|In recent years, the restructuring of production and new ways of managing
the workforce in Brazil have accelerated the growth of an already huge
informal sector resulting in increased unemployment in the manufacturing
industry. The flexibilization of labour has brought great insecurity to
workers in terms of employment, as a consequence of a reduction in stable
or permanent jobs, increased subcontracting, part-time or precarious jobs.
The intensive use of outsourcing/subcontracting by firms of all kinds (including
state firms) has been presented as an inevitable part of market rationale
and has been linked to the announcement of "modernity" in the country.
This whole process has affected and made difficult trade union action and
has represented a challenge to the Brazilian trade union movement, reinvigorated
and strengthened by the struggles of the last fifteen years. Organized
labour has to play a double role. It has to maintain pressure to guarantee
social and labour rights obtained after strikes against business and resistance
to the military state in the 1970s and 1980s, whilst simultaneously needing
to intervene in and negotiate economic growth and employment in a context
of precariousness at the workplace.
Based on recent information concerning the particularity of labour and
industrial development in Brazil of the 1990s, this chapter discusses effects
of this process on firms, on the labour market, and the existing forms
of labour and employment. It also presents evidence to explain the role
of trade unions in this context both in the way in which they have been
confronting the wide spread towards the flexibilization of labour relations,
and in their approach to business and the state in terms of negotiation,
mainly in the sectoral chambers. It concludes with an analysis of the future
prospects for labour and trade unions in Brazil, considering the particularities
of workers’ collective and political organisation in the country.
LABOUR AND RESTRUCTURING OF INDUSTRY
While the articulation of Brazil within the international economy speeds
up the effects of industrial restructuring, national, regional, and local
specificities and socio-cultural characteristics impact directly on the
strategies borrowed from other labour management experiences. Case studies
in Brazil (Castro & Guimarães, 1990: 211, 215) show a major
heterogeneity between sectors and even between companies in a given industry;
international market competition triggers modernization through export
companies, but it does not reach the entire industrial base; modernization
results from isolated action, due in part to the government's lack of an
industrial policy, but also due to company verticalization deriving from
Brazil's late industrialization originated predominantly in the 1950s,
and was based on import substitution. Although it has incorporated the
dominant capitalist industrial pattern, with an intense process of modernization,
and with the expansion and strengthening of the working class and the middle
classes, it has also brought an increase in poverty and under-employment
and a systematic inequality in the distribution of income. There has been
"an increase in structural heterogeneity with the coexistence of modern
sectors, informal activities and subsistence sectors" (Casassus, 1994:82
; Mattoso, 1995:124,134). The state, played a fundamental role in this
development process, acting as a direct investor and a facilitator to private
investment, but has failed to provide a reasonable set of laws or policies
to protect those who were marginalized, many of whom migrated to the cities
from rural areas of the country.
Such a shortcoming has not prevented the gradual application of new
entrepreneurial strategies whenever market openings demand greater international
competitiveness and place the survival of domestic companies at risk. But
the introduction, in the 1980s and 1990s, of so called "Japanese methods"
in Brazilian industry has to be viewed very carefully, especially when
it comes to labour relations. The main tendency is to combine new technology
with very conservative forms of labour management, which makes it difficult
to effectively involve the workers in any decision in relation to the productive
process. Moreover, there still remains a strong tradition among Brazilian
entrepreneurs of non-negotiation with trade unions. This extends from a
position of ignoring the trade union and its demands (Leite, 1994:119),
"to an anti-trade union kind of posture, (...) marked by attempts to inhibit
union activities such as the sacking of activists, the exclusion of union
activities from the factory and even the non admittance of trade union
Evidence from research into Brazilian industry suggests a process of
"Brazilianization" of the "Japanese techniques". According to Salerno (1990),
the way "just-in-time" has been applied is in fact maintaining a rigid
division of labour, a prescription of individual tasks, and an absence
of workers' autonomy to the definition of work methods and, in the end,
this would lead to the standardization of work. Humphrey (1990:19) states
that this process of restructuring could be termed "Taylorized just-in-time",
where management would be running the factory like a machine, under a strategy
with no need for involvement or commitment, but more coercion and pressure
on the workers.
