Today is appointed another General Strike in Portugal. As usual, it turns out to be little more than a public transportation strike. It is true that other public employees are not leaving their homes to work but, overall, the representation of the event is ridiculously low comparing to the discourse of the leaders of the national labor unions (portuguese sindicatos), who tend to emphasize such events as trustful signs of the will of the national workforce. I’m working today and so are my mother and my stepfather, both of them professors in a public school. Additionally, I actually came to work using the same customary public transportation (CP) I always do – just like in the last general strike.
The question here is: why should this happen in a country where people feel so discontent and exploited? Other demonstrations, like this one, one year ago, managed to combine nearly 300 thousand people, so the problem has nothing to do with loss of faith or will to change, whether by the youth or the more conventional labor movement. The problem may, very probably, be the labor unions. Soares dos Santos, an influent person (and employer) down here, used such an argument yesterday, adding that the labor unions are in the middle of a crisis themselves, falling short on associates and facing decreasing power and representation.
Labor unions, like other formal political institutions, are organisms embedded in the social and cultural context of the country. As the context evolved, such institutions managed to stay increasingly steady and rigid, unable to move forward together with social change. This is why they fail to assemble support in a context where class struggle lost significance comparing to other forms of identity, based on post-materialistic values. Other groups, built upon other forms of identity, such as religion, cultural meanings, sexual orientation or genre, and using other forms, more decentralized, of mobilization and organization, symmetrically, are gaining importance by the day. These groups promote autonomy, don’t require formal membership or affiliation and give the people the possibility of being part-time activists, preferentially outside their workplace and after their working hours.
This is a big change in the way of making bottom-up politics and this explains, in part, the growing importance of the what happens in the periphery – the outside that belongs, of the formal political system. People prefer new forms of organization, other than labor unions; have new concerns, broader than materialistic, production based, traditional issues; and privilege other forms of action, outside their workplace and favoring individual autonomy.
Said this, this is why, although being actually very concerned with the current path of the country, I’m going to work now: because disruptive times deserve disruptive measures. And traditional labor unions chronically fail to provide anything new. New social movements already proved to be important vectors of social change, but new steps are required in order to take back politics to the people and to increase representation and resistance.