Restructuring of Production, and Development:
A Point of View from Latin Americaork in a Sustainable Society
Ramalho, page 1 - 2 - 3
|5. Negotiation, Social Bargaining, and the Effects of Restructuring: A New Latin American Trade Unionism in the 1990s?|
|6. Labour, Employment, Poverty, and Economic Growth: Issues for a Sustainable Development Strategy|
5. Negotiation, Social Bargaining, and the Effects of Restructuring: A New Latin American Trade Unionism in the 1990s?
The effects of industrial restructuring and other neoliberal economic policies on the Latin American working class have heavily challenged trade union activity, forcing union leaders to deal with previously unfamiliar issues.
According to Argentine trade unionist A. Thompson (Sindicalismo y Democracia, 1993:7), "...the Argentine working class is not the same as 20 or 30 years ago. Today, there are 4.8 million unemployed or underemployed in an economically active population of 12.5 million. Since the Labour Flexibilization Act was passed, there is talk of 30% of precariousness in employment, which has hurt the trade union movement. Unions have lost their role as protagonists and taken a defensive stance, seeking to avoid the loss of jobs. In addition, marginalized workers are left without any kind of compensation in the form of policies for social benefits."
In Mexico, the minimum wage lost 56% of its purchasing power in the 1980s, the per capita GDP fell by 40%, and there are now 12 million unemployed, or some 46% of the total labour force. Some 40 million Mexicans are living in poverty and 20 million in absolute destitution. Since 1980, the national consumer price index has increased at a rate twice that of the average minimum wage, and a mere 22 major industrial groups control 70% of the country's output. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been wiping out small and medium-sized businesses, which are responsible for over 50% of the jobs in the Mexican industrial sector. There are 1500 maquiladoras - plants assemblying manufactured products with imported parts - lining the border with the United States. These plants attract some 50 thousand new workers a year, and they already total some 500 thousand workers. While there has been a brutal drop in jobs in small and medium-sized businesses, who cannot compete with foreign products, maquiladoras have an abundant supply of cheap labour. In 1989, the average wage of a Mexican worker in the maquiladoras was five dollars a day, while American workers were making some fourteen dollars an hour (CUT-Brasil, Sobre o Mixico, 1991). There was also an increase in employment in the tertiary sector, in the number of women in both the formal and informal markets, and in the precariousness of the labour force, with a loss of social guarantees and benefits. The unemployed were increasingly absorbed by the informal market, with precarious jobs and extremely low wages.
Trade opening, privatization, and liberalization of legislation governing foreign investment left trade union control over various aspects of labour activity in Mexico at a crossroads. According to Zapata (1994:79), such policies had direct effects with structural consequences, including a radical split between labour productivity and wages, leading to increased exploitation of labour, transformation of internal labour markets, flexibilization of production standards, and weakening of trade unions as regulatory institutions in relation to industrial activity. Other difficulties were stressed by Zapata (1994:82-83): "...jobs are located predominantly in activities aimed at generating resources rather than producing goods. The typical case is that of the informal sector, which assumes the role of distributing goods and services without actually generating them. Many of those involved in this sector work in it intermittently, but this does not mean that they earn less than when they were in the formal sector of the economy. Another process has to do with the feminization of the labour force, showing that women work in predominantly non-wage-earning activities, either as self-employed or in household labour which is frequently associated with in-kind pay. In addition, industrial establishments have shrunk, identifying themselves as tiny businesses (employing less than five workers), thus leading to atomization, an issue which impedes workers from either organizing or submitting demands to bosses."
Although the restructuring process directly affects organization of workers, they have made attempts at economic and political negotiation with business sectors and various national governments (Ramalho, 1994). Mexico, Argentina, and mainly Chile have been the object of debate. The term "concertacisn social" (social bargaining) comes from these countries, as an indication of the search for bargaining relations between historically antagonistic sectors. However, the situation in Latin America may already be showing that there are various possibilities for interpreting the term "concertacisn" and that national contexts are determinant factors for such strategies.
