Viviana Patroni leads initiative on precarious employment

Prof. Viviana Patroni, CERLAC Fellow and former Director, is spearheading a collaborative CERLAC research initiative tentatively titled "Poverty, Inequality and Economic Insecurity in Latin America: Deciphering the Political Economy of Precarious Employment". The initiative's lead partners are based in York, Clark and Concordia Universities, but it engages a broader community of interested scholars throughout the Americas. It is driven by the same motivating concerns that defined the RedLEIDH project on human rights in the Americas; a research thread on labour was originally envisioned for that previous project, but was left unrealized as the scope of the project was narrowed down to more practicable range of issues.

This new initiative focuses attention on the structure of labor markets and labor organizations at a moment of important transition in Latin America, and will engage in particular the pervasive and persistent problems of precarious employment, inequality and poverty. The research considers the proposition that economic insecurity and deprivation originate not from workers' lack of access to liberalized markets but rather from the very structure of these markets. The analytic approach of the initiative is threefold: (1) to examine the structure of labor markets, (2) to assess the extent and form of labour organization, and (3) to evaluate the relative power and influence of business and labour organizations in the policy-making process.

The results of the collaborators' preliminary enquiries on the political economy of precarious labour in the region were presented in a seminar at York University in May 2012. The activity, funded by IDRC, the Ford Foundation, and York's Office of the Vice President, Research and Innovation, provided a venue for the participation of various experts on the topic and an audience from the academic and activist community.

Project participants who presented at the seminar included: Paul Posner (Clark University, USA); Ruth Felder (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and York University, Canada); C├ęsar Giraldo (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colombia); Jean Francois Mayer (Concordia University, Canada); Maria Elena Valenzuela (Organizaci├│n Internacional del Trabajo [OIT], Chile); Froilan Barrios Nieves (Andres Bello University, Venezuela); and Enrique de la Garza Toledo (Metropolitan Autonomous University-Ixtapalapa [UAM-I], Mexico).

Other seminar participants and future project collaborators included: Albert Berry (University of Toronto); Thomas Chiasson-LeBel (Political Science, York University; Bryan Evans (Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University); Sam Gindin (Political Science, York University); Jorge Garcia-Orgales (United Steelworkers); Pablo Idahosa (International Development Studies, Department of Social Science, York University); Wayne Lewchuk (Labour Studies, McMaster University); Julia Mais (Department of Geography, York University); Stephanie Ross (Centre for Research on Work & Society and Work and Labour Studies, Department of Social Science, York University); Mark Thomas (Centre for Research on Work & Society CRWS and Department of Sociology, York University); Steven Tufts (Department of Geography, York University); and Anna Zalik (Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University).

The meeting made possible an in-depth discussion of research findings; the identification of common themes and important differences; and the development of the policy-relevant theoretical, conceptual and empirical elements of this work. The day following the seminar, a closed workshop was held with the main project collaborators, serving as a platform for planning the next two stages in the initiative: to disseminate the results of the workshop electronically and through the compilation of the presentations in an edited volume; and the creation of a transregional network for knowledge sharing and the development of new research initiatives. A longer term objective foresees the creation of an institute for for the Study of Labor in the Americas, or ISLAS.