Although it can be said that new management strategies have been gradually
applied to Brazilian firms of the 1990s, albeit mainly in the multinational
sectors of industry, the results of restructuring of production, in most
cases, suggests a context of restrictive flexibility of the labour market.
It is a kind of adaptation to restructuring where "the reality of the market"
is predominant (Ruas: 1994:98). According to Ruas and Bresciani (1994:201,202),
the process of restructuring in the country has brought a significant increase
in productivity gains for all industry although this has emerged against
a background of reduction of employment levels, a decrease of wages in
most industrial sectors, great labour force mobility an increase in informal
labour and greater use of subcontracting and homeworking.
One notable example of these trends concerns the widespread use of outsourcing.
With the economic crisis and the pressure to reduce costs and increase
efficiency, firms started a process of horizontalisation and externalisation
of activities. So called "third-party" firms perform tasks that used to
be carried out by the principal companies in the name of productivity and
competitiveness. But there are different ways of carrying out outsourcing.
Existing studies on the use of outsourcing (Ramalho & Martins, 1994;
Abreu, Ramalho & Sorj, 1995 and Gitahy:1994:126) describe some experiences
of carrying out of quality management techniques, proposing partnerships
throughout the production flow, trying to upgrade suppliers and increase
the quality of products. However, in an unskilled labour market with much
available labour, such cost saving has devastating effects on the supply
of work and those who depend on it for their survival. In fact, what still
prevails in the Brazilian case is a kind of outsourcing (Faria, 1994: 43),
maintaining an antagonism with both employees and the trade union movement.
The objective is to ensure short-term profits, where cost cutting is achieved
by cutting labour.
The Brazilian outsourcing process relates directly to the issue of subcontracting.
Within the same production area, there is both a subcontracting process
where technological and production management innovations obtained by the
subcontracting company are transferred to the subcontracted companies and
another, which can be called "contingency subcontracting" (Abreu &
Sorj, 1994:64-5), where the company transfers to the workers the costs
of energy, equipment, and space, where the base is a labour force without
the burden of labour legislation.
In the context of restructuring, women's participation in the labour
force and a simultaneous increase in home-based labour also deserve consideration.
Data on female under-employment indicate that such labour is organized
around a local market linking neighbourhood relations and domestic sociability.
Such under-employment tends to get labour and family dynamics mixed up,
fails to organize forms of recognition referring to labour, and appears
to transpire according to the life cycle, under the aegis of the need to
help one's family. According to Telles (1994: 98-99), "the absence of rights
and the ill-defined nature of the labour relationship appear to shape a
situation where differences between labour and non-labour are dissolved...
and precarious labour appears natural as a kind of extension of domestic
chores, helping supplement the family income."
Participation in the labour market by working at home helps bolster
the family budget and keeps women's domestic role intact. This reinforces
"the ideology of domesticity" (Abreu & Sorj, 1993: 61), "since by working
in isolation, communicating intermittently and sporadically with her employer,
with no chance of a career or promotion, ignored by trade unions and excluded
from the social benefits enjoyed by wage-earning workers, women have tremendous
difficulty in distinguishing their professional identity from that of wife
Labour at home is an essential part of the restructuring process. Entire
families use household space as production space, the workday has no time
to start or finish, and management relations get mixed up with those of
family authority. Adding to all this is the demand for high product quality.
