Since the immediate post–World War II era, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has played a leading role in the political, economic, and social lives of Latin Americans. Its role has evolved from the Bretton Woods era of the postwar period, through the era of the Washington Consensus, and into the post-2008 crisis period. However, throughout those times the institution served as the enforcement instrument for orthodox economic policies within the liberal international order. It conditioned emergency lending to countries in economic distress on the implementation of austere economic policies.
The region’s workers consistently bore the costs of the IMF’s prescribed policies. Such policies resulted in fewer public-sector jobs, reductions in welfare state benefits, and increased levels of foreign involvement in national economies. Consequently, the IMF became the subject of frequent labor protests. Workers understood the key role the IMF played in devising the policies that caused them pain and often took steps to resist.
Although the IMF’s effects on the working class are well understood within Latin America, it has not been the subject of sustained historical analysis. To understand the dynamics of the region’s political economy, historians should focus on the IMF to a degree similar to that of economists and political scientists. More specifically, the relationship between the IMF and Latin American workers is ripe for sustained analysis across disciplinary boundaries.