T2-16: The state and industrial relations (2)

5 September 2019, 16:00–17:30

Chair: David Foden


Bringing history back in

Understanding the positions taken by trade unions and political parties in the scope of labour market reforms in Portugal and Spain (1974–2017)

Paulo Marques, University Institute of Lisbon, DINÂMIA‘CET-IUL

The insider-outsider politics approach conjectures that during labour market reforms unions and social-democratic parties safeguard the interests of insiders and neglect outsiders (Rueda, 2005, 2006, 2007; Emmenegger, 2014). Their argument is as follows: when governments try to deregulate labour regulations and reduce the generosity of the welfare state, they face the opposition of unions. As social democratic parties fear losing the electoral support of insiders, they keep the regulation and welfare generosity for insiders but deteriorate the position of outsiders (e.g. by deregulating fixed-term contracts and not investing in active labour market policies). Unions do not oppose two-tier labour market reforms because the position of insiders is safeguarded. According to these scholars, in all western countries, trade unions and social democratic parties followed the same strategy.

This paper challenges the insider-outsider politics conjecture and highlights the importance of history to explain the positions taken by unions and social-democratic parties in the scope of labour market reforms. Because the insider-outsider politics theory draws mainly on neoliberal economics to model this process, it imports a number of assumptions that are problematic (Rubery, Keizer, & Grimshaw, 2016, pp. 240-241; Marques & Salavisa, 2017, pp. 137-139). First, it assumes that agents are selfish by nature and try to maximise their individual utility. This is the only motivation agents can have; all others are neglected. Second, this conjecture is based on the assumption that agents have fixed preferences, i.e. preferences do not change over time. Taken together, history is neglected as in neoliberal economics (Hodgson, 2001). This paper argues that the historical process shapes the preferences of agents. Social democratic parties and unions form their preferences in a concrete historical period, preferences that can also change over time because the historical circumstances also evolve. Regarding social democratic parties, the party constellation plays an important role, if social democratic parties fear losing support from left voters due to the existence of strong radical left parties they can be more pro-outsider than in a different context (Schwander, 2018, p. 11). History is crucial to understand the party system in each country. For instance, a revolutionary transition to democracy is often correlated with a political system where radical left parties are stronger, whereas a gradual transition to democracy is correlated with weaker radical parties. As for unions, this is even more complex because rival union confederations exist in several countries. As is widely referred in the industrial relations literature, unions have different strategic orientations (Crouch, 1993; Hyman, 2001). In several European countries union confederations were linked to Communist parties and sometimes they were the most representative union confederation (this is still the case in some countries). Their strategic goal was to further develop the class struggle, not to negotiate with employers or governments in order to safeguard the positions of insiders (Marques & Salavisa, 2017, p. 140). Thus, hypothesising that unions have always the same strategy neglects the fact that there are different traditions within the trade union movement. Because insider-outsider politics only conceptualizes one type of behaviour (selfish) and it does not conceptualize change, it does not capture all this complexity. All in all, the paper argues that it is misleading to claim that unions and social-democratic parties are always pro-outsider or always pro-insider because it depends on the balance of power between left parties and the strength of radical unions.

To test this argument, the paper compares two case studies, Portugal and Spain. It analyses the positions taken by political parties and unions during key labour market reforms implemented in the two countries between the mid-1970s and 2017. These two countries share a number of similarities. They both experienced a long fascist dictatorship from the 1930s until the mid-1970s, they accessed the EU in the mid-1980s, the system of industrial relations is historically characterized by the existence of two rival union confederations (one linked to the communists and the other to the socialists), the party system has a number of similarities (the left is historically split between a socialist party and other extreme left parties), the economic structure of both countries is similar because industrialisation took place latter than in other European countries, and, finally, in both countries reforms were made to labour legislation. But, while the Spanish socialists (together with its union confederation, UGT) implemented one of the most radical two-tier labour market reforms in Europe, the same did not occur in Portugal. To explain this, the paper argues that the historical process was crucial because different historical circumstances shaped the preferences of political parties and unions. The Portuguese transition to democracy was revolutionary and the Spanish was not. This influenced the preferences of unions and social-democratic parties because the balance of power between political parties, on the one hand, and between union confederations, on the other, was different. Radical unions and radical left parties were stronger in Portugal than in Spain. Furthermore, this comparison allows us to show that preferences can also change over time, as the Spanish case illustrates.


Labour migration and stakeholders’ role in the making of Brexit

Chris Forde, Centre of Employment Relations Innovation and Change, University of Leeds
Gabriella Alberti, Leeds University Business School
Ioulia Bessa, Leeds University Business School
Zyama Ciupijus, Leeds University Business School
Jo Cutter, Leeds University Business School
Maisie Roberts, Leeds University Business School

Building on ongoing research on social partners in the ‘making of Brexit’ this paper focuses on the UK’s shifting migration regime and the role played by stakeholders’ in shaping the UK’s proposed exit from the EU. During politically driven and state-led change, regulatory spaces are redrawn as different actors attribute varied meanings to “re-regulation” (Martinez Lucio and MacKenzie, 2011). In the case of Brexit these range from views that perceive regulation as a burden, through to the ‘productive’ nature of migration controls creating precariousness in employment relations (Anderson, 2013), to more positive notions of re-regulation as an opportunity to enshrine transnational employment standards and social protections (Schiek et al. 2015).