There is a great diversity of situations in household labour. In the
Brazilian shoe industry (Ruas, 1993: 40), for example, which makes intensive
use of this type of labour, it is still quite precarious, with a predominance
of unskilled labour and a rudimentary technological base. Unlike the subcontracting
networks developed under "flexible specialization", with an emphasis on
quality and flexibility, in the households linked to the shoe industry
the relationship is generally a predatory one. In the Rio de Janeiro textile
industry (Abreu & Sorj, 1993: 45-46), household labour is essentially
female and "invisible". Since household workers do not have signed working
papers like other company workers, and since social rights are not guaranteed
by the employer, companies transfer social costs to the seamstresses by
requiring that they obtain a self-employed worker's card, making the relationship
one of purchase and sale of services by independent manufacturers.
FORMAL AND INFORMAL LABOUR
Restructuring of production also bears a direct relationship to the
labour market, in a sense altering the informal characteristics present
in the economy. Some figures on the degree of existing informality in the
Brazilian labour market serve as a good example. According to the Brazilian
Census Bureau (Desep Indicators, 1994: 106-107), of the approximately 40
million employees in the 1980s, 58.8% had signed working papers, which
are considered evidence of a formal job relationship, a total of 41.2%
did not have signed working papers; of the men, 61% had signed working
papers, as compared to 39% who did not; some 55% of women had signed working
papers, while 45% had not.
Analysing the PNAD/1990 - Suplemento Trabalho (Brazilian Census Bureau),
Abreu et al (1994:155) show that, "the informal economy is responsible
for more than 40% of the occupied workers in non rural activities in Brazil.
In paid domestic services, there are 7,8% of the total workers in non rural
activities and 34,5% work in small productive units with characteristics
of family organisation or independent work. The importance of the informal
sector is greater among women than men, mainly because of domestic services
in which 18,1% of women are involved".
Data on the Brazilian labour market points towards important changes
in recent years. Sabóia (1994: 26) highlights three such changes:
1) the entry of a large contingent of women into the paid labour force;
2) an enormous turnabout in the sectoral composition of labour between
agriculture and the tertiary sector, with an increase of some ten percentage
points in the latter over the course of ten years (see also Leite Lopes,
1995: 10); and 3) a clear trend towards an increase in the proportion of
self-employed workers and workers without signed working papers.
In an analysis of the Greater São Paulo Metropolitan Area, using
data from 1989-1990, Troyano (1991) shows that unemployment is increasingly
associated with the use of the labour force outside of any formal job contract,
either by employment without legally signed working papers, subcontracting,
or even wage-paying disguised by hiring self-employed labour. According
to Telles (1994: 94-95), these are the terms under which so-called "labour
flexibilization" has been applied, as a way of avoiding trade union pressure
and labour benefit costs and further broadening the freedom to fire. Except
for a more skilled, valuable, and secure job segment of workers, the vast
majority suffer a career of insecurity, instability, and precariousness
in their labour relationships.
TRADE UNIONS AND INDUSTRIAL RESTRUCTURING
The industrial restructuring process directly affects the trade union
movement. One notes an overall drop in union membership and above all a
defensive position in an attempt to maintain the number of jobs and the
labour gains obtained in past struggles. However, though there has been
some decrease in the number of strikes in recent years, labour stoppages
in the late 1970s and during the 1980s made the trade union movement an
obligatory interlocutor for government and industry. In this sense, open
confrontation in the recent past provided the essential framework for current
bargaining strength. The recent experience within the sectoral chambers
of discussion involving workers, business, and government has demonstrated
the effectiveness of the trade unions in finding solutions to unemployment,
problems generated by outsourcing/subcontracting, and the introduction
of new technologies.
In fact, today, one of the most important characteristics of Brazilian
trade unionism, is its great capacity to mobilise workers in modern sectors
of industry (automotive, engineering, steel, metallurgical, petrochemical
and chemical) (Castro&Guimarães, 1990:219). In response to persistent
delays in the application of labour laws in the 1980s, this group of organized
workers, through trade union action, produced a new kind of trade unionism
while included an effective participation from the grassroots and a break
with the corporatism of the authoritarian state of the time.
