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Sociologias vol.2 Porto Alegre  2006


Change at work: Brazil and Portugal


Transformações na realidade do trabalho no Brasil e em Portugal



Sonia M K Guimarães

Professor at the Graduate Program in Sociology of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Translated by Eurídice Baumgarten
Revised by author Sônia M. K. Guimarães
Translation from Sociologias, Porto Alegre, n.12, p.16-31, July/Dec. 2004.




The article aims at presenting some general ideas on the changes at work, after more than two decades of its beginning. To illustrate the arguments, recent studies focusing on different aspects of the subject, carried out by Brazilian and Portuguese researchers in their respective contexts, are examined. In spite of the diversity of objects of study, there is some convergence regarding the conclusions: the studies emphasize the heterogeneity and diversity of the work situations, at the same time, they point out to situations that would be better characterized by "ambiguity". This article's conclusion suggest that the current analyses on the changes at work tend to apprehend the complexity of the new reality, abandoning the dualist perspectives that prevailed in the years 1980  and the beginning of the 1990s.

Key words: Changes at Work - Brazil  -  Portugal. 


Os artigos reunidos no dossiê deste número da revista Sociologias foram apresentados em encontros realizados no Brasil e em Portugal como parte de atividades do Programa de Cooperação CAPES-GRISCES denominado Transformações do Trabalho e do Emprego no Contexto da Reestruturação Econômica - coordenado, no Brasil, pela Prof. Dra. Valmíria Piccinini e, em Portugal, pela Prof. Dra. Ilona Kovács, envolvendo os Programas de Pós-Graduação em Administração e Sociologia da UFRGS e o Centro de Investigação em Sociologia Econômica (SOCIUS) do Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão da Universidade Técnica de Lisboa e, como instituição associada, o Departamento de Ciências da Administração da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, SC. O referido programa de intercâmbio tem possibilitado aos pesquisadores envolvidos uma profícua discussão sobre resultados de pesquisas acerca da realidade do trabalho em transformação nos dois países, de tal forma que julgamos oportuno que, ao menos parte daquelas contribuições, se torne acessível ao público interessado, o que fazemos nesta oportunidade.

Palavras-chave: trabalho, emprego, reestruturação econômica, Brasil e Portugal.




The twentieth century has been marked by deep socio-economic, political and cultural changes in such a way that the changes became, as would masterly say the American writer Philip Roth, a "lasting tradition."

Analyses of such changes tend to emphasize either a pessimistic or an optimistic perspective. On the one hand, the assumption is based on the idea that the logic that prevailed in the past behaviors and strategies would persist in the future; the changes would mean thus a negative inflexion. On the other hand, the presupposition is based on the fallacy of discontinuity and the present would be fundamentally different (and better) from the past. It is well known that social reality is not built from ruptures, but rather from a dialectics between continuity and change.   It is also known that there are not pre-determined ways, but possibilities and limits or impasses that vary according to the agents' degree of freedom and ability to intervene in the reality. History shows that societies were able to absorb transformation in their own benefit, most of the time with the sacrifice of some social segments, especially during the transition period. Hence, the concern should focus on the irrationality of the process rather then on its emergence. Social reality is diverse, multiple and complex and its explanation should not rely on a simplified view. Simplification seems to be a major risk to keep away while analysing the current changes at work.

This article aims at presenting some general ideas about the changes at work, after more than two decades since they started to be implemented (new forms of work organization,  introduction of new technologies, economic restructuring, among others). The arguments presented here are illustrated by the conclusions drawn from the researches carried out by the Brazilian and Portuguese researchers from the Graduate Programs in Management and in Sociology, of Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, and the Federal University of Santa Catarina, both in Brazil, and the Institute of Management, of Technical University of Lisbon, as part of an exchange program  held from  2003 to 2006, sponsored by the International Co-operation Program CAPES-GRISCES.


