Portugal e a Organização Internacional do Trabalho (1933-1974)

Throughout the 20th century, in the most developed countries, the social dimension of the State grew exponentially and took on a centrality which placed it on a par with both the civil and the political dimensions. Built upon the value of solidarity and the growth of citizens' social and labour rights, it determined that this public space be taken up by the law in an unprecedented process of juridification which provided the underpinnings of the Welfare State.

This process occurred in Portugal as well, albeit conditioned by the endemic socioeconomic backwardness of the country and the antidemocratic nature of the political regime of the Estado Novo (New State), which made such process tentative, too narrow in scope and, most of all, very slow.

Following the experience with the Republic, which brought with it a notable set of social and labour rights that were embodied in law but never given practical fulfilment, the new regime is built, from 1933, at variance with the image of a Republic that had promised but never delivered, setting up a core of minimum rights which derived from the 1933 Constitution, the National Labour Statute and also from legislation published in the four subsequent years. The plan would be to broaden that core of minimum rights and extend it to a larger number of workers, as and when the conditions in the country so allowed.

As a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Portugal transposed some of its conventions into its national legislation and formally ratified others in the period that preceded the Estado Novo. The way in which the new regime handled the ILO’s normative heritage – both that which it received and that which was built over the following decades -, and how Portugal welcomed it or not into its legal environment, lies at the core of our book.

Starting from the four major themes of the ILO – human rights and labour rights, quality at work, social protection, employment and poverty – we looked through the international labour conventions, checking whether and when they were ratified, or whether there was no ratifications by Portugal, in order to then gain an insight into how Portuguese legislation kept track of and explained each case. This book is built upon the analysis of national and international legislation, as well as on documentation contained in Portuguese archives and ILO archives in Geneva, much of which had never been dealt with for academic purposes and wasn’t even public knowledge.

Three distinct time periods are defined in the relationship between Portugal and the ILO: at first, a period of convergence, during the Republic; then a period of closure and indifference towards the Organization, in the first two decades of the Estado Novo (1930-1940); and finally, from the mid-1950s, an intense process of re-engagement. These times intersect with normative spaces in which we distinguish a political front and a social front.

On the political front, the Portuguese regime’s quest for external legitimacy at a time of great international isolation for reasons bound up with the antidemocratic nature of the regime and the perpetuation of colonialism, when decolonization was widespread elsewhere, led to a formal adherence to many of the ILO’s international standards from 1956, even though the legal reality did not allow it immediately. This process thus constituted a kind of inducer of domestic changes. On the social front, a lower ratification rate shows that it was impossible for Portugal to keep up with European patterns, but conceals an internal evolution, mainly in the 1960s, which was in many respects a tributary of the penetration of the values, principles and standards of the ILO.

Set against a strong historical background, this study cuts across legal, social and international dimensions and is intended as an interdisciplinary research space underpinned by the concepts of juridification and Welfare State. From these concepts, and based on the sociology of labour law, it is possible to interpret the interlegality played out between the international pattern made up of ILO standards and the national social and legal framework in respect of workers rights, which substantiates the evolution of Portuguese reality during the New State.

This reading key can be applied to other times and other spaces, to the Portugal of today or to the historical or current reality of other countries, herein lying the theoretical contribution of this study - in addition to deepening our knowledge of Portuguese society in the New State, in its social and labour dimensions, which is its main goal.

The growth of Portugal’s legal environment in the social and labour areas during the Estado Novo is slow and uneven, lagging far behind the developed countries. Although conditioned by a State founded on the idea of national autonomy and independence, albeit limited by the country’s non-democratic nature and determined by its social and economic backwardness, the legal space we talk about has evolved significantly under both the direct and indirect influence of the ILO’s normative standards, mainly during the 1960s, thus opening the way to a Welfare State.

This is an abstract, which is made available on the Century Project website for information and comments. It is not for citation without the permission of the author(s). The responsibility for opinions expressed in the document remains with its author(s), and its inclusion on the website does not constitute an endorsement of its content by the ILO.