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  3. Return of the Strike | Historical Materialism

Table 3. In Table 4, which compiles information on campaigns in terms of the results achieved, it can be seen that the overwhelming majority of demands which led to strikes and were included in the notices of strike were rejected. The year is particularly indicative since, despite the significant increase in the number of strikes and workers on strike identified above, only 4. In the percentage of rejected demands reached the maximum for the period in question, rising to This would appear to corroborate the view expressed by those who went on strike, previously cited in connection with the study by Rebelo and Brites Table 4.

Demands, by Result A group of organisations also emerged in Portugal from onwards, proposing to represent segments of workers in precarious employment and consolidate identities based on campaigning and mobilising precarious labour Andrade, ; Estanque and Costa, ; Soeiro, ; On the basis of this concrete case, it is possible to problematize the strategies of the unions and organisations representing workers in precarious employment and the role played by strikes. It is open every day of the year, 24 hours per day, and employs approximately professionals, the vast majority of whom are nurses, who provide an answer service divided between two call centres located in Lisbon and Porto, both about the same size.

The majority of the nurses-advisors work in state hospitals, in addition to being employed by the Linha to supplement their wages. On average, each nurse works around 18 hours a week, in shifts. However, some work full-time and this is their only source of income. The great majority have other jobs in addition to this precarious form of employment. Union membership is very low, as is experience of collective action in labour issues. The partnership is still effective, although, when it ended in , there was a new public request for tender which was won by a consortium headed by Portugal Telecom PT.

The tender was then awarded to another consortium, once again involving LCS, Optimus and Teleperformance. After this, the strategy appeared to follow two parallel paths. This began with the nurses agreeing on a common position and subsequently scheduling a meeting with the management. Tensions between the informal committees and the union structure were evident, due to differences in their perspectives on the problem, cultures of intervention and the kind of attitude that should be adopted.


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The position on the legitimacy and relevance of resorting to a strike was central to this debate, with the union disapproving of the stoppage decided by the workers, given that their employment status made this impossible in legal terms and placed them in an even more vulnerable position. It is against this background that the appeal to the Authority for Working Conditions, press conferences, requests for meetings with the Directorate General for Health, the parliamentary groups, the Ministry of Health and the Ordem dos Enfermeiros the professional and regulatory body for Portuguese nurses should be understood.

These contacts were developed from mid December to the end of January , i. Although some workers initially signed the amendment, a group of nurses realised the extent of the cuts and began to contest the proposal. Several others then began to refuse to sign, and it was at this point that one of the nurses decided to create a secret group on Facebook, whose contents could only be viewed by members of the group and could not be accessed by the general public. This was where the pay scales which showed the real value of the wage reductions in question were shared, an appeal was made not to sign the amendments, and the first actions and plenary meetings that would take place a few days later were planned.

Thus, cyberspace enabled the group to overcome the geographical distance between the two call centres, and to begin to organise campaigns against the cuts. It was also on Facebook that leadership of the collective began to be established and the need for face-to-face meetings was identified. It was also decided to reinforce links with the workers in Porto, taking advantage of the fact that one of the nurses in the Lisbon call centre had already worked there, which enabled her to add colleagues from the north to the Facebook group and connect with them.

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Recognition of this employment relationship would become crucial, since the nurses could only activate protection, some forms of collective action and the type of employee-employer negotiations they envisaged within this framework. At the same time, the management was confronted with a joint statement of the position adopted by the workers in the form of a signed letter that contested the contents of the proposed amendment and proposed that the rate paid to nurses should be negotiated with the company.

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As a consequence of this document, which was signed by approximately workers, the first meeting took place with a representative of the management. Safeguarding their autonomy to direct the campaign was specifically emphasised at this meeting. In the words of one of the workers:. Two days after the meeting with the management, they met with the Directorate-General for Health and tried to involve the Ordem dos Enfermeiros in the ongoing labour dispute.

For the workers, the relative failure of these meetings did not mean abandoning the strategy of creating visibility for the dispute, and the idea that they could also gain strength from public opinion gained weight within the core leadership. The subsequent strike that was called for the beginning of January resulted from the impasse created by these initial approaches. In the words of one of the workers,. On 4 January there were these so-called contracts that ended in January and all the people who did not sign them had their shifts taken away from them, and after that we decided on the first stoppage as a form of protest against the first sackings.

According to one of the workers,. The union was against it [ They could in a hospital, but not with us. And then the union wanted visibility, it was there at the end of the day, speaking on television. In response to this strike the company reacted by dismissing 16 workers, including those who had led the campaign. A second strike was held in protest at the dismissals on the same day that Parliament rejected two draft resolutions which involved settling the contractual situation of the nurses working at the Linha and public management of the service.

Once again, the strike was held without the backing of the union.


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As a result of these meetings, two of the parties presented draft resolutions to Parliament, which were discussed and put to a vote at a plenary session on 24 January On 28 January a letter was published signed by 33 leading figures, including trade unionists, specialists in labour law, academics, artists and activists in precarious employment. At the end of February, the findings of the ACT report favoured some of the workers, who proclaimed a victory and instigated legal proceedings, which are still ongoing, for recognition of their rights. It is also a significant example due to the fact that it led to protest, rather than resignation.

The example described here illustrates this point , as does the recent decision to create a national union of call centre workers resulting from a meeting held in Lisbon on 26 April However, in intensifying precarious employment, austerity also inhibits the use of some of the most significant forms of campaigning in the history of the working class and the trade union movement. A sociology which addresses this paradox should aim to reveal and interpret the emerging forms of social conflict, the union-based organisation of workers and the use of strikes, mobilising the tools of academic reflection as part of the struggle for dignified employment.

