Seminar Series: Migrants, Workplace and Community: Learning from Innovations in Civil Society

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Nottingham University Business School


Between the spheres of the private and the public (relating to the state) lies the realm of civil society, the realm of groups, institutions, and networks, such as faith groups, trade unions, and community organisations. Migrant workers are a valuable vantage point to explore current transformations in civil society and its role in fostering social justice, social cohesion and a fairer society. Migrant workers perform an important role in contemporary society and economy yet they are constructed as one of the key contemporary problems in current public and political discourse. Crucially, there are groups in civil society that are working, often at the grassroots level, to build cohesion from the bottom-up in communities and workplaces. Both research and practice in this area is currently fragmented. This seminar series brings together researchers and practitioners on the theme of 'Migrants, Workplace and Community', with the central aim of developing learning, for both academics and practitioners, from these innovations in civil society. The series comprises 9 one-day seminars over 3 years.

The central approach of the proposal of fertilising knowledge across disciplinary boundaries and across boundaries between academics and practitioners is shown in the make-up of the application team, which includes a key practitioner (the Director of Migrants' Rights Network), and academics from the backgrounds of business, employment relations, economic geography, sociology and migration studies. The proposal is also structured to develop research capacity by including PhD students and early career researchers. As well as bursaries being made available for PhD students for the seminars, there is one seminar (on methodological innovations and reflections) devoted to enhancing the learning and development of PhD students and early career researchers. The proposal is also designed to enhance international learning and collaboration. One seminar is devoted to uncovering the lessons for this area from the US, Europe and the Global South. In total, 6 international speakers will contribute to the series.

The 9 seminar topics are:
1. Migrants, civil society and social cohesion: Issues, debates and practices in the context of international migration
2. New forms of organizing and self-organizing of migrant workers across community and workplace. Lessons from the US, Europe and the Global South.
3. Migrant workers initiatives and established labour organizations.
4. Civil societal involvement in employment relations.
5. Civic and labour engagements as avenues for the integration and social cohesion of migrants: exploring the intersections of race, class and gender and marginalized identities
6. Taking the king's shilling: when civil society is invited in. Irregular migrants, Civil society organisations and the state.
7. Researching civic and labour engagements in the context of migration and social cohesion: methodological innovations and reflections.
8. Reflections on workplace, community, and society in the cultural production of migrants.
9. 'How can we help?' Civic and labour practitioners' suggestions for academic research practice with greater impact.

The series will lead to important outcomes for both academics and civil society practitioners. The series will inform the publication of special issues of two leading academic journals, in employment relations and in migration studies. It will also lead to the publication of a booklet for civil society practitioners (supported by a devoted website) outlining cases of best practice with regard to social cohesion and migrants at the intersection of workplace and community. Facilitated by a clear social media strategy, the series will also foster longer-term organic links among civil society groups, and between academics and civil society groups.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit?
The main beneficiaries of the series will be civil society groups currently involved in practices of integration of migrants and other vulnerable subjects. These groups include faith groups, trade unions (both large national ones such as UNITE and UNISON and small autonomous ones such as United Voices of the World), community organisations (such as Citizens UK and its city 'branches' in London, Nottingham, and Leeds) and migrants' groups. Several of our non-academic beneficiaries are groups linked to Migrants' Rights Network (whose Director is a co-applicant). The Migrants' Rights Network is a unique meta-group serving as a network forum for over 2,000 grassroots civil society groups of, and relating to, migrants.

The other beneficiaries will be policy makers who at the local, regional and national level are involved with policies relating to fostering migrants' integration and promoting vibrant communities and social cohesion.
Individuals and communities will also benefit from better policies and civil societal practices.

