Thumbnail Image

"We Came Here for Work": Recollections of Globalisation and Changes to Work in a New Zealand Single Industry Town

Globalisation is a term widely associated with intensification in the mobilisation of goods, services, capital and people by scholars focussed on organisational research. Kelsey (1997) and Stiglitz (2003) are among those scholars who hold that this intensification has been enabled by processes of change in the political economy. They focus on the impact of, the implementation of a neo-liberal agenda driven by policy makers in international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the view of these institutions, responsible global development, governance, and management, and markets are deemed the most salient mechanism for wealth creation and distribution. Market driven growth in economic outputs are purported to deliver wider human emancipation. The functions of the state are to be circumscribed accordingly. This agenda has been amplified through political, social, and economic directives which, according to Boltanski (2011, p.15) has however “not brought about a withering away of the state but its transformation [based] on the model of the firm, to adjust itself to the new forms of capitalism. This observation brings about a focus on corporate ways of thinking as central to understanding the changing modes of organisation in all spheres of life.” Kelliher and Anderson (2010) purport that changes in the workplace, particularly through the adoption of flexible forms of work and flexible organisational structures have supported, and been supported by the adoption of a neo-liberal agenda. The argument underpinning both the neo-liberal political agenda and the attraction of greater flexibility in work practices is centred on notions of increased freedom and choice for all. Both imply the end purpose and intention of their policy directives are increased social well-being to be achieved through the lexicon of universal freedom the neo-liberals harness to their agenda. However, not all researchers and analysts are convinced that the outcomes associated with Globalisation are consistent with emancipatory rhetoric of neo-liberal proponents. Critics such as Kaplinsky (2005) and Pikkety (2014) draw attention to growing income inequality under the prevailing economic directives referred to interchangeably as Globalisation, global development, or economic growth deemed necessary to this purported emancipatory agenda. Pikkety (2014) tracks the wealth of the top earners over the past 250 years. He concludes that wealth inequalities are not self-correcting as pro-market advocates proclaim. Social and political unrest generated by the seemingly intractable and growing gap between rich and poor is intensifying. In their examinations of the changes in work place practice under the conditions of neo-liberalism, Bender and Saturn (2009) and McKee-Ryan, Virick, Prussia, Harvey and Lilly (2009) look to increases in under, over and unemployment as a counter-point to the neo-liberal point of view. Through their focus, multiple forms of unequal power and control are seen at the societal, workplace and individual level that appear to facilitate consent and compliance to Globalisation and changes to work. Yet multiple forms of resistance are also noted. Collective protests such as the mass demonstrations at Seattle in 2000 (Goodman, 2000), Genoa in 2001 ("Genoa Under Siege," 2001) and the London Riots of 2011 demonstrate acts of resistance at the level of the individual that are described in the work of Fleming and Sewell (2002) and Gabriel (2008). Structural critical analysts focus their attention on the control/resistance dialectic endemic in capitalist practices, and remind us of the multiple layers of both control and resistance enacted across the spectrum of capitalist dynamics from the values driving macro policies directing the behaviours of investors, government policy makers, corporate directors, employees and managers to the micro activities of individuals. In this work, I use a lens of identity framed around the work of Bauman (2004) and Gabriel (2008) to explore these multiple forms of control and resistance, and to illuminate the diverse lived experiences of Globalisation. My research is focused around how i) the politics and practices of Globalisation and changes to work manifests in individuals lived experiences, and how ii) consent, compliance, assimilation and resistance to the politics and practices of Globalisation and changes to work are expressed as identity at the individual and collective level. I explore these two themes through an overarching orientation to Critical Theory focusing on the methodological approaches of Alvesson & Deetz (2000) and Boje (2007, 2008; Boje & Rosile, 2008; Boje & Tyler, 2009). In this research I have turned my attention to the escalation of the neo-liberal agenda as it was given radical, rapid and widespread effect in New Zealand from the 1980s. I do so through an enquiry into localised processes of the work-related changes as they were explored with my research participants. The location of my field work is in the Single Industry Town of Tokoroa, New Zealand - a town originally founded around the local forestry and pulp and paper industry. I draw on secondary material to present a brief historic overview