Changes at Work

In the eighties and beginning of nineties the academic debate on labour was dominated by the controversies on the real nature of the processes in course; by the end of the nineties and beginning of the new century, in spite of the lack of consensus, the polemic seems to be less acute, since the trends are clearer now, though it is still risky to propose generalizations, especially, if some degree of objectivity is pursued. A boggy terrain lies ahead.   

Considering the American New Deal – an example of the so called Keynesian model – one observes that they were responses to a particular social-political-economic conjuncture  - the economic depression of the thirties.  In 1940, unemployment rate in the United States was around 25 percent to 20 percent. At that time, three quarters of the adult workers had not finished high school; most occupations performed manual activities, while training happened in the workplace. International competition was practically inexistent and international trade was quite restricted. Soviet power had been consolidated, demanding answers to the contradictions of the capitalist system.

The model consolidated in the post-war period in the industrialized countries coincided with increasing prosperity, which favoured the improvement  of workers' living conditions as a result of the so called Fordist compromise – in exchange for an alienated work, the workers had the right to share the gains of productivity.  The signs of exhaustion of this model started to appear by the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies, after being strongly affected by the oil crisis. There is a certain consensus that capitalism has experienced, since then, important changes:

-  the emergence of new industrial poles –  South Pacific Asian countries, especially Japan – unleashing a tough competition  that shook the bases of the hegemonic center, which was forced to restructure through cost reduction and of the time of circulation of goods,  through product diversification aiming at taking advantage of market niches destined to a small segment of consumers, in a way they would not be economically attractive to competitors. For example, in 1960, the best seller car in the United States was the Chevrolet Impala, with around 900,000 units. By the end of the 1990s, the market for cars in the US was three times bigger; however the best seller car would not surpass 400,000 sold units. Ford, for instance, markets cars drifted to sell not more than 5,000 000 units a year; Subaru looks for very specific market niches, like the lesbian market (Cappelli, 1999, p. 95). There is the need for greater diversification of production, shorter life cycle of the products and larger flexibility, what turns fixed investments obsolete more quickly;

- the increasing use of automation and information technology, as well as new forms of work organization, aiming at rising productivity and implementing new forms of work control (tasks traditionally carried on by intermediate managers), that contributed to the expansion of subcontracting, reduction of activities performed inside the firm and for the alteration of the workforce profile;

-the transformation of the stock markets with the presence of powerful investors like the pension funds which started to define the companies' directions, imposing higher levels of profitability and forcing them to undergo restructuring through new forms of work organization based mainly on cost reduction (whenever a company announced downsizing, the value of their shares rose in the market) (Cappelli et al., 1997; Cappelli, 1999).

Such major transformations impose a review of concepts and sociological imagination. Alternative paths could hardly be formulated based on past models. It is important to point out that the political struggle of the present depends on the definition of new concepts and of a new Utopia. There are different concepts aimed at apprehending the nature of such changes in their wider sense to express the identity of the new society: post-industrial society, service-society, information society, informational society, and post-Fordism.

During the so called period of  Fordism, thecategories that defined the labor issues were expressed by discreet and opposed terms (full-time workers, employment stability, masculine, head of the household versus part-time workers, women with main ties outside waged work, generally domestic; managers/supervisors versus non-managers/non-supervisors, etc.) The reality of work was defined by fixed schedules, which governed the family and the community lives, as well as leisure, favouring integration and standardization. Citizenship was directly related to full-time work. There was no citizenship out of work. Social principles and ideals of coexistence were defined by the notions of standardization and homogeneity, which could be translated in political terms by the ideas of integration, corporatism, collectivism and nationalism.