On the other hand, the unions are faced with the challenge of influencing
the restructuring process (Salerno, 1993: 10-11) with a kind of action
allowing for the transformation of industry and business in general, conquering
citizens' rights in the workplace and struggling at the company level for
minimum space for negotiation in the future definition of labour.
The already existing degree of flexibilization in the Brazilian labour
market makes the trade union struggle difficult. Industrial restructuring
has led to a drop in the employment rate in Brazil, although it has produced
extremely high gains in productivity for industry as a whole and for some
segments in particular (automobiles and automobile parts, for example).
This confirms a process whereby the employment level has become more precarious
(Bresciani, 1994: 201-202) : an increasing proportion of workers do not
have signed working papers and are shifted precariously to the so-called
informal economy. In general, job and salary scales do not keep up with
actual changes in factory labour .
OUTSOURCING/SUBCONTRACTING: DIFFICULTIES FOR TRADE UNION ACTION
Ongoing research on a case of outsourcing/subcontracting in the electric-electronical
industrial sector of Rio de Janeiro (see Abreu, Ramalho and Sorj, 1996)
has already made explicit serious problems for trade union action as a
result of fragmentation of the labour force into small firms and lack of
knowledge and practice on how to treat precariousness in the workplace.
Evidence produced in the course of a survey with the main firm and its
complete chain of subcontracted firms (9 firms) and through interviews
with their owners/managers present a surprising description of the relationship
between those firms and their workers, including the participation of the
Metalworkers Trade Union. The terms used emphasize "harmony", "cordiality"
and, "open dialogue". Evidently this kind of response must be placed in
context by the fact that the questionnaires were filled in by managers.
But it also demonstrates changes in the relationship with the work force
as a result of the process of outsourcing/subcontracting. While the main
firm, with more than four thousand workers, had a factory committee with
some influence in the transition to this new production process, in the
subcontracting firms the power of workers'collective organisation is fragile,
or non existent. Direct observation in those firms points to the fact that
they are of medium or small size which makes the every day relationship
at the workplace stressful due to the physical proximity and direct surveillance
by the owners/managers. Outsourcing/subcontracting made possible, in this
case, a return to a kind of manager's power of control and domination over
the work force that seemed to have been overcome by the active presence
of trade unions in conflicts at the workplace, especially in big firms
in the recent past.
Evidence also shows that despite negotiation between the main firm and
its factory committee over the development of the `inevitable' process
of outsourcing/subcontracting, especially in terms of the maintenance of
jobs, wages and social benefits to workers, there was a clear drop in all
those items in the subcontracted firms. At the same time, workers that
were transferred from the main firm to a subcontracted ones had not only
to deal with a greater control by management, but had to live in permanent
instability and a constant threat to their jobs. On the other hand, there
is a clear reduction in the capacity of intervention from workers' collective
organisations in this situation. The process of outsourcing/subcontracting
has effectively dismantled employees' collective action in the subcontracted
firms in respect to both organisation inside the plant (factory committee)
and trade union interference on the workers' behalf regarding working conditions.
Although the factory committee of the main firm in this case study had
proved quite successful in the past, in spreading some of the employment
conditions to the new firms, evidence today shows that the strength of
collective bargaining has not been maintained in the subcontracted firms.
The firms' influence over the workers collective behaviour seems, in
this case, to be increasing. Accounts from owners/managers indicate that
the relationship with the trade union is only possible if there is no interference
at the workplace, where managers of the subcontracted firms exercise their
power in full:
"There are no strikes here. We've never had a strike. Our relationship
with the trade union is very respectful. Our workers know that in this
firm there are no low tricks. But they have to respect me as I respect
them. We have uniforms here. My uniform is the same as the cleaner. Why?
Because everyone here is equal. (...)Our firm is a place of mutual respect"
(Manager of a subcontracted firm).