How will they benefit?
The benefits of the seminar series can be grouped under three sub-headings central to the ESRC impact aims:

1. Improving social welfare and social cohesion
The series will lead to a cross-fertilisation of knowledge between civil society groups, and between civil society groups and academics, of forms of practice (and their outcomes) at the intersection between migrants, workplace and community. This will foster the development of best practice in this area. This will be formalised in the production of a booklet outlining cases of good practice and nine briefing documents to be distributed among relevant groups, and also captured within the linked website. Long term benefits will accrue from these relevant groups forming organic longer-term links with each other through the seminar series (facilitated by our social media strategy). Sharing best practice will contribute to greater integration of migrants at the grass-roots level, and hence will favour greater social cohesion.

For policy makers the seminar series will help in terms of bottom-up policy development. The series will create a forum for the development of best practice for the integration of migrants and the promotion of cohesion at the intersection between workplace and community. The policy implications of this will not be the need for new direct forms of state intervention, but in terms of helping create the conditions in which such civil society group activities can flourish. The above noted booklet relating to best practice and the seminars briefing documents will also have a target audience of policy makers. Policy makers will also be invited to the seminars.

Individuals and communities will benefit in the long run through better representation, integration and community cohesion.

2. Enhancing the research capacity, knowledge and skills of civil society organisations
Civil society groups participating in the series will directly benefit by enhancing their knowledge in this area. The website supporting the seminar series will serve as forum for the storage and distribution of relevant research - thus enhancing research capacity of relevant groups. The skills of civil society organisations will be developed through the enhancement of understanding of best practice in this area.

3. Enhancing cultural enrichment
One of the seminars is focused on the cultural productions (reflecting on workplace and community) of migrants themselves. This seminar will involve a workshop developing the participation of migrants and their group in this area. This will have the benefit of developing the cultural expressive skills of migrants and to disseminate academic findings and migrants' experiences to a wider audience. In the long run this contributes to the cultural enrichment of UK society.


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Holgate J (2018) The limitations of the theory and practice of mobilization in trade union organizing in Economic and Industrial Democracy

Description While precarious and migrant workers have been growing in numbers and developed new initiatives to represent themselves research has been slow at understanding and documenting their practices. This Seminar Series set out to promote knowledge exchange and networks across sectors (universities, civic and community organizations, trade unions), academic disciplines, and generations of researchers and practitioners from different countries.

1. A key finding of the Series concerns the generation of research knowledge and awareness about their collective initiatives, practices and organizations. Through a portfolio of contributions that ranged from academic papers to exhibitions, the Series foregrounded the importance for different disciplines to focus more on this question. In particular, this finding is of significance to Industrial Relations, a field of study that has stayed concerned with established unions and the organization of 'standard' (rather than precarious) workers. This finding is also important for Migration Studies, a field that has privileged ethno-cultural aspects of integration in disconnection from material ones and has tended to consider migrants as objects or victims of policy.

This finding is also of significance for civil society organizations, such as trade unions and community organizations. Established unions have in fact emerged as having so far provided an inadequate response to the demand of representation coming from these atypical workers, while community organizations have often overlooked the sphere of work in their otherwise inclusionary activity with migrants.

2. The Series generated also methodological findings. It has raised greater awareness of how industrial end employment relations research has been characterized by an organization-centred approach. Accordingly, this institutionalist 'bias' has contributed to overlook workers' practices and initiatives taking place in sectors characterized by precarity, outsourcing and bogus self-employment.

Another methodological finding concerns the involvement of precarious workers in research and representation processes. We explored a number of formats revolving around participatory action research which emerged as the approach most capable of accommodating both researchers and practitioners' agendas and fostering collaborations.

3. An important outcome of the Series has also been the development of an international network of academics and practitioners concerned with the improvement of precarious and migrant workers' conditions through committed research and action. The series offered them an international and participatory environment in which to present and discuss precarious workers' responses to precarization and locate them in a more global and comparative perspective.

4. Finally, the Series offered several training opportunities for PhD and early career scholars as well as for organizers and workers by offering them the possibility to organize activities, presenting their work and experiences, learning about theory and methods of research and practice as well as for networking within and across sectors.

