Young leaders - 2

CFTL (Centro de Formação e Tempos Livres), Base-Frente Unitária de Trabalhadores and Centro de Estudos Socias (Centre for Social Studies) of the University of Coimbra (CES) organized the second meeting of the course for young leaders of workers’ organizations in Setúbal from 9 - 12 October 2019. It is an international project that is organized by the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (CFTC, France), Faculté libre de droit, d'économie et de gestion (FACO Paris), Europejski Dom Spotkań - Fundacja Nowy Staw (EDS-FNS, Poland) and the University Akademia Ignatianum (Poland), supported by the European Centre for Workers’ Questions (EZA) and financed by the European Union. The course is part of a series of four meetings that will be held in the three countries between June 2019 and June 2020.

The main goal of the course is to enable the 20 participants from France, Poland and Portugal to play an active role in union and workers’ organizations. The participants reflected on the history and future of workers’ organizations in Portugal and the latest changes in the work environment, with the goal of educating young leaders of workers’ organizations using workshops on group dynamics, mobilisation and communication.

Course preparation

To prepare the training activity, the coordination team attended two meetings with the project's international partners. These meetings were important for selecting the contents of each meeting and the organisation of the pedagogical process for the trainees. Regular contacts with the Centre for Social Studies (CES), particularly with the study group “Relações de Trabalho e Sociedade” (RETS) (work and social relationships), made it possible to have the course certified by this institution of the University of Coimbra. The team that is responsible for organizing and promoting the course at CFTL for the purpose of developing the programme and looking after the logistical organisation of the meeting also organised several meetings. The Portuguese participants who participated in the first meeting in Poland were also asked to prepare a report that was supposed to serve as a guide for the second meeting - taking into account their assessments.

Implementation of the course

The first meeting on “What it means to assume a leadership role in a workers’ organization”, which was held on 9 October under the leadership of Pierre Marie, Vice-President of the education and recreational centre, provided a better understanding of the group and a first reflection on the goals of a workers’ organization and the required skills of its management team. This first meeting was dedicated to illustrating the programme dynamics and the composition of the working groups.

In the second meeting, which had the title “Developing an action plan with the workers”, António Brandão Guedes, Coordinator of the Commission for Work Issues at Base-Frente Unitária de Trabalhadores, introduced the steps that point the way towards the development of such an action plan using a case in the workplace safety and health field. On the day of the meeting, group work commenced with the goal of developing a joint action plan that represents the main idea of the course.

The work on 10 October was dominated by discussions about the development of workers’ organizations in Portugal, taking into account two complementary aspects. Florival Lança, Secretary for International Relations of the General Association of Portuguese Workers (an organisation that crosses union boundaries) between 1993 and 2008, spoke about the “History of workers’ organizations in Portugal”. This exciting report helped participants learn more about the history of workers in Portugal and make comparisons with the French and Polish workers’ organizations.

The second aspect relates to a “joint interview with leaders of workers’ organizations”, which was used to insert personal profiles into this historical process. Besides Florival Lança, the participants also interviewed João Paulo Branco, President of Base-Frente Unitária de Trabalhadores, Danilo Moreira, President of the workers’ union of call centres, and Vivalda Silva, national coordinator of the workers’ union for order, security, cleaning, household services and miscellaneous activities. Based on the questions asked by the participants, it was possible to establish an overview of the worker movements in Portugal over the last few decades.

On the same meeting day, another two workshops were held in order to develop the joint action package. Avelino Pinto, sociologist, educator and member of Base-Frente Unitária de Trabalhadores, led a meeting on “Group Dynamics”, with the goal of promoting the use of animation techniques as part of the pro-active work of workers’ organizations. Danilo Moreira led the second meeting on the “Mobilisation of workers” based on his experience as the Chairman of the Workers' Union Call Center. These two aspects provided an opportunity for group work, in order to push ahead with the joint action package project.

On 11 October, participants had an opportunity to build their skills in the area of communication and content analysis, always with the goal of developing the joint action plan. Bia Carneiro, a researcher at the Centre for Social Studies and a member of the study group for work and social relationships (RETS/CES), started the day with the topic “Communication inside a workers’ organization”. The often negative image of unions with regard to social communication requires the creation of new communication channels. A new group activity designed to better define the communication strategy for the joint action plan took place in the first half of the morning. Tiago Oliveira, economist and post-doc researcher at the Centre for Social Studies, led the second workshop of the day on the issue of “Analysis and Interpretation of Economic Data”. He emphasised the importance of splitting the discourses about the economy in a time when the neo-liberal current represents itself as hegemonial in this context. As a social science, the economy is based on political decisions and it is important to split key terms such as “Growth”, “Labour market” or even “Indebtedness” in order to strengthen activists and leaders in workers’ organizations.

In the afternoon, participants visited the company Janz, which specialises in the manufacture of water meters and telemetric solutions, and which is based in Parque das Nações in Lisbon. The plant, which was founded in 1915, has over 250 employees and an annual production capacity of over 400,000 meters. In addition to its production capacities, Janz also stands out because of a social project for the work-life balance of its employees. Besides the factory, there is also the Ester Janz association, a private institution for social solidarity, which was founded in 1982 to support the education and training of the workers’ children and the children of the surrounding communities, from the nursery level to elementary school, in order to contribute to their holistic development.

On 12 October, participants reflected on the future of work and workers’ organizations. Dora Fonseca, a researcher at the Centre for Social Studies, led two morning meetings on “Current work challenges” and “The future of the workers’ organization”. In the first meeting, she emphasised the key importance of work and highlighted the main changes that have occurred with the development of the digital economy. The generalisation of a platform for contracting services - the Uber-isation of the economy - has led to deteriorating working conditions and creates challenges when it comes to worker protection.

In light of these new trends, workers’ organization must redefine the way they work. Dora Fonseca named several current examples of unions and social movements that have organised workers in innovative ways, such as the workers at Deliveroo or the movement of the “Precarious Inflexible Workers”. It is important to once again establish the power of unions and maintain an open dialogue with other civil society movements.

In the afternoon, participants completed the group work and presented the results in order to develop an action plan with young workers. The two working groups decided to work on issues that they considered urgent in the Portuguese, Polish and French context. The first group presented an action plan for work-life balance and called for the right to separate the two. The second group looked at the new trends in how work is organised and focused particularly on unpaid internships that affect young workers. The two groups presented the strategy and contents of the action plans as part of a very comprehensive exercise with debate, organisation and creativity.

The course ended with a final assessment by the participants and organisers. The course assessment was positive and the participants highlighted the importance of the group discussion, and particularly appreciated the study visit, which fleshed out some of the topics that were discussed during the course. The organisers praised the numerous debates that took place during the four days, and the intensive involvement of the course participants.