The specificity of the current  time could be characterized by what is called the risk regime, that is, the idea that there are larger possibilities and alternatives and, consequently, forecast and planning become problematic. When the markets are globalized and diversified, demand is quantitative and qualitatively less foreseeable; the same would happen concerning standardization:  Fordist standardization characterized by rigid and hierarchical division of work becomes an obstacle to the valorization of capital. The return to the old certainties is not likely. While Fordism featured standardization, the risk regime would be based on customization; while Fordism disregarded environment damage, the risk regime would have as central concern minimizing the evils of  prosperity. The risk regime represented the compulsion of choice; individualization and pluralization in a context of uncertainties and insecurities. The challenge would be to know how the loss of certainty and safety could be transformed in blossoming of creativity.

Important changes are ascertained as to who works. For instance, there has been a significant growth of women's participation in the industrialized societies' labour market in general, not only in terms of levels of participation but also in terms of working hours and ascension to positions traditionally occupied by men, such as managers and other rankings of authority. The new social statute cannot ignore such a reality; the family problems resulting from women's new working  situation should be faced as a social problem and treated in collective and institutional terms, ending or minimizing the traditional separation between the domestic and working realms. A survey carried on in the United States, in 1997, indicated that  68 percent  of the large companies offered formal or informal policies, allowing flexible working hours; 20 percent offered to some of their employees an option to work from home (Osterman et al., 2001, p.30-32). These experiences tend to spread and could represent alternative arrangements in the attempt to minimize the problems faced by working women and men with pre-school children.

Furthermore, concerning who works, there is evidence indicating a trend of increasing work qualification, especially in technologically advanced firms which compete in the international market.  In those cases, the quality of products or services and the cost reduction are based on the  employee "empowerment", by widening the scope of their assignments, reducing the hierarchical levels, transferring responsibilities formerly assigned to managers and/or supervisors to the workers. However, the responsibility of acquiring skills has fallen on the workers. The workers tend to become responsible for their professional trajectory, which means to assume additional burden and risks. This is particularly dramatic in the information technology industry, where qualification becomes quickly obsolete. The workers are, thus, permanently running the risk of having their qualification quickly devaluated. In that context, the employees become aware that they must take care of their careers and qualification, what results in greater commitment with their own professional trajectory than with the company they work for. They come nearer the self-employed workers behavior. The new employment relationship has been characterized by being defined not inside the company (through training, concession of benefits and promotion) but more and more by the market (Cappelli, 1999). Although apparently favourable to the companies, such a situation can be problematic to them, since they end up having difficulties to retain qualified employees, as well as they may not count on their loyalty, since they tend to assume a more individualistic and short term perspective.

Concerning who works, there had been an increase in temporary and part-time jobs. There are indications that a significant percentage of those workers would prefer to hold a regular job. That kind of contract tends to reduce the workers involvement causing problems for the firms that depend on their employees' commitment  for being successful. For this reason, firms are re-thinking their strategy, and the expectation is that such a forms of employment tend to stagnate or decrease.

Regarding how is work done, there is an increase on the percentage of firms using working  practices that tend to enhance workers' skills as, self-directed work team, job rotation  and problem solving groups. The increase of such practices is associated with the employers' belief that employee participation results in a workplace that is at once more productive, profitable, innovative, flexible and responsive (Heckscher, 1996:xix; Osterman et al., 2001:82.). However, the application of such a model restricts the recruitment of non-qualified workers. Inside the firm the distinction between managers and the rest of the employees is reduced, blurring the division of functions. The flattening of hierarchies implies in the devaluation of the system of promotions as a criterion of incentive; the trend is that the system of promotions give way to a system of benefits, often unequally distributed among workers in the same occupation, contributing for increasing the inequality among workers in same firm, with similar demographic characteristics.    

Job insecurity contradicts the principles of work participative practices and the worker's engagement. However, even without employment security, workers tend to show more satisfaction while working under a framework that favors better qualification.