Towards the end of the Series there was among participants a shared feeling that the informative, communicative and participatory space that the Series had developed ought to continue and that more opportunities to foster exchange between researchers and practitioners on this important topic should continue to be provided.
Exploitation Route We expect that our findings on the need to engage more robustly with the organizing practices of precarious migrant workers and the organizations representing them will be reflected soon in a renewed research agenda and in a wave of new research projects. We also expect that as a result, the existing theory on the representation of workers' interests (developed with standard workers and large unions in mind) will be refined to reflect the labour practices of this growing sector of the population.

We also expect these findings to encourage labour, civic and community practitioners and organizers to engage more thoroughly and systematically with precarious and migrant workers and their exploitative working conditions - taking inspiration by some of the organizations that contributed to the seminar series
The number of outputs - in academic journals, but also blogs and magazines - produced by the series' participants will contribute to encourage this change in practice. The Seminar Series' website will be a vehicle for facilitating that.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

Description Formation of young researchers, practitioners and organizers
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Formation of young researchers, practitioners and organizers
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Formation of young researchers, practitioners and organizers
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Young researcher and organizers formation
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description 'Step Up Migrant Women', Lloyds Foundation. Awarded to Prof Cathy McIlwaine.
Amount £9,000 (GBP)
Organisation Lloyd's Register Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
Description 'The Role of Community and Labour Organizations in Promoting Workers Rights'. University of Nottingham Business School Spark Fund.
Amount £3,450 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 12/2016
Description ILME
Amount € 4,000 (EUR)
Funding ID ILME 
Organisation International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion in Europe (IMISCOE) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Netherlands
Start 01/2018 
Description Learning from the Migrants: New Independent Unions and the Organisation of British Precarious Workers', University of Nottingham Business School Seedcorn Fund.
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2017
Description University of Nottingham Business school Student Scholarship
Amount £57,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 09/2021
Description Collaboration with a workers education organization 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact It entailed two participatory workshops that brought together practitioners and academics with the intent of promoting migrant and minority workers education on anti-racism and unionism.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Involvement of Prof Cathy McIlwaine with the Working Group on Women Workers and Labour Exploitation run by the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group of Focus on Labour Exploitation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) works to end human trafficking for labour exploitation. To achieve this, FLEX works to prevent labour abuses, protect the rights of trafficked persons and promote best practice responses to human trafficking for labour exploitation by undertaking research, advocacy and by building awareness in this field. Through this work FLEX aims to:

Ensure that the enforcement of labour rights forms part of national and international responses to trafficking for labour exploitation;
Ensure that victims of trafficking for labour exploitation are recognised as individuals and rights-bearers; and
Challenge policies, attitudes and practices that drive labour exploitation.

The Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG) is a group of key organisations working with potential and actual victims of trafficking for labour exploitation. LEAG was established by FLEX in 2015 in order to promote information-sharing and collaboration for change on trafficking for labour exploitation; and hold FLEX accountable to those for whom we work.

LEAG aims to build a shared understanding of the experiences of vulnerable and exploited workers in the UK, and to ensure that their voiced needs form the basis of all actions to address trafficking for labour exploitation.

LEAG works together to assess the impact of formal and informal responses to trafficking for labour exploitation by government and non-government actors; and identify barriers and develop joint strategies for improving the relevance and effectiveness of trafficking responses for vulnerable and exploited workers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
Description Representation of migrant workers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Provision of training to trade unionists in relation to the representation of migrant workers (as part of ETUC)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Talk to a regional labour and community organization 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 20+ people mostly from labour, community and educational organizations attended a talk given by Davide Pero at the Midlands Labour and Employment Relation Society (MLERS) in February 2020. The talk was hosted by the British Dietetic Assocation (Birmingham). It examined the effectiveness of independent grassroots organization co-led by outsourced precarious migrant workers ('indie unions') at obtaining the living wage, basic pension entitlements and sick leave from wealthy employers despite the lack of material resources and a hostile environment. The talk sparked several questions and a lively discussion on how the experience of indie unions compares to and is relevant to other labour and community organizations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020