The need to evaluate trade union action in a context of outsourcing/subcontracting
in this case led to interviews with directors of the main firm's factory
committee, union officials and directors of Rio's Federation of Metaworkers'
Unions and the CUT (Unified Workers Confederation - the main confederation
of trade unions in the country). The decline in the number of jobs in this
sector of industry in Rio has already made union's organized response very
feeble. From accounts of those trade unionists we see a state of perplexity
and desperation in relation to ways of confronting this new reality of
flexibilization and unemployment. Moreover, trade union action in small
firms has been historically very restricted and participation at the workplace
has been simply obstructed. A director of Rio's Metalworkers union reveals
the difficulties for action in this situation of work fragmentation and
calls for changes in labour legislation:
"If we don't try to change labour legislation to allow union representation
in those firms, things get very hard. Today we are thirty or forty directors,
half of those in fifteen factories and the other half to visit the others
all over the city. Our union has only been based on short visits to the
majority of the firms. (...)Some factories we never visit."
This same director recognizes that trade unionism so far has had a profile
much more akin to collective action in big plants, and apparently less
prepared to deal with situation where work is made precarious, the case
of most small firms in Rio:
"The problem is that the union is made for big companies. This is
the biggest problem, today and yesterday. If you go to inspect work instability
in a small and a big firm (...) it is clearly worse in the case of the
metalworker in the small firm."
Forms of recruitment used by subcontracted firms have also brought problems
for trade union action. In the case of outsourcing/subcontracting in Rio,
some firms have established a kind of work relation called "family partnership",
where part of the work of the firms was again subcontracted to families
in their residences. In response to this situation of household labour,
trade unions have found no specific policies:
"When the worker leaves the firm, (the union) loses the link with
this person (...) If the worker is not organized, he does not exist for
the union. So, this home labour is something so distant, but so distant,
that it is impossible the union to knock at this worker's door and say
that he or she is wrong for taking a job with no links or protection from
the existing labour laws" (Director of Rio's Metalworkers' Federation).
Accounts from trade unionists show that some of them are already alert
to changes in the field of labour and the decrease in industrial jobs,
and feel that unions have to think beyond the workgroup they represent.
An interview with a director of the CUT (Unified Workers' Confederation)
about the role of the Confederation in this process reaffirms the need
to keep fighting for the professional categories, but recognizes the need
for a practice policy in relation to employment, wages and workers' rights:
"We want a trade unionism that does not deny conflict, on the contrary.
Conflict at the workplace is the result of economic and social policies
applied in the country. If we face conflict we have to present alternatives,
solutions and propositions to the workers and to the population. It is
not enough to say that we are against unemployment, privatization or outsourcing/subcontracting.
But of course we are against all that because in the case of outsourcing/subcontracting
the immediate effect is wage instability and insecurity at work."
In terms of strategies to confront this reality brought on by the new
wave of subcontracting, one of the most stressed points has been legal
union representation at the workplace. The argument is to counterbalance
the almost absolute authority of management in the subcontracted firms
in the outsourcing chain:
"The only way out of this situation for us is to organize in the
workplace itself; we need a union representation in those small subcontracted
firms to stop precariousness at the workplace (...). To do this the kind
of trade union we have in Brazil is worthless. Our unions send their directors
to inspect plants in the morning and in the afternoon. But they stay at
the gates, they cannot go in! (...) The unions have to be inside the plants
to control this process of subcontracting. This is our battle now".
Among the consequences of outsourcing/subcontracting for trade union
action, the impossibility of keeping leadership and organisation from the
main firm in the chain of subcontracted ones has been identified as one
of the worst. The fragmentation of production into different and smaller
firms counters workers' power conquered through collective internal organisation:
"As a way of breaking the leadership of the workers, the outsourcing
/subcontracting process turned into reality things that we don't like (...).
I was the leader of a factory of almost four thousand employees. When they
fragmented in to several other firms I continued. But what about the other
firms. I cannot go to all of them and if I go managers won't let me in.
