Anne Engelhardt

Kurzexposé zum Promotionsvorhaben von Anne Engelhardt

Labouring bodies at chokepoints – histories and contestation at ports and airports in Brazil and Portugal

The thesis is located in the field of critical political economy, industrial sociology and social movement/ labor studies. It critically engages with the claim that the logistical revolution of the past decades has created vulnerabilities or so called 'chokepoints' in the global goods distribution, especially in the maritime and air transport sectors. Different scientists assume on the one hand that the blockade of chokepoints caused by labor disputes can have a strong economic impact. The logistical power of employees has a high potential for successful industrial action, which could be used above all in the fight against casualization. In addition, this power position contains potentials for union (re-) organization. On the other hand, chokepoints pose a growing risk for governments, logistics and insurance companies, and are subject to new controls and laws, which in turn reduces the potential for disputes.

In the 67 conducted theory generating expert interviews, informants both in the port (handling, lashing) and at the airport (handling, transfer of people with walking disabilities) frequently made unsolicited reference to the last (fatal) accident in a port or an airport. From their perspective precarity means a lack of safety. A lack of safety means danger to the body, their bodies and those of their colleagues at the ports, the airports, the ships, and the planes. Precarious working conditions continue to have an enormous impact on their physical vulnerability and their reproduction, and this also feeds back into the forms and amount of industrial action.

Based on theoretical considerations and the observations made during fieldwork, the thesis aims to answer the following questions:

1. If workers and activists can exercise logistical power through chokepoints (ports and airports) why are there still precarious working conditions?

2. How does the restructuring of work at chokepoints, through monitoring, regulation, laws, legislations and directives, affect the labouring bodies?

In addition to these main research questions, I discuss how repressive body politics and restrictions on the social reproduction of the working body are addressed in trade unions and movements and how strategies for (re)obtaining decent jobs at chokepoints are developed.

These questions will be studied on two levels. On the one hand, battles against casualization in the port sector are compared with those in the airport sector, and on the other, these sectors are analyzed in the countries Brazil and Portugal. The airport and port sectors were selected and subjected to a relational and incorporated comparative study, since current industrial sociology assumes that both sectors stand out in terms of their economic importance. In Brazil and Portugal both areas play a central economic and political role, as both countries represent comparable cases. Moreover, both countries have a special social, cultural and economic relationship to each other through the colonial history of Portugal; and a series of anti-austerity protests took place in the recent year from 2010 to 2018, to which the research is specifically linked.
The thesis focuses on actors around and at chokepoints: employees of the ports or airports, their trade union representatives, entrepreneurs and representatives of state institutions. Finally, the sample of the investigation will be supplemented by activists from social movements who, in solidarity with logistics workers, see the possibility of building larger movements against precarity.