A study of workers’ mobilization within the Irish supermarket sector
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This thesis examines why workers in the Irish large supermarket sector acquire a sense of collective identity separate from their employer’s organization in response to perceived injustice and why they engage in collective action. The data is collected from two of the largest supermarket chains in Irish retail. The first is the British-based Multinational Enterprise (MNE), Tesco, and the second MNE is the Irish owned Dunnes. Using a qualitative study, the thesis examines the perceptions, attitudes and actions of four groups of workers: shop stewards formally recognised in Tesco; union member employees in Tesco; union activists in Dunnes (where no formal recognition exists), and union member employees in Dunnes. Kelly’s (1998) Mobilization Theory has been chosen as the theoretical framework, as the theory’s concepts of injustice, common identity and attribution help to understand why workers collectively mobilize and engage in collective organization and activity. The thesis finds that in the two large supermarket organizations in this study, workers’ sense of injustice was predominantly subject to their economic necessity to earn a livelihood; the focus of attribution can change from individual managers to their employer’s organization; the study also suggests that common identity can be fragmented due to fear of management. Finally, collective organization and activity were discouraged by fear of management counter-mobilization tactics. This countermobilization is facilitated by the constitutional legal framework notion that the parties to an employment contract are equally free to enter or not enter these contracts of employment. The contributions of the thesis are: (i) industrial relations in the retail sector is underresearched and (ii) Mobilization Theory has not been previously utilised in a retail setting. This thesis helps to narrow these academic gaps. Theoretically, the thesis finds that the utility of Mobilization Theory lacks predictability due to its overlapping modules and conflicting variables. However, this thesis finds that Mobilization Theory, when used in an application approach, has explanatory utility. The thesis builds on the application approach by demonstrating its new conceptual model is of use to both academic scholars and practitioners within the field of industrial relations.
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