According to some studies, employees "have absorbed" that new reality. Recent surveys carried out in the United States point out the differences comparing results of previous surveys. Asked what they expected from their jobs, employees ranked "employment security" in fifth place, after "interesting work", "better forms of communication" and "opportunities for professional growth" (HR Executive Review: Implementing the New Employment Contract, apud Cappelli, 1999:36). In other survey of the same kind the employees expressed their desire of gaining "opportunities to professional development" and "training", which would contribute to broaden their opportunities in the external labor market. Cappelli (1999) argues that the respondents are a "second generation" of employees, unacquainted with the period that preceded the process of restructuring and, for this reason, more adjusted to the rules of the new employment relations. Mocelin (2006) has found similar results in a study carried out in a mobile cellular telephony operator, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. That study found substantial differences regarding the entrepreneurial culture and the workers' profile comparing the telecommunications sector, under permanent technological changes, compared to industries in the manufacturing sector. Telecommunications workers are young and better educated; they value overall their chances to develop their abilities to enforce their employability to make sure they are well placed in the external labor market.

Regarding dismissals, the character of the current phenomenon is peculiar when compared to the past, when the main reason for layoffs was decline in economic activity and there was a re-hiring expectation as the cycle improved. Nowadays, layoffs have the main purpose of downsizing (cutting costs). Firms dismiss employees during the growth and prosperity period, and the dismissals are due in general to restructuring and subcontracting. As they dismiss, the firms also hire, to adjust the workforce to their new demands. This is particularly true for companies that work with information technology. Fierce competition, unstable market conditions and quick technological and managerial innovations, make that the period for firm production plan be shorter than individual careers (Cappelli, 1999; Cappelli et al., 1997.)

Yet unemployment rates vary according to regions and social segments; they tend to be higher for less educated workers and for less skilled jobs. Recent data on Brazil show the difference between levels of employment and unemployment, when comparing metropolitan areas to some small and middle towns.

At any rate, technological unemployment has become a reality. Some analysts argue that the Knowledge Society is incapable to incorporate the workers and is moving away from the Work Society.   Therein, the future might be mass unemployment and, consequently, a new kind of social division may emerge: the ones who have and the ones who don't have jobs. Jeremy Rifkin, author of The End of Work, is an example of this perspective.   Relying on historical development, the opposite perspective argues that workers' fear of being replaced by machines has been so far groundless, since every labor cutback or even the elimination of a given sector is followed by the creation of new sectors and new jobs that quickly expand. A classical example is what happened with the agriculture: the drastic workforce reduction did not cause a reduction of the overall economically active population, but rather the opposite.


Brazil and Portugal

The articles here discussed deal with different aspects of change at work, although all of them have as central concern the discussion of the social implications affecting work and employment face the new reality brought by phenomena like globalisation, market liberalization, technological innovation and the restructuring of production. The articles approach issues such as work flexibility, union relations, management practices, modes of working and of being in the new working conditions, as well as aspects of theoretical nature, like the discussion on the subject of worker's autonomy.   The articles were not conceived in terms of a comparative methodology, but one cannot fail to see similarities between the two countries, so tightly connected not only by language and culture, but also by the level of socio-economic development that identify them, according to some analysts, as semi-peripheral countries. 

Kovács (2004), analyzing the nature of the flexible employment, refuses the easy and mistaken simplification that conceives work in current times in terms of a dualism – center  and periphery. Quite to the opposite, the author emphasizes the tendency towards differentiation and heterogeneity of work situations and forms of employment. When dealing with the issues that involve the debate about flexible employment (contractual flexibility, space and statute -  usually, limited time contract, temporary work, self-employment and part-time work), she alludes to the controversy about the flexible forms of employment: a) the optimistic argument sustains that flexible employment is the virtuous way, as it would express options and opportunities that contribute towards the assertion of individual freedom; b) the critical perspective claims that such forms of employment represent a step backward and foster both precariousness  and the weakening of social cohesion. The author of the present article believes that flexible forms of employment can either entail risks or opportunities, and "either bring advantages or disadvantagesto the individuals involved with them and to society in general."

