women and children included. The political leaders at the time objected to the idea of the lower classes having a voice.
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We might ask what parallels exist in the world today; a lack of trust in politics, the abuses of authority and power, and what about worries over new technologies and the threats to jobs. So Manchester has a unique history and cultural legacy in great part due to the Industrial Revolution, mass industrialization and development of the textile mills a whole range of new workplaces. On the other hand we see issues around squalor, poverty, inequality, the concentration of working-class people in very deprived areas. So there’s two phases to this part of history. In revolt of these forces Manchester became a place of radical reform. It was here that Marx met Engles. It was here that Engles based the conditions of the working class.
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It was the birthplace of the modern cooperative movement. It also saw the Trade Union Congress formed in the Mechanics Institute in 1868. Manchester is an example of the extent of change in terms of work and employment. There are many cities such as Detroit and Barcelona, for example, which have experienced similar changes but Manchester is uniquely placed. When we think about Manchester we also think about the emergence of equality movements and struggles. The sad story of Alan Turing for example, is a catalyst amongst many other things for the development of the LGBT movement.
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There’s also a whole range of migrant communities that have contributed in 19th and 20th century to equality struggles within Manchester, and it’s a whole range of voluntary groups that play a fundamental role in the political life of a city in terms of equality. Yet to this day many people still feel their jobs are precarious, casual, temporary, part-time and insecure. We live in an age of new technologies, of artificial intelligence and the gig-economy.
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But when you think about them in terms of distribution of income, in terms of working conditions, living standards there’s a lot of inequities and the irony is that some most of these things were seen to be left behind with the first Industrial Revolution, but here we are with a so-called fourth digital Industrial Revolution and yet we still see very fragmented labour markets, people on zero-hour contracts and new forms of work which you know some people talk in terms of modern forms of slavery. These are the influences of power in politics.
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So the real issue is that multinational corporations need to stand for more than just private profit are many of these new, shiny corporate buildings in cities in the UK and across the world allowing workers to participate in terms of how they do their work. So Manchester’s legacy is a global reach and today within the Work and Equalities Institute at the University were focused on new thinking and how we addressed the challenges posed by changes in the way we work, issues of global inequalities and poverty. Manchester’s unique history and legacy have shown how collective mobilizations can power progressive change.
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Clearly there has to be some form of collective response because basically the imbalance of power is between on the one side individual workers and employers the way of rebalancing that is through the collective influence of trade unions or employees organizations. How these connect together through various types of organizations is a key part of the story of improving working conditions and social conditions across the UK and globally. It’s these kinds of issues and questions that led us as a group of academics from Manchester, Liverpool and Limerick to work together on a book called ‘Power, Politics and Influence at Work’ Which looks at the issues of worker voice and worker participation in the context of change.
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We cannot predict the future of how we work but we can look at alternative pathways that could be leveraged or adapted for a better work agenda in the future.
Having watched the video in the previous step, what parallels do you think exist between the historical issues that have affected people in the past and concerns that might exist in the modern workplace today? Please share your views with co-learners.
We would like to thanks to Anthony Davies and his co-workers from Born Communications for production and editing the video.
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Power, Politics, and Influence at Work

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