Our argument is that it the regulatory space opened up over the last three years has resulted in many ‘effects of Brexit before Brexit’, only some of which are directly connected to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. For example, in areas of labour market policy making, Brexit has framed, shaped and constrained the range of possibilities in the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices recommendations. The future direction of policy protecting workers’ rights in the UK is unclear as these are also being used as a ‘bargaining chip’ for the UK government to try and win parliamentary and public support for a preferred Brexit deal. The effects of the referendum vote appear to already be affecting migration to the UK from the EEA as the rate in late 2018 slowed to its lowest level since 2012 (ONS 2018).

In terms of the proposed migration regime post-Brexit, there remains considerable uncertainty following the publication of the White paper on migration in December 2018. Stakeholder views have shaped this White Paper, and positions continue to evolve and change. The effects of a work permit/visa system, for example, are complex to untangle, despite the relatively simplistic positions reached or argued by some stakeholders and think tanks. A work permit/visa system is likely to make it more expensive for employers to employ some migrant workers, yet these costs may be passed on to workers. Furthermore, for migrants, the system might make moving for work to the UK unattractive for many potential workers, particularly if the possibilities for acting strategically when making migration decisions (Alberti, 2014) are constrained.

Current proposals suggest migrant workers will be tied to a single employer or unable to move from one migration scheme to another once they are working in the UK for up to 12 months during the ‘transitional’ regime to 2025. This detrimental effect on the ability of migrants to initiate mobility may have implications for employers in attracting workers and may increase labour shortages. Such an argument has received less attention in UK public discourse because there is a tendency to assume that migrants would come to the UK under any conditions – a view which takes away agency from workers and neglects the decisions they make individually and as families.

Methodologically we draw from a ‘co-production’ approach to participatory research (Chatterton et al. 2018) fostering dialogue between the different Brexit players at the institutional and community levels to ask:

  • How are stakeholders’ voices shaping the future of labour mobility in a post-Brexit world?
  • How are activities and debates at multiple scales (regional/national/international) interacting in the making of Brexit, considering the ever extending transition towards a new migration regime?

Empirically the paper draws from analysis of recent and future communications from the UK Migration Advisory Committee, related submissions and evidence from stakeholders in key sectors of the migrant economy as well as from qualitative data from roundtables and focus groups with stakeholders (trade unions, employers and civil society) on the future of labour mobility regulation in post-Brexit UK.

The changing context of employment relations

Greece in a comparative south European perspective

Gregoris Ioannou, University of Glasgow

Greece faced the most severe crisis of the south European countries and after a decade of austerity resembles a war destroyed territory. Unemployment and underemployment was already relatively high before the crisis and soon after the austerity policies begun, it climbed further up as the country sank into a recessionary spiral. In parallel to cuts in public spending, increases in taxation and fiscal reforms in general, a series of political and legal measures were undertaken that overhauled the Greek labour relations system. Collective bargaining was severely weakened and low wages were institutionalized in both the public and private sectors. The aim of this paper is to map the whole spectrum of changes in employment relations that have occurred in Greece, examining both the fields of the economy and the market as well as those of the state and the law, and set the developments in Greece in a comparative south European perspective.

At the level of the economy and the market, the impact of the depression and the contraction of the economy will be discussed in terms of their impact on the labour market in general and particularly on the trade unions. The analysis will utilize analogous examples from the crisis experience of other South European countries such as Spain and Cyprus. At the level of the state and the law, the political context and the legal content of the key developments in the fields of labour market (re)-regulation will be sketched out so as to grasp the dynamics of change occurring in the last decade. The main research question addressed in this paper is to identify the drivers of the restructuring process and assess the agency and role of different external and internal forces and actors in producing the shift in both the employment and the social and political domains.

Overall these developments were highly contested in Greece, initially provoking mass protests against the “Memoranda policies” and subsequently leading into a comprehensive transformation of the political party system. Although SYRIZA emerged as the major political force promising the end of austerity and an alternative policy assuming executive power in 2015, not only this proved impossible, but in fact ultimately served to stabilize, legitimize and normalize the degenerate labour market and industrial relations conditions that had emerged. Furthermore, in some fields such as immigrant labour, a new regime of “para-legality” was constructed in the SYRIZA years through which atypical migrant work was regularized, whereby work was made legal while residence remained illegal, resulting in the further erosion of labour law.

To sum up, this paper will outline the contours of the changing employment relations context in Greece setting them in a comparative framework, it will illustrate the causal mechanisms at two levels – economic and legal – and will discuss the social consequences of this changing context. This will involve a discussion of the inter-relation between supranational and national dynamics, conflicts of actors within and between them and ultimately the power relations that underpin and shape those relationships. It is thus expected to produce insights both about the current state of regulation of labour relations in Greece but also with respect to the structural and agential aspects which have influenced its course in the last decade.

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