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Temporary agency workers in the French car industry: working under a new variant of 'despotism' in the labour process

Purcell, Christina (2014) Temporary agency workers in the French car industry: working under a new variant of 'despotism' in the labour process. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis is an exploration of how the use of temporary agency work in French car plants modifies the experience and mechanisms of labour control in the labour process. Over the last decade, car manufacturers in France have made extensive use of this form of employment, despite regulations which restrict the use of agency labour to exceptional circumstances. Legal challenges aimed at reclassifying temporary agency contracts into permanent employment contracts have revealed that some agency workers have accumulated many years of employment as an agency worker with user-company. The presence of significant proportions of agency workers on assembly lines for long periods of time has implications for the labourcapital relation on the shopfloor. Precarious working conditions for low-skilled workers are assumed to affect the capacity of workers to negotiate relations on the shop-floor. The thesis employs a conceptual framework based upon Burawoy’s (1985) theory of production politics to examine the specific way in which the triadic relationship between the temporary agency worker, temporary employment agency and user-organisation modifies the factory regime within which temporary agency workers labour. Starting from an analysis of the macro- and meso-level development of the post-war French state and of the key economic sectors that constitute the “politics of production”, the thesis focuses on the PSA Peugeot-Citroën plant in Aulnay-sous-Bois as a case study, and combines interview data with other qualitative (textual) data. The research finds that temporary agency workers in the car sector respond to their employment situation in a more complex way than studies of coercion and consent in the labour process suggest. Employment insecurity and the “duality of control” which flows from the triadic relationship upon which the temporary agency contract rests gives rise to a factory regime more conducive to compliance/coercion than consent. However, the “traces of consent” identified by the research illustrate the complex nature of hegemony and despotism in the labour process. Drawing on the findings of the empirical data in the context of France, the thesis develops the concept of hegemonic despotism by examining how hegemonic despotism is expressed across a variety of employment contexts. The thesis identifies a tension between adverse conditions of employment and hegemonic practices, such as the formal adhesion to “soft” models of HRM, alongside the recasting of norms of employment to fit the requirements of contemporary capital accumulation.

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