I have no more direct relationship with the workers and you end up forgotten"
(Director of the main firm's factory committee).
In short, evidence is confirming a paradoxical situation of trade union
action in Brazil especially in the manufacturing sector. On the one hand,
the heritage of a recent past of struggles has resulted in a considerable
bargaining power with business and the state. On the other hand, the consequences
of restructuring of production and flexibilization of labour, and the large
use of subcontracting in order to lower labour costs, has created a kind
of impasse for trade union activities. The experience acquired in large
firms has been the basis for demands and negotiation. But the new reality
of industrial unemployment and the massive implementation of outsourcing/subcontracting
has put trade unions in a quite defensive mood. Nevertheless, reaction
to restructuring of production has varied according to the region and the
sector of industry involved.
BRAZILIAN TRADE UNION MOVEMENT IN THE 1990'S
One could say that the Brazilian trade union movement is not the same
in the 1990s as it was in the 1970s or 1980s. It should be viewed in a
context where it has come to play an acknowledged role as an important
political actor, meanwhile recognizing that while this legitimacy was built
in the union struggles against the military dictatorship and in regional
and nationwide strikes, it also served as the basis for establishing more
recent relations with business and state, in the search for common ground
to safeguard workers’ rights, employment and wages.
The words of Vicente Paulo da Silva, president of Brazil's Unified Workers'
Confederation (Central Única dos Trabalhadores - CUT), are paradigmatic
of this new phase. In an interview with "Jornal do Brasil" on February
7, 1993, with the suggestive title "Today's struggle is for what is new",
he expresses his concern over "the challenge to seek what is new... What
is new is restructuring of production..., the issue of technology, quality,
productivity, and workers' sharing in profits." He recognizes that all
this is only possible now because of the way in which past struggles allowed
unions to mature and better understand reality: "... we are still able
to strike, but in a more intelligent way. It would be impossible to have
this vision today without having undergone the joys and tribulations of
struggles, the trials and errors of the last fifteen years."
Recent experience within sectoral chambers in Brazil, now suspended
by the Cardoso government, has bolstered prospects of trade unions' playing
an important role in negotiating both industrial and social development
(see Ferreira, 1994). The bargaining process involving trade unions and
business in a context of economic adjustment raised the need to consider
workers' participation in any alternatives for new economic growth policies.
According to Oliveira (1993), the so-called "acordo das montadoras"
(the agreement between automobile companies, trade unions and the state
that showed the sectoral chambers as a new instance of negotiation) highlighted,
in the first place, the viability of collective bargaining arrangements,
because it circumscribed the field of political dispute between capital
and labour, when it consolidated the position of the trade unions involved
as representatives of their grass-roots, legitimized capitalist entrepreneurship
and recognised in the state an interested party in economic management.
For Oliveira, the state became "no longer the judge of private conflicts,
but a party that has also something to lose or to gain in the bargaining".
Secondly, he draws attention to what this agreement meant in terms of the
modernisation of industrial relations - "industrial relations that occur
at the shopfloor, in the submerged world where the will of capital and
management prevail. In this context, the workforce has always been regarded
as production cost and, its predatory use as a norm in an unskilled and
abundant labour market". The "acordo das montadoras" for Oliveira, deligitimised
this pattern of labour exploitation when it recognised the workers as legitimate
interlocutors, creating a tension between the relations at macro level
and the day-to-day work relations, with positive consequences for the workers.
It is necessary, however, to note with that there has been a debate
about the process of negotiation with different emphasis given by both
"CUT" and "Força Sindical" (the two most important confederations
of trade unions in the country) to this issue.