Facing diversity and trying to escape determinist explanations, the author tries to understand the reason why some workers benefit from the process, while others are impaired instead; or, in what measure unstable situations of employment result in more virtuous situations, while others further precariousness. Such issues become fundamental considering the need to know "how would it be possible to improve the situation of fragile groups and foster conditions for ascending mobility?" (Kovács, 2004, p.   )

In order to better apprehend the different situations in their possibilities and limits, the author creates a typology discerning four forms of employment flexibility: qualifying flexibility, professional stability, unsteadying flexibility; threatened stability. Quantitative data inform about the diffusion and evolution of part-time work, self employment and temporary work, in Europe, in the European Union and in Portugal, while qualitative data aim at apprehending the dynamics of employment quality and subjective aspects related to the way workers live and feel flexibility.

The analysis concludes that flexible forms of employment represent a low percentage; however, a significant part of it - above all, social segments under fragile employability - do not have another choice; they stand for an imposition that tends to reproduce little qualifying job situations and foster precariousness. However, there are cases when workers opt for this kind of job, which due to different circumstances favors them, hence furthering forms of ascending mobility. The different destinies depend on the workers' professional trajectories. In that sense, defeating the tendency to precariousness and exclusion and contributing to qualifying trajectories would imply re-enforcing the worker's employability through the creation of training opportunities, offered both by the firm and the state.

 Such a conclusion expresses the complexity of the new reality and corroborates evidence we collected in an investigation about the telecommunications sector, whose diversity and heterogeneity reject dualist pre-determined definitions.

Piccinini (2004) studies flexible work through the analysis of cooperatives in the Brazilian context. Again, there is reference to the duality of perspectives when evaluating the work in cooperatives: there are those who sustain the argument of precariousness, in view of the existence of false cooperatives and those who believe cooperatives to be a possible solution for unemployment.

As observed by Kovács, Piccinini's investigation also refers to the ambiguity of the  case investigated: flexibility is generally analyzed positively, especially by the leaders ("managers"), since it is suppose to enable a higher degree of autonomy in terms of contract and working day, as well as  of  opportunities for developing and learning new activities.  According to the author, a minority of the interviewees ("managers") considered flexible employment, negative, simply as a way of surviving on the job market. As for the associates (workers), they would prefer a relationship of waged employment.

The author's conclusions point at various reasons for the workers to join the cooperatives; the search for an alternative to unemployment is the strongest. At the same time, she observes diversity in work conditions comparing the three case-studies: in one cooperative work conditions were good; in the second, the conditions varied according to the kind of contract and in the third one, the work conditions were reasonable.

Again, it is difficult to generalize in favor of one or other perspective, since the conditions are diverse.

Approaching a different subject, Cerdeira (2004) discusses the dilemmas of unionism facing the present changes, expressed by the decline of the rates of unionization. The author's thesis is that there would not be "automatic or pre-determined relationship between labor relations and … economic changes that allowed a safe foreseeing concerning the effects of flexible systems of production on unionism, on collective agreements, on labor organization and on the number and quality of jobs" (Cerdeira, 2004, p.113).  The author emphasizes that the pressures resulting from phenomena like globalization and the liberalization of markets do not necessarily produce a pre-determined result. Factors of institutional-historical order of each country intervene on this process, and therefore the implications of flexibility on unionism could not be previewed linearly, since similar practices could have different meanings, bringing up distinct union strategies as well as distinct results in each country. The author asserts that the logic of job rigid definition existent in the United States, Brazil and Portugal, might justify the unions' resistance toward work flexibility, assessed as negative, since it supposedly would threaten the traditional conditions of employment. The opposite occurred in countries like Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Japan, where employment did not depend on the job control; in those cases, flexibility were to be faced positively, as a possibility of development of new competences(Cerdeira, 2004, p. 112).

The article – that presents a detailed account of the unions in Portugal, from April 1974, when the dual system of worker representation (works council and unions) was established - argues that there is a new negotiation dynamics, involving the actors directly, without intermediation of the state. At the same time, the negotiations were ruled by the logic of concession, considering the limitation of mutual claims and gains, in opposition to the distributive logic of the years 1970-1980.