Porto: University of Porto, Portugal. DOI : New York: The Free Press. Personnel Human Resource Labour Relations Process Labour Relations in a Public This book was in great condition. Only bought it for my Labor Relations class, not recommend for lesiure reading unless you are into Labor Relations. Read More.

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A third characteristic might also be mentioned: these works tended to underplay conflict and violence. It was partly a matter of tone--the clinical style of expression--and partly because the economists theorized violent industrial relations as a passing historical phase and often moved their studies through such episodes to reach the stable systems of negotiation and controlled conflict that they saw as modern and inevitable.

This last tendency stands in sharp contrast with the other labor history project that shadowed the work of the economists through the first two thirds of the 20th century. Its modes of expression were novels and journalistic histories and its tone was strident and sensationalist. Out of this stream of literature would come some of the most enduring understandings of western work and labor, especially the understanding that the West claimed a uniquely violent and uniquely radical heritage.

The founders of this tradition were socialist writers who at the turn of the century tried to publicize the struggles underway in the mining camps, wheat fields, and seaports of the West. Images of industrial violence had figured in the fiction of late 19 th century regional colorists like Mary Hallock Foote whose novel Coeur d'Alene had told the story of the Idaho mining wars from the viewpoint of the owners and managers, making dynamite throwing strikers into one more of the dangers that heroic westerners must face on the road to civilization.

The radical writers flipped the perspective while building up the image of the West as a zone of class violence. The early classics include Frank Norris's The Octopus , a haunting portrait of farmers taking up arms against the Southern Pacific Railroad; Jack London's Martin Eden and Valley of the Moon , semi-autobiographical tales of young people wandering through a western workscape filled with brutality and terror; Upton Sinclair's King Coal , the nightmarish story of the Colorado Ludlow massacre, and Oil!

In these works the West was gaining a labor noir literary tradition that would blossom further in the s both in fiction and journalism.

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Violence by the privileged against the poor was key to this regional counternarrative. Using and turning the west's mythic associations with opportunity and violence, the labor noirists preached that the region's dreams had become nightmares. The labor noir historians worked with similar themes. Louis Adamic was first. Notable for its provocative primary thesis that class violence caused by ruthless industrial conditions was endemic to American history, it also seemed to argue a secondary theme that the West was the location for the worst expressions of that violence.

Return of the Strike | Historical Materialism

Moreover the book resurrected and romanticized the IWW, lavishing a good portion of its energy on stories of violence by and especially against Wobblies, many of whom in were still languishing in prison. Adamic had spent a number of years associating with Wobblies when he lived in Los Angeles. They become the forlorn heroes of his book and in a move that other journalists would follow, he regionalized them, turning them into westerners. He celebrates the basic principles of the organization, especially its plan for One Big Union as "a typically Western idea--big: the sky was the limit.

Events in the s added to the growing interest in labor's past and the market for such books. The explosion of strikes and organizing that attended the early New Deal found some of their most dramatic expression on the West Coast where the longshoreman's walkout led to a four-day-long general strike in San Francisco and sympathy strikes in ports up and down the coast. The passage of the National Industrial Relations Act in set off the greatest era of labor activism in American history as two union federations the older American Federation of Labor and the new Congress of Industrial organizations competed to organize millions of workers into unions.

For the next twenty years labor would be big news and labor history enjoyed its greatest era of public interest. Professional historians still paid little attention, but journalists and publishers now realized that there was a market for books on the subject. Many of the popular histories of western places and other regional color journalism of the middle decades of the century emphasized labor issues and labor history, their authors typically following Adamic's lead and focusing on episodes of conflict and violence.

An implicit thesis of western labor exceptionalism had been running through the noirist literature all along, but apart from casually reasoned assertions about western traditions of individualism and violence, there was no theory to support it. McWilliams produced one. Spelled out in his book, California: The Great Exception , it formally argues the uniqueness of California's labor history but easily extends to most of the rest of the West. Describing what he calls the "total engagement" of labor and capital in an unending no-holds barred cycle of industrial conflict, McWilliams' explanation starts with Ira Cross's insight that tight labor markets gave an early and fairly continual advantage to western workers.

But the heart of his thesis is a blend of Frederick Jackson Turner's history and Robert Park's sociology. McWilliams argues that class tensions in the West were continually exacerbated by the pace of population growth and the "absence of well-established forms of social organization. It made capitalists just as aggressive and ready to use "strong arm tactics. It was not until the historical profession started into its social historical turn in the mid s that labor history became part of academic history.

The journal Labor History was founded in and soon began to publish the work of a group of historians who had veered from the institutional focus established by the labor economists. Thompson's magisterial, The Making of the English Working Class became the touchstone for the "New Labor Historians" who followed its lead in using social history to probe beyond unions into work and social life, class formation, and the traditions of radical politics.

Two regional labor history organizations were founded in the late s and early s: The Southwest Labor Studies Association based in California and the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association which holds its annual meetings in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Bringing together academic historians, trade unionists, and non professionals interested in the subject, the two organizations have provided the principle institutional support for western labor history over the past twenty-five years.

The labor historians' biggest accomplishment has been to explore in expanding detail the world of work, overturning singular images of "the worker" and replacing it with "working people" of great diversity and multiple contexts.