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Behind the Beer: An examination of the labour process within the Scottish microbrewing industry

Ellis, Vaughan; O'Neil, Jennifer



Much of the contemporary discourse on the future of work centres on the robot revolution and the continued automation of production processes. Long predicted by labour process theorists such as Braverman, the deskilling of work has produced increasing levels of alienation amongst employees and greater fear of unemployment. This is despite ever-increasing attempts by employers to secure employee engagement and Governments to promote decent work. However, critics have challenged the totalising aspects of some labour process accounts and have argued that flexible specialisation and knowledge work are the hallmarks of emerging craft industries, where highly skilled workers are integral to the production and valorisation process.
Brewing has experienced a considerable revival in recent years with the number of brewers in the UK being at its highest level since the 1930s. After decades of mergers and takeovers saw the emergence of a small number of global brewing conglomerates, many of the recently established brewers have spearheaded what has been referred to as a ‘craft beer revolution’. Typically, producing small batches of artisan brews and with small workforces, the output of craft brewers accounts for approximately 2.5% of all beer sales in the UK, but is the fastest growing sector of the drinks market. The growth of the industry mirrors that seen by artisan food producers and has led some to suggest an emerging preference for rejecting mass produced food and drink products.
Despite recognition of the craft beer industry's emergence, growth and cultural significance, almost nothing is known about work and employment within it. Indeed, to date only one paper examining work within the industry has been published (Thurnell Read, 2014). Founded on a rejection of Fordist production methods, and utilising the craft knowledge of workers to design and sell ever expanding ranges of innovative products, the industry has been held up by some as offering an '...appealing antidote to modern industrial production and rationalised service provisions based on mass consumerism' (Thurnell-Read, 2014: 46). However, such claims have not been adequately explored, tested, nor their implications assessed.
Utilizing in-depth, semi structured interviews with workers within craft breweries from across Scotland, allied with in-depth interviews with managers and owners, the aim of this paper is to present preliminary findings examining the organisation and experience of work and employment within the Scottish craft beer industry. In particular, quality of working life, job satisfaction, work-life balance and career opportunities within the Scottish craft beer industry will be evaluated. The findings, as such, will be discussed in relation to a wider body of literature based on labour process traditions related to, for example, responsible autonomy; craft, rather than scientific principles of work organisation, and, self-organised forms of resistance and misbehaviour. The findings are expected to represent the first comprehensive accounts of work and employment in the emergent and rapidly expanding micro-brewing industry. The findings will also contribute to the extension of labour process theory and further demonstrate the relevance and importance of labour process analysis in contemporary work and employment contexts.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name International Labour Process Conference
Start Date Mar 21, 2018
End Date Mar 23, 2018
Deposit Date Jun 12, 2018
Keywords craft workers, brewing, small businesses
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