The case of Chile has its own characteristics, although a deeper analysis would also point to more general elements, applicable to other social situations. "Concertacisn" in Chile is linked to institutional policy discussion marking the recent transition from a military regime to civilian government. According to a study by DESEP-SP (1991:1), "...the trade union movement supported the idea of moving forward with economic and social reforms through broad negotiation with business, in order to guarantee stability for both the civilian government and the transition process itself." Such support did not imply identical positions. For the government and business, it was "a process of 'national understanding' motivated by the need to consolidate democracy". For the trade unions, emphasis was on the potential for conflict contained in the bargaining process, with the objective of recovering social and economic rights suppressed by the military regime.
Most leaders of the Chilean Unified Workers'' Confederation believe that there has been progress made through "concertacisn", expressed in a gradual recovery of rights by workers, in addition to guaranteeing the reorganization of the trade union movement. According to these labour leaders, the unions have kept their autonomy vis-à-vis the government and business and have wagered on the continuity of negotiations. According to one leader of the Chilean Unified Workers' Confederation, "There is a sector that has capital, and there is a sector that has labour, and we have to live with the boss, who detains capital. So we have to discuss, we have to converse, and we thus need the ability to negotiate."
The case of other Latin American countries is also mentioned by Diego Olivares, assistant secretary of the ORIT (1992:15). In his opinion, the Latin American trade union movement is undergoing a rapid shift to a kind of trade unionism "with greater conscientiousness, commitment, and proposals". The proposal is one of "socio-political unionism", committed to society as a whole and other grass-roots sectors, incorporating their demands and viewing the trade union as one institution among others within society. According to this view, trade unionism "should move from a discourse of protest to that of proposals, which means putting alternatives on the table - not as the only alternatives, but as ones that can really produce major changes to the extent that they wield their own strength in the discussion".
Such a trade union movement with a more propositional stance has appeared in recent debates. This observation has been reiterated in various Latin American publications. In the editorial of the journal Sindicalismo y Democracia (1992:2-3), Abramo states that the Latin American trade union movement can no longer postpone the task of participating with proposals for the debate on national issues. She reaffirms the importance of a policy of resistance and demands concerning specific objectives as a way of rebuilding and strengthening the union movement in times of authoritarianism and transition. Nevertheless, she calls attention to the threats to democracy in Latin America caused by serious economic and social imbalances in the context of neoliberal adjustments and recalls that more than ever before the trade union movement should struggle to participate in the economic, political, and social decisions faced by these countries. Concerning the bargaining issue as a part of this process in Latin America, recent analyses recognize changes in the stance by trade unions, although they also deal with the problems caused by this strategy. Garcia (1992:16) points to dilemmas for the trade union movement in countries with projects for "concertacisn". In his opinion, the bargaining issue relates to the need for participation in national political life by a trade union movement that needs to present proposals to guarantee conditions for development with different standards from the prevailing ones, which have only aggravated social injustices. Still, as he goes on to point out, "...the crisis of utopias which has implicitly or explicitly affected the trade union movement cannot leave it indifferent, floundering in a suicidal pragmatism or a nostalgic search for values buried by history."
Diaz C. (1990:8-10), leader of the Chilean Unified Workers' Confederation, has gone a step further in the discussion on bargaining: he feels that the term "concertacisn" cannot be used to generalize, as if it were one single process. Each bargaining process is different, varying according to the respective country's history. "Bargaining is simply a process that has to do with labour relations built by workers and management, by union organizations and business organizations, although with participation by the state or the government in given matters or under given circumstances." Diaz C. qualifies such relations when he acknowledges business and workers as the main protagonists in labour relations. They are the ones who meet each other daily in the workplace, hiring, negotiating, discussing, fighting, making agreements, and experiencing a complex, permanent, and unavoidable relationship in which agreement and conflict mix. In his opinion, if relations are marked only by conflict, then of course one is not talking about bargaining, but of warfare or confrontation in labour relations. Still, in bargaining relations, conflicts and agreements must be balanced, with prospects for equitable, fair labour relations
6. Labour, Employment, Poverty, and Economic Growth: Issues for a Sustainable Development Strategy
The final part of this paper is devoted to the raising of some points for the debate on sustainable development, in light of the labour issue and the experience of labour organizations in Brazil and Latin America as a whole. The purpose is to stress labour's importance as a fundamental element in any economic development alternative, keeping in mind its capacity for social aggregation, different forms of sociability, and human dignity.
