Comparative study on the trade union strategies of dockers in the face of technological change processes in the ports of San Antonio (Chile) and Barcelona (Spain) (2024)

Ports have historically been crucial spaces in sustaining the economy, first as neuralgic points within cities and then in global logistic chains. As Braudel (1987) pointed out, they have been a dense and above all complex system, inseparable from unequal capitalist geography. As these features suggest, those who operate these infrastructures, the dockworkers, have had to employ different strategies to maintain their trade and their jobs. This thesis aims to explain the factors that make it possible that, in certain contexts, this collective not only has advantages in negotiating technological change but can implement a successful strategy. To carry out this task, we opted for a methodological strategy of comparing opposing cases (cross case): the unions of the ports of Barcelona, Spain, and San Antonio, Chile, to analyze their contrasts and evaluate the conditions of negotiation. We chose a qualitative approach in all methodological aspects of the research to delve into the complexity of the construction of union strategies.

This research is part of the theoretical debate on organized labor and technological change, which although addressed by different disciplines, reveals that there are few proposals that focus on the ability of workers to develop strategies in the context of technological transformations. The notion of technological determinism defined by Howcroft and Taylor (2014), that there is no force capable of counteracting this process, has led us to test as a proposal the theoretical usefulness of the union power resources approach (RPS) to approach the study of the construction of union strategies.

The results of the research suggest that the unions in San Antonio, weakened by a hostile institutional environment and subjected to a highly deregulated sector, have not been able to generate clear strategies in the face of technological change. We have called this global strategy “perception of uncertain change”, which is accompanied by actions that show “passivity in the face of change”. The case of Barcelona represents the opposite situation: faced with a radical change in the work process during 2012, the union was able to develop different actions, which allowed it to negotiate with the new employer the design and subsequent implementation of technological change. We have defined this global strategy as “consensual automatism”. In conclusion, despite being unions with a strong tradition in both countries and located in a strategic position in their respective economies, certain elements of the labor relations frameworks – type of contracting organization, level of collective bargaining and union constitution and representation – are factors that condition the mobilization of power resources that would explain the configuration of different union responses: in the Spanish case, we could define them as proactive, while in the Chilean case, as reactive.

Author: Camila Álvarez Torres

Supervisor: Óscar Molina

Date of thesis defense: 17/05/2024

This entry was posted in Doctoral thesis, Doctoral thesis between 2020-2024, General, Publications. Bookmark the permalink.