Work in Progress

Rothstein, Sidney A. "Worker Power Without Unions: Mobilizing Discourse to Defend Job Security.”

Abstract: This article explains variation in the extent to which workers are able to defend job security in services-based production regimes under neoliberalism. It compares two cases of workers responding to mass dismissals at German multinational technology firms in 2002, and traces how labor organizers used workplace discourses to mobilize workers against employer discretion. I find that workers can protect their jobs against employer threats when organizers develop what I term epistemic power, which enables them to undermine employer claims about economic conditions. Highlighting the significance of epistemic power in worker mobilization challenges existing scholarship in comparative political economy, which tends to equates worker power with union power. While union decline has accompanied the transition from manufacturing- to services-led growth, workers' resistance to mass dismissals demonstrates that these historical developments relocate and recast workers' power resources, rather than destroying them outright. This article offers empirical evidence that workers can develop significant power resources even in the absence of unions.


Rothstein, Sidney A. “How Neoliberalism Erodes Job Security: Lessons from the Tech Industry."


Abstract: This article offers a theory of neoliberalism in order to explain why job security varies so significantly among tech workers in the same country, same sector, and even the same firm. Building on accounts of neoliberalism as a specific discourse that presents market processes as though they were incontestable parameters for political action, I argue that neoliberalism allows managers to recast the power relations surrounding production by evaluating workers’ performance according to a firm’s stock price. When workers understand managerial discretion not as strategy but as an incontestable force of the market, labor organizers’ traditional repertoires are ineffective in mobilizing workers’ collective action to protect their rights. Comparing two cases of mass dismissals at IBM in the United States, I show how workers mobilized to defend their job security in the context of Fordist production at a factory in Vermont, but that the same repertoires were ineffective in the neoliberal production context of Silicon Valley. This article contributes to our understanding of the political economy of wealthy democracies by illustrating the specific manner in which neoliberal production regimes threaten workers’ rights.