Can Austerity Also Aggregate? Discourses and Responses of Trade Unions and Socio-Occupational Actors

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Hermes COSTA, University of Coimbra, Faculty of Economics, Center for Social Studies, Portugal
Elísio ESTANQUE, University of Coimbra, Portugal
Hugo DIAS, CESIT, Unicamp, Brazil
As a result of the Eurozone crisis, “austerity” became the overwhelming issue of Portuguese industrial relations system. Particularly since the end of 2010, labour relations were affected by measures of employment liberalization, with implications for working time, contractual arrangements, rules for dismissal, etc. Consequently – and also because of a resurgence of old “materialist” values centered on employment issues and protection of labour rights (Estanque, Costa and Soeiro 2013: 33) –, new synergies between trade unions and other socio-occupational actors/movements were stimulated.

In order to discuss last years’ struggles against austerity, we have a double goal. Firstly, we want to characterize the old trade union actors that historically defended labour rights (CGTP and UGT, the main trade union confederations) in order to highlight their discourses on the crisis. The same exercise in proposed with the new socio-occupational actors like FERVE (Fartos Destes Recibos Verdes, Fed up of these green receipts); MayDay network; Precários Inflexíveis (Precarious Inflexible Workers). Secondly, we compare the episodes of “traditional” social conflict (strikes) with the “innovative” social conflicts and broader social protests.

In our analysis of the strikes, we focus on: a) five general strikes (between 2010 and 2013) organized by CGTP and UGT and also on b) the 2014 workers’ strike in a specific precarious sector (employees at the “Saúde 24” medical helpline), which provides scope for an assessment of the challenges facing trade union activity and reflections on new ways of organising social conflict. On the other hand, our analysis of broader social protests if focused on demonstrations (12th March 2011, 15th Sept 2012; 2nd March 2013) directly oriented to the denunciation of austerity and to the defense of Social state. By doing this, we identify both the basis for alliances between trade unions and social movements, and the old cleavages between them.