The author claims that the exogenous causes generally assumed as responsible for the decline of unionism – among them, unemployment, Fordism crisis, prevalence of individualist values – are not enough to explain the Portuguese case, since internal causes – the absence of an unitary policy, politicizing of unions and corporatist unionism – should be considered. The analysis highlights the need to include endogenous aspects such as the particularities of the country's  labor history, as a  more appropriate form to assess the social implications of the current transformations.

Santos (2004) discusses the challenge to the human resources management facing the new demands from the knowledge society, the information and communication technologies, and from globalisation, which increase the importance of production of non-tangible goods. Traditional characteristics (price, raw materials, energy and work) tend to yield to the innovation ability that highly depends on human competency. The author highlights three roads for reaching this goal: human capital development, structural capital and relational capital. Human capital development means that professional qualification is not enough to the knowledge worker; it is obligatory to possess competencies that allow the development of creative and innovative capabilities. The firm, therefore, should stimulate the development of these capabilities, what requires a new kind of management, which considers not only productive targets but, above all, the emotional and empathetic components. As for the structural capital, it supposes the ability to transform the productivity of the intellectual capital into projects, products and services. Relational capital assumes the valorization of multiple interactions among people and organizations - a shared intelligence - the product of relational networks considered fundamental to the development of the structural capital.

The analysis shows that in spite of the discourse and the acknowledgment of the need for fulfilling those principles considering the current conditions of production and competitiveness, the concrete reality tends to ignore them, thwarting the premises. The author asserts that, in these conditions, the workers would tend to be grouped according to categories, considering their ability to produce added value and demand in the labor market: difficult to replace producing high added value; difficult to replace, however, producing low added value (tendency to incorporate parallel activities); easy to replace producing high added value; easy to replace producing low added value (tendency to automate or externalize their activities) Santos, 2004, p. 153).  Therein, flexibility that was supposed to generate opportunities would be really segmenting human resources and in this case, only a minority is taking advantage of the process.

It is important to highlight that there is a consensus about the effectiveness of the management based on knowledge enabling.  Therefore, such form of management could be more largely applied. This is one of the concepts to be incorporated by the unions' agenda to become an urgent and necessary banner for today's unionism.

Grisci e Bessi (2004) approach the service segment, more specifically the banking sector, which has undergone radical transformation with extensive use of automation and, resulting  in a complete re-definition of the professional profile and, in the case of Brazil, in a workforce reduction of 50 percent. This may be one of the sectors that experienced the changes more intensely, largely as a consequence of automation, but also as a result of the economy's stabilization, which eliminated a galloping inflation that fed the bank system until the mid 1990s.

The empirical investigation was undertaken on a public bank, whose restructuring redefined  the company focus towards the market and profititability.  According to the authors, the altering of the company objectives results in new subjectivity modes, which demand from the workers qualities of immaterial work – considered a central factor in the new relation of production-consuming, whose specificity demands a new kind of worker: not only object of work but also subject in the sense that the emotion be mobilized in such a way as to wake in the consumer desire to consume and fidelity to the company.

The new work dynamics that emphasizes sales performance, reaching targets and competitiveness, tends to fragment the category in "old" and "new" employees, and the latter, though they do feel the intensification of working rhythm, tend to adapt more easily to the new methods, unlike the former, whose subjectivity was developed in another mode of work (less individualist.).

Assuming that the problem above be a characteristic of the transition phase and that the totality of employees will tend to identify with the new bank worker profile, there would remain the issue of the intensification of the rhythm of work, which has been pointed out by several studies, based in different perspectives and approaching different industries and countries. This seems to be a real problem that equally affects highly and non-skilled workers.  Such a problem brings up a discussion that should become central in society as a whole, not only for the firm or the State – the quality life and work.  To the present day, the pursuit of profit has been deemed responsible for work "degradation." However, should we not also include the consumers, always after the best price, without caring how the companies base their strategies to satisfy them? Should not the consumers too, in making their choices, be concerned with valuing the products whose making has taken in consideration the workers quality of life?

