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A longer working life – a good thing for everyone?

The thesis "We who stayed at Volvo" is a study of the impact that many years of industrial work has on people and their attitude to their job, their life outside work and their own future.

The study is based on life history interviews with 16 workers aged between 49 and 62 at Volvo’s Torslanda plant. The objective has been to try to understand how workers’ experiences and the ageing process have led them to think, feel and act in the way they do now.

The study reveals that all of them want to retire before 65, preferably at 60 or even earlier. Many of them, particularly the women, also feel physically tired and/or have health problems that reduce their capacity for work. Their working lives have been characterised by subordination that has intensified as they have become older, resulting in mental tiredness.

There are also a number of norms that reinforce their desire to take early retirement. One norm specific to the company consists of the recurrent pension scheme offers, a social norm is that it is considered an entitlement that everyone should have a few years as a healthy pensioner, and a class-related norm is that the workers consider early retirement for those who have had a physically demanding job for many years to be fair.

Despite the desire to take early retirement, they stress how much work has meant to them, and to some extent, how much it still means. They emphasise in particular the sense of community that exists in a workplace, and the experience of continuity that work provides. The relatively well paid work has also provided them with the opportunity to create a good life materially with a sense of pride and dignity.

Since the early 1990s older workers at the Torslanda plant have also been offered the unique opportunity of doing the usual assembly work at the same rate of pay as before, but with a less demands on their performance. These special "senior" posts were gradually phased out in the early 2000s due to rationalisations, which is one reason why it is now more difficult to find suitable jobs for those who need less physically demanding work.

The influence they have in their working lives and the subordination they feel are aspects that contribute to their class affiliation. Björn Ohlsson feels that the sense of vulnerability and impotence is becoming particularly clear now that some two thousand workers at Volvo Cars have been made redundant or forced to leave their jobs in other ways.

The study can also be viewed as an example of the way in which working life is changing in Sweden. The author of the thesis feels that there is a risk that the developments at Volvo in recent years will lead to a form of working life that is not sustainable in the long-term.

- Besides putting some flesh on the bones of the discussion regarding the problem of an ageing population and the way in which working life is changing, I hope that the thesis will produce some understanding for the way in which industrial workers view their working lives, and that there can be ways of thinking other than those that predominate in the media, says Björn Ohlsson.

Title of the thesis: We who stayed at Volvo - an ethnological study of senior automobile-industry blue-collar workers’ working-lives and future plans.
The thesis will be public defended on Friday 23 January at 1.00 pm
Location: Room 10 in the University’s main building, Vasaparken, Gothenburg, Sweden

Opponent: Professor Anders Björklund, Stockholm, Sweden

Helena Aaberg | alfa
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