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Labour and Workers in the Era of Socioecological Transformation of Society: a case study of the automotive industry

Sociologický ústav Slovenskej akadémie vied v. v. i. srdečne pozýva na ústavný seminár

28. 11. 2023 o 13.30

S prednáškou Labour and Workers in the Era of Socioecological Transformation of Society: a case study of the automotive industry


Patrik Gažo
(Sociologický ústav SAV, v.v.i.)

Prednáška bude v anglickom jazyku v miestnosti č. 94 na Klemensovej 19 v Bratislave a online na platforme Zoom.

We warmly invite you for the Seminar of the Institute for Sociology, Slovak Academy of Sciences on TUESDAY 28th of October at 1.30pm.

Patrik Gažo (Sociologický ústav SAV v.v.i) will present the lecture Labour and Workers in the Era of Socioecological Transformation of Society: a case study of the automotive industry. Abstract of the lecture is attached.

The language of the seminar will be English. Seminar will take a place in the room 94 and on platform Zoom:

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Current research about the transition of the automotive industry to electromobility often focusses on the technical aspects and dynamics from the economic and institutional point of view, or, on the other hand, proposes quantitative calculations of the effects on the natural resources needed to produce batteries, etc. However, industry change does not relate only to these technological and organisational issues. First, it is a political question. Every dominant actor involved in the dialogue about the sector's transition, whether it is the state, industry/employers, or trade unions, follows their own agenda and interests (Gažo et al., 2022). In fact, automobile workers themselves may resist these movements and have very different needs and interests (Henriksson, 2015, 2013). Under-representation and oversimplification of their views are even more alarming when considering that one of the crucial goals of the just transition strategy is to give voice and decision power to those affected the most. Therefore, it is essential to identify and understand their views on this conversion to 'alternative production'.
This applies especially to those countries where the automotive industry has a strong position in employment levels. Central and Eastern Europe will undergo a drastic change in the sector with the introduction of EU's regulation that aims to end the production of cars with internal combustion engines by 2035. Slovakia will be one of the most affected regions - the automotive industry makes up to 13% of the GDP and accounts for up to a quarter of total exports. The automotive sector directly employs about 127,000 people, but, in total, it affects up to a quarter million jobs. Slovakia is also the world's largest producer of passenger cars per capita. For instance, Volkswagen is the largest exporter, the largest private employer, the third largest investor and the fourth largest taxpayer (Gažo et al., 2021). The question then arises: How does it affect the people who work there and why is this not a central part of the discussions?
Despite the recent emergence of literature on workers' roles in just transitions, car workers in Slovakia have not been enquired about their views about what that role could look like. Therefore, this presentation aims to assess the role and explore workers' attitudes in the automotive industry (with emphasis on blue-collar workers in VW, Bratislava) about the green and just transition of the industry. It highlights the lack of knowledge about the future of automotive production in Central and Eastern European countries with respect to its deep decarbonisation and just transition. The presentation also presents the "jobs vs. environment" dilemma and other contradictions and relationships between the interests of (automotive) workers and the environment.
The paper employs the Q-methodology research method (Barry and Proops, 1999) and is conducted from the point of view of blue-collar workers in the Volkswagen plant in Bratislava, Slovakia. Compared to externally ascribed workers' role expectations, this Q study aims to identify workers' attitudes and explore the perception of their role in just transition of the car/mobility industry. Specifically, the empirical objectives of this case study were the following: 1. to explore their willingness to engage in the transition of the automotive industry's production process to other types of mobility technologies/patterns, and their perceptions as to what could be their role in that transition; and 2. to identify possible opportunities and obstacles that automobile workers face in their effort to be a part of the more significant socio-ecological transformation of society towards decarbonisation.