Having worked on collective politics from a more social-movements perspective in Bolivia, I became interested in trade unionism. My work in Bolivia emphasised collective mobilisation and collective politics based on residence and on occupation, with part of my book (El Alto, Rebel City) focussing on the Federation of Street Vendors of the city of El Alto. I see this as an excellent example of a ‘new’, or at least unexpected kind of trade unionism, namely that of workers in the informal sector. Picking up on that interest in collective organisation based on occupation, I subsequently switched field site, to explore unions in a highly formalised sector of the economy, in Argentina.
Argentine trade unions are a fascinating field, in part because of a history of (often contested) support for the Peronist movement from the 1940s onwards. In a world where – the story goes – structural adjustment irrevocably weakened classic trade unions and new forms of social movements emerged in their stead, the persistence and even recent resurgence of trade unions in Argentina is noteworthy, if not actually as unusual as some think. For more details about my trade union project, see here.
State employees are a really interesting group of workers when it comes to trade unionism: lots of questions, such as how to negotiate when the state is employer – because the triangle capital–labour–state (as mediator) collapses explicitly. Also, self-identification as a worker is complex, when state employees can range from atomic engineers to those in more classically working class occupations such as miners. How does a single organisation represent all these people?
ATE produced a calendar in 2010 to celebrate their 85th anniversary; the images of different kinds of state workers are very striking.