The Powers of Australian Retail Workers as a Section of the Global Working Class

  • Pooya Karambakhsh The University of Sydney


The wide application of the power resources approach has shown its strong capabilities in enabling strategic labour research that can also benefit activists. Nevertheless, the approach has been criticised for ignoring how power is used. This article argues that Steven Lukes’s radical view on power can address this issue. His three-dimensional view considers power in direct conflicts, agenda setting, and the situations in which an actor’s preferences are shaped by another. A key strength of this view is that it can be used to unravel systemic effects and underlying sources of conflicts. In this article, the Lukesian framework is applied to the condition of Australian retail workers as an example of the precariat. It is argued that retail workers have underestimated powers in direct confrontations with employers, and that the legal and institutional frameworks provide them with some support. The analysis indicates that capital’s efforts to form preferences, theoretical foundations and ways of thinking have contributed to substantially pre-empting retail workers’ agency. However, it also shows that there is nothing inevitable about this situation.