‘Part of the Elite’? Antineoliberal Populism and Trade Unionism in Italy and Spain

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Anatomy - Large LT (University of Glasgow)
Enrico Padoan , Instituto de Ciencia Política, University of Chile
Populism in Western Europe has long been equated with Radical Right or with a political strategy aiming at building a direct, unmediated relationship between a leader and her/his followers. New parties such as Podemos, Five Star Movement and Syriza have challenged these oversimplifications. Podemos and Syriza appear clearly skewed to the Left, whereas Five Star Movement – whose position in the Left-Right axis is highly debatable – has been able to ‘own’ several traditional Leftist issues, declining them in a novel way. Nonetheless, their relationship with the ‘mainstream unions’ in their respective countries appear problematic.

In this paper, I argue that both theoretical and political factors account for this difficult relationship. Theoretically, populism can be intended as a tool to overcome problems of collective action, focusing, in its discourse, on those sectors lacking an own channel of representation. Therefore, populism is likely to attract some constituencies often overlooked by unionism, particularly when the labor market insider-outsider divide is huge. Politically, the existence of strong links between unions and a centre-left party supporting or implementing austerity measures further contributes to the emergence of a delegitimizing discourse against ‘mainstream’ unions.

I focus on the cases of Podemos and Five Star Movement, relying on elite interviews and survey data, in order to describe how these parties, and their voters, assess the behaviour of ‘mainstream’ unions.  I argue that a closer look of the Latin American Leftist Populisms contributes to understand several features of the relationship between European Antineoliberal Populisms and the union movement.

  • Enrico Padoan CES.docx (127.4 kB)