The 68th BUIRA annual conference was hosted by a team led by Ian Roper at Middlesex University in North London. Despite the rival attraction of the early stages of the World Cup being on, attendance and participation was good. The weather was glorious and – because much of the networking between sessions took place in the glass-roofed Quad – this probably contributed to what delegates reported to be a friendly and relaxed atmosphere throughout the event. We were pleased to welcome delegates from as far away as India, Australia, Spain, Japan, Canada, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and the US.
As in previous years, papers presented to this year’s conference demonstrated the continuing vitality of employment relations as a field of enquiry. This year’s theme was ‘the return of politics to employment relations’ and this was represented in papers presented both in plenary sessions and also in the parallel track themes. Overall 65 presentations were made in the parallel sessions and this included 6 each in two specially themed tracks. The first of these was on “industrial relations, trade unionism and collective bargaining in Post-Soviet states” convened by Claudio Morrison (Middlesex) and Nik Hammer (Leicester); the second was on “alternative forms of organisation” convened by Martin Upchurch and Dan Ozarow (Middlesex).
The two plenary sessions fitted well to the conference theme. The first of these kicked the conference off well. After the formal introductions and welcomes, a panel of experts and interested parties, convened by Ralph Darlington, discussed and debated the significance of the 2018 universities pension dispute. Employment relations’ academics have long been interested in the dynamics of high profile collective disputes, but rarely have they been in the national spotlight for participating in one. Contributions of the dynamics of this – and lessons to take from it – were made variously by John Kelly (Birkbeck), Phil Taylor (Strathclyde), Rachel Cohen (City), Jo Grady (Leicester) and Sean Wallis (UCL).
The second plenary, convened by Jo McBride (Newcastle), provided a platform for Kim Howell (Oberlin College, Ohio), to make a powerful argument that the hegemony of neo-liberalism in employment relations shows no sign of relenting – despite the appearances given by the recent ascendancy of ‘nativist’ populism. This was complemented by Miguel Martinez-Lucio (Manchester) who outlined the interplay between the study of politics and employment relations and demonstrated that the borders between these disciplines is becoming increasingly blurred.
Other events included a well attended doctoral session, organised by David Babarinde (Kingston), a well attended and lively BUIRA AGM, BUIRA study groups and a meet-the-editors session for the journal Work, Employment and Society.
The evening entertainment was well received. The good weather made the barbecue event on the MDXHouse Terrace on Thursday a good opportunity for networking. The main conference meal, at the London Canal Museum situated in the redeveloped Kings Cross area was a popular venue. The staging of one certain group-stage World-Cup match, as a rival event, did not seem to diminish numbers, though the good weather did mean that the three-piece band brought in to welcome guests as they arrived, were playing to an empty room as delegates took their drinks outside to take in the atmosphere of the Regents Canal.