Organizing labour at chokepoints: labour struggles against casualization at sea- and airport terminals in Portugal.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Anne ENGELHARDT, Kassel University, Germany
In the last four decades, logistics has become one of the most important sectors of the global economy. A growing velocity in this sector was made possible due to the intermodal function of the container and automatization. This decreased the costs of transport allowing for an ever-expanding division of labour and the globalisation of commodity flows to Just-in-Time-production and door to door transport. This process has created ‘chokepoints’ mainly in air and water transportation, i.e. spaces of the economy where the flow of commodities can most easily be interrupted on a large scale through labour struggles. At harbours and airports, the intermodal change of goods - from an airplane to a truck, from a ship to a train etc. - takes place through inter-functional processes between highly automatized harbours and airports and a centralised workforce on the one hand and individualized and often self-employed truck drivers on the other. Different scholars (Edna Bonacich, David Bensman, David Jaffee etc.) analyse chokepoints as a special field of ‘logistical power’ for workers to contest precarious labour conditions, union busting, and elevate unionising. However, exactly because chokepoints appear to be vulnerable places for the commodity flow, governments as much as companies in the logistic, security, and insurance sector impose ever new legislations, surveillance, and control to minimize the risk of interruption. Referring to these two antagonist discourses around chokepoints the following research questions are aimed to be answered: I) Is the thesis about logistical power still valid? II) Have there been successful struggles concerning the improvement of labour conditions and unionising in the port and airport sector? III) How could they succeed concerning increasing surveillance and securitization? The paper will be underpinned with examples of recent struggles of the IDC in Portugal/Lisbon and labour struggles in the airports against the privatization of the TAP.