Rosenfield's article, Autonomia Outorgada e Apropriação do Trabalho(Granted Autonomy and Appropriation of Work) concentrates in the discussion of theoretical aspects concerning the changes at work, focusing on the issue of autonomy. The author acknowledges that the new model of work organization, unlike the previous one, contributes to the mobilization of the worker's intelligence, allowing a more varied and complex experience, in addition to propitiating a more democratic labor relations. She highlights however the presence of a paradox, since at the same time that "engagement and adhesion to the objectives of the company... happens, (there is) the obligation of  engagement." 

To what extent, she asks, the new forms of work organization would represent a gain to the worker. She uses the concept of granted autonomy"remits to the prescription… so as to insert the unexpected in the rule", in opposition to real autonomy – "remits to creation and improvisation" - to characterize a situation in which there is more autonomy, but it is unscripted inside the limits of an economic rationality and not in the sphere of subjective or social order.  Like the other authors commented above, Rosenfield also concludes by acknowledging she is in the presence of an ambiguous situation: at the same time the granted autonomy promotes the enrichment of work through the stimulus to creativity and initiative, it would be a pseudo-freedom since it is still prey to economic rationality, what would hinder the emergence of a real autonomy.

However, even without enjoying real autonomy – assuming it could be effective – the paradox is not applied only to the worker, but also to the firm. As Capelli asserts:  "One of the biggest and most fundamental dilemmas of the modern firm is this combination of empowered employees and reduced commitment"(Cappelli, 1999, p.46).


Final Considerations

It is interesting to note that in general terms the conclusions reached by the articles commented above tend to converge as they point, on one hand, to the novelty of today's work situation and the heterogeneity and diversity of the situations; on the other hand, they point to the "ambiguity" or "paradox" that characterizes the work context they investigated. Such results have the merit of getting away from the dualist perspectives so dear to the typical analyses of the 1980s and beginning of 1990s, suggesting a sharper view in defining the new tendencies.

Doubtless, we are facing a new reality, which demands the redefinition of actors, institutions and policies.

Unions, for instance, are considered fundamental actors, however, they should be renewed unions, operating in a larger scale and scope: allying themselves to other unions as well as to other social groups as professional and/or social organizations, acting politically to guarantee better work conditions e higher workers' participation in the workplace, but also defending their needs and interests in their occupational trajectory (as students/workers until retirement) as well as in terms of labor market, offering training, qualification and serving as intermediaries to the labor market, as much for the low-skilled   workers as for the high-skilled ones.

The state, also considered a fundamental actor, assumes a new role; not necessarily supposes the "minimum" State, to the contrary, its intervention would be, overall, at the macro-economic level, through the formulation and implementation of policies to maintain a sustainable  economic growth accompanied by social development, aiming at a more egalitarian society. Its action would assume a regulating character, through incentives that support and complement the positive aspects of the private initiative, hindering and charging actions that hurt the common good. The conception of the new State is also defined by the idea of transparency and partnership with civil society  (Reis e Urani, 2004). The government should also be in charge of the modernization of the legislation, adapting it to the new times. 

The firms should become "corporations with focus in human capital" fostering a virtuous work environment, wherein all workers, and not only an elite were respected and valued.

It seems indispensable to create a new social labor contract that benefits all – companies, investors, economy, workers, and society. However, the new reality requires urgent change in the governance of firms, so that they not just answer to the shareholders but, above all, to the workers. It is necessary to change the values related to work and to social responsibility. If we have to  live with high levels of risk, the rules have to be changed in terms of who will bear the risks, in such a way as to distribute them more equally among all that are involved.



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