of the case of Tokoroa. It is one of very few examples of a ‘company town’ founded on company land, originally populated almost exclusively with individuals brought into the town to work at the Mill or on its construction. I follow major demographic trends in the town from its boom time to its decline associated with widespread workforce reduction. My fieldwork involved 32 participants and resulted in 62 hours of recorded interviews. Insights from my fieldwork are structured into two distinct sections. First, I present the secondary research, illustrating how the processes and practices of Globalisation manifest in the New Zealand context. In these chapters, I argue that New Zealand was a first mover in adopting changes in the politico-economic sphere, moving from Keynesian macro-management to neo-liberal structural adjustment in the 1990s. By the mid 1990s, growing negative aspects of the situation of many New Zealanders came to be attributed to this mode of economic dominance (see for example Kelsey, 1999) and a Third Way political agenda was brought into action. While the NZ Labour Party recanted much of their part in the leadership of these changes, and in 2009 Prime Minister Helen Clark provided an explicit apology to New Zealanders for the misguidance of her government of this era, the overall effect is that New Zealand has remained deeply embedded and committed to the form of Globalisation that was established at the time of my fieldwork. The specific historic context of New Zealand’s engagement with, and at time leadership of neo-liberal agendas has resulted in a specific set of publicly espoused ‘identities’ which have been facilitated by and in turn facilitate these transitions over several decades. The second section of my report focuses on the primary research drawn from the stories told by participants in this research. The experiences reported by my participants of the period leading up to and on-going during the time of my fieldwork highlight the prevalence of multiple forms of control and resistance, manifested as moments of identification and disidentification of that era. The stories told by participants of their life in Tokoroa during the period 1950-2013 illustrates the observations of Zizek (2000) that whilst a critical structural analysis provides insights into the power relations of global neo-liberalism, the lived experiences of the individual are significantly more complex. Some of the research participants for example, demonstrated an acute awareness of the processes of neo-liberal hegemony, albeit not expressed in academic terms. For others, the day-to-day need to live within their individual contexts, to support their families, remains their upmost priority. Those individuals do not appear to me as assimilated or domesticated. They are not actively consenting. They are aware of the corporate exacerbation of inequality and inequity in their community but their priorities lie not in political dissention, nor in the furthering of the corporate will, but rather in maintaining their immediate familial and community relations. From the stories told, some participants might be depicted as one dimensional compliant, consenting or assimilated individuals. These depictions endorse the views of those analysts concerned with the kinds of marginalisation, alienation and exploitation associated with capitalism as typified by critical organisational scholars such as Sewell and Wilkinson (1992) and Banerjee, Carter and Clegg (2009). There were many participants who told stories that indicated active resistance to the dominant narrative of neo-liberalism of this era. They were well aware of a global corporate agenda and demonstrated their resistance through overt actions and through micro acts of identification and disidentification. They too however, cannot depicted in one dimensional ways. The overarching narratives regarding Globalisation and changes to work generated from neo-liberal proponents and critical scholars alike, where this is achieved through a predominantly structural analysis, do not provide a satisfactory explanation of the experience of the dynamics of Globalisation. Such grand narrating on both parts masks a multitude of complex individual experiences. The uptake of these overarching structural narratives in scholarship and policy seem to provide a deflection from more nuanced analysis and thus avert attention from forms of action that might be amplified in aspirations for systemic transformation. Such forms of resistance may provide protection from a complete uptake of the neoliberal agenda – or through its tolerance – endorse its claim to freedom of choice. For critical scholars, this seeming paradox provides more scope for emancipatory engagement. Regardless of this meta-analysis, my research would suggest that far from producing a universal group of docile functionaries domesticated to act in the interests of the global elite, the basic human need for social relations, connections to culture, family and community, remain important.
Type of thesis
Hurd, F. (2015). ‘We Came Here for Work’: Recollections of Globalisation and Changes to Work in a New Zealand Single Industry Town (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9071
University of Waikato
All items in Research Commons are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.