Re-Building Consensus? Social Pacts and Centralized Collective Bargaining in Spain Under Austerity.

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.04 (Tower Two)
Sergio Gonzalez Begega, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain
David Luque, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain
The politics of Austerity have placed the structure of social dialogue and centralized collective bargaining in Spain under strain. Industrial dispute has intensified, shifting from the economical to the political arena. The reforms implemented in the labour maket and in the structure of collective bargaining have allowed significant changes in the balance of power between trade unions, employers’ associations and the government. The paper examines the erosion of the Spanish industrial relations framework within Austerity. It focuses on the destabilization of centralized collective bargaining and the disruption of tripartite social dialogue, recently re-activated in late 2014. Contrary to other countries, such as Italy and Ireland, the mechanisms for the production of consensus between the social partners and the government have not been utterly fractured and the crisis has not meant the collapse of coordination through bipartite and tripartite social pacts. The paper emphasizes the resilience and continuity of social dialogue in Spain and attempts to identify the political, institutional and historical factors behind this underlying strength.

The existence of consolidated social dialogue has been one of the identifying elements determining political processes in Western Europe, albeit with different national aproaches. The search for coordination and consensus through centralized collective bargaining and social pacts has been functional to prevent conflict, to facilitate the development of a stable framework of industrial relations and to promote long-term reforms in the structure of incomes, in the labour market and on the welfare system. In Spain, the development of a corporatist social compact has fostered political modernization and economical adaptation since transition to Democracy in the late 1970s. It has established the basis for a process of political and economical exhange between governments and social partners, under different institutional configurations and levels, which has revealed a high degree of continuity and consistency.

Our main working hypothesis is that these internal strenghts, which are firmly anchored on institutional and historical reasons, have prevented social dialogue and centralized collective bargaining in Spain to break, despite the intense strain induced by the crisis and its political effects on industrial relations. The paper will examine whether the explanatory frameworks available are still effective in characterizing the changes undergone by social dialogue and centralized collective bargaining in Spain during the period 2008-2015. It is obvious that the crisis and its associated politics of Austerity have threatened the coherency of the model of political consensus building and economic coordination that has characterized the relationship between governments, trade unions and employers for the last decades. However, it has not been openly denounced by its actors nor it has collapsed. After some initial problems, centralized collective bargaining has shown a high resistance and continuity and tripartite social dialogue, which was abandoned by the government after the outbreak of the crisis, has been resumed in late 2014.

This paper forms part of the CABISE research project (Welfare Capitalism in Southern Europe: a Comparative Analysis) corresponding to Spain’s National Plan for R+D+i (ref. CSO2012-33976).