As the backdrop for such considerations, one must also consider development in its various dimensions (Sachs, 1994:54-55): the most important one combines social belonging and the equity of proposed solutions, since the ultimate goal of development is always ethical and social. Yet there are other elements to be considered: ecological prudence; economic efficacy according to macroeconomic criteria and not just microeconomic profitability; and the cultural order, meaning change with cultural continuity, avoiding the imposition of exogenous models but also refusing to close one's self off in paralyzing traditionalism. Finally, there is the dimension of territoriality, the need to study new spatial equilibriums.
Based on the above premises, the following are some points for reflection and contribution to the debate:
6.a) The importance of historical specificities in the search for sustainable development. Observation of global problems in economic development strategies, particularly that of industrial restructuring, has often led to a discussion limited to global solutions or global policies. Reflection on sustainable development in more general terms must consider the historical specificities of each place, each region, and each country, in the search for solutions to problems raised by global capitalist policies. Although global solutions should not be ruled out, they become empty rallying cries if their are not linked to specific solutions sought in daily confrontation with capitalist strategies around the world, constituting a differentiated history in the struggle to preserve social rights and improve living conditions. The need for global changes in relations between industrialized and Third World countries should also consider each country's or each region's historical specificities in the search for alternatives for more employment and sustainable development.
6.b) Respect for cultural diversity. The debate on sustainable development should promote and respect cultural diversity as a form of resistance to pressures for standardization of production and consumption models leading to social exclusion and environmental degradation (Acselrad, 1995). Development's strength should be based on society's and citizens' needs, respect for local culture, and participation by organized society (Arruda, 1994). For example, projects aimed at development and concerned with the quality and purpose of employment must not imply the destruction of professional skills and marginalization of individuals or even entire communities (Heringer, 1994:1).
6.c) Labour, employment, and poverty. Economic development increasing poverty and exclusion is incompatible with sustainable development. Destitution, hunger, and poverty are intolerable in the debate on sustainability; their eradication must be a priority. Once and for all, sustainability cannot be divorced from proposals viewing people's survival in light of labour, nor can it ignore the need for employment for the poorer people of underdeveloped countries. Labour may be considered an individual right; through labour, one seeks not only to ensure one's own material survival, but to contribute to the improvement of society in the qualitative and symbolic sense (Heringer, 1994). In addition, the generation of jobs should be viewed not only from a quantitative perspective, but also vis-à-vis the quality of the jobs generated, in terms of safety, working conditions, wages, and the bargaining capability between workers and employers.
6.d) Participation by grass-roots organizations and trade unions in drafting policies for development and economic growth. Alternatives for a feasible combination of economic growth and sustainable development hinge necessarily on workers' organizations and trade unions, with their extensive experience in adversity and in the struggle against poverty and in defense of the interests of society's underprivileged sectors. In a broader sense, organized civil society's role should be enhanced and its accumulated practical knowledge recognized in economic policy decision-making processes, surveillance over government activity, and the search for development alternatives taking social well-being and the environment into consideration.
6.e) Defense of broad forms of democratic participation in defining development policies. The need for democratization of decision-making processes related to living and working conditions through equitable, participant, and transparent mechanisms and processes (Acselrad, 1995). Egalitarian, participant, and sustainable development must be democratic: grass-roots participation and participant democracy are concrete means for rebuilding the world order from the bottom up (Arruda, 1994). This requires a change in the development pole from national and global economies to each society's smaller components: families, villages, townships, communities, and counties. This means encouraging all forms of grass-roots organization, including that of women and those now excluded from the market economy.