Luiz Antônio de Medeiros, the most important leader of "Força
Sindical", according to Cardoso (1992:176-178), considers the trade union
as "an essential part of the market". "Good trade unions are part of capitalist
reproduction". "It is the nature of trade union action to strengthen capitalism,
since this action creates an internal market. At the same time it is only
possible to have trade unions in market economies". To Medeiros the worker
"desires better work conditions and better wages rather than the end of
capitalism". "The Brazilian worker is not against profit, or against the
existence of companies, or against their need for profit. What the worker
wants is participation in the profits". This means that trade union action,
to this Confederation, must "get rid of ideology" and that managers and
workers should not be "enemies" but "partners".
The point about "partnership" probably locates a decisive difference.
Although the "pragmatic" approach of an important sector of the "CUT" emphasizes
the need for a permanent effort for negotiation with business, it also
keeps reaffirming its socialist option and this, apparently, means that
they are not seeking a "partnership" with the entrepreneurs. Grana (1993),
a trade unionist from the CUT in São Paulo, points out that the
struggle remains inside the factory. We live in a permanent state of conflict
with the entrepreneurs. Today we strongly contest the way entrepreneurs
are increasing prices, dealing with labour relations, facing the problem
Isawa (1993), from Ford's factory committee in São Bernardo (São
Paulo), is emphatic in stating that "the boss for me is an opponent, and
he is an opponent that I have to respect. But I never forget to consider
him as an opponent. He is the owner of capital, he exploits". To Isawa
the workers are in a permanent quarrel with management: "I am not his ally.
I may eventually at some point, in order to avoid a major problem, be his
ally. But it is clear for us that the manager is an opponent (...)".
If it is necessary to show the differences between the "CUT" and "Força
Sindical" it is also important to point to internal criticisms to the so-called
"trade union pragmatism", within the "CUT". The main argument is about
socialism with all political tendencies struggling for socialism, albeit
with differences in relation to practice.
Opposing arguments to the posture of "negotiation" can be identified
in criticisms to what is called "participative trade unionism", as against
"classist trade unionism". In the first case, "workers participate in everything...
but they cannot question the market, the legitimacy of profit, for whom
and to whom is the production, the logic of productivity, the sacred private
property...". For this political position, the struggle for the social
control of production, present with such intensity in the 1960's and 1970's
and in other moments of workers' struggles, seems to be only a distant
memory (Antunes,1993: 66-70).
Those who defend socialism but are participating in the negotiation
processes, say that the difference is over how to achieve socialism. Grana
says (1993): "we are not like those who think the worse, the better, with
people being impoverished all the time, being massacred, we are going to
reach socialism. We think that the more information the working class can
have the more will be the social influence on changes in society." Grana
also thinks that the trade union movement has a clear role to play in society
and that trade union needs credibility and concrete results. To him, "the
metalworkers now have a lot of experience and don't go around preaching
socialism to their members without the support of concrete action. The
worker has first to understand his industrial sector, its product and its
importance to the economy".
The theme of negotiation is on the agenda, despite ideological opposition
within the trade union movement. The examples of negotiation are being
multiplied and seemingly point to an irrefutable tendency of large sectors
of trade unionism, particularly in a context of economic crisis and declining
employment. "It is the beginning of a new pattern of trade union action
in the "CUT": rather than a more conflictual action, there can be seen
an attempt for some sort of dialogue, of negotiation, somewhere"(Jácome
Rodrigues, 1993:240). If the "CUT", to build up its identity, had a more
conflictual kind of action in labour relations, ten years on, this pattern
has been eroded. The challenge now is to think about this process from
a variety of ideological and political positions, and the gap between the
discourse and the practices of the CUT's kind of trade unionism.
The "new" trade unionism that has marked Brazilian history in the last
fifteen years, has conquered a political space and become an important
political interlocutor for management and the state. Today, this movement
has not lost its dynamism as an organised force, it has however had to
change its characteristics to face the reality imposed by industrial restructuring.
