The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 12.5 million children and adolescents under the age of fifteen currently working in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these, 9.6 million (77%) perform tasks that pose a risk to their