In contrast with the majority of Latin American countries, trade unionism
in Brazil has transformed itself in the struggle to break links with the
state and a strong populist heritage and in 1983 became a national institution
with the formation of CUT (Unified Workers' Federation). In addition, this
movement has a particularity, in that it has also created a formal political
expression through the organisation of the PT (Workers’ Party).
Most political parties in Brazil were initiated by the dominant classes
and thus reflect various statist strategies. By contrast, the Workers'
Party has sought to establish its structure from "base nuclei", benefiting
from both the trade union's and grassroots experience of democratic practice
as it evolved throughout the 1970s. It has also provided a platform for
the political expression to various kinds of social movements (women's
movements, cultural minorities, environmentalists, etc) whilst retaining
its identity as a party linked to the struggles of the working class.
The acquisition of political power in the recent past, has delayed,
but not nullified the impact of industrial restructuring on organized labour.
The question for the Brazilian trade union movement is how to take advantage
of this sui generis situation while there is still some bargaining
strength, and to create alternatives to policies introduced via the restructuring
of production. The difficulties with regard to the "flexibilisation" of
labour have already proved to be a considerable challenge. The precariousness
of work has become widespread in Brazil and most unions have been unable
to develop new forms of action, so overwhelming has this process been.
In fact, even their survival as collective organisations is at stake with
the expansion of the informal sector, increasing unemployment, and growing
precariousness of jobs.
Trade unions in the most internationalised and modern sectors of Brazilian
industry have shown some strength when negotiating with management in this
economic and political context. They have also confirmed the importance
of their presence in any serious discussion about economic growth and policies
of job creation. Some unions have developed a general understanding of
the close link between establishing workers' citizenship in the factories
(representation, stability, and a reduction in the working day) and broadening
gains in democracy and civils' rights within wider society (unemployment
insurance, training, and flexible retirement) (Castro & Guimarães,
1990: 222). Problems remain however when the totality of the workforce
and trade unions are taken into consideration. In fact, the overall consequences
of the restructuring of production have been destructive to all sectors
of Brazilian trade unionism.
Organised labour in Brazil is becoming aware of the need to change trade
union practices and has recently sought to extend its influence beyond
the struggle for wage increases. In conjunction with changes in organisation
(fusion of trade unions, etc), unions have formulated new strategies that
make possible a combination of defensive and demand action politically
oriented to a wider group of workers, including the non-organised. In addition,
they have become aware of the need to transcend the limits of corporatist
action and demands, in order to promote social change and deal with community
problems relating to areas such as housing, public transport, education
The future prospects of the trade union movement in Brazil depend on
its ability to strengthen links with organisations within civil society,
other social movements, human rights groups, to expand forms of democratic
participation, and to create economic and political alternatives to the
`inevitability' of globalisation. These kinds of links would also highlight
different forms of work more closely associated with community life, aspects
of social reprodution that have inevitably been left aside by the factory-oriented
perspective that has marked trade union action in this century.
Organised labour in Brazil can currently count on its political representation,
mainly via the PT (Workers' Party), as an important element as in opposition
to the deleterious effects of restructuring. The Workers' Party remains
essential to the articulation of working class demands. Workers from the
cities and from the countryside still have the party fighting for social
reforms, for a democratic civil society and for a state controlled by the
whole of society. The Workers' Party policies and attitudes in the public
administration of some important cities, have demonstrated that it is possible
to be competent and transparent to address urgent social needs and to have
a different approach to government and politics, also allowing organisations
within civil society to participate at various levels of decision making.
The particularities of the Brazilian experience point therefore to the
potential emergence of social movements more closely attuned to the needs
of both workers and other social groups.
The results to date of the process of industrial restructuring in Brazil,
especially in relation to the intensification and exploitation of labour
and the reduction of workers’ rights, are very similar to those in other
industrialised countries. It remains to be seen whether the defensive alternatives
of a still powerful and organised labour force, acting together with other
social movements, can produce a different strategy to face the devastating
effects of the `flexibilisation' of labour on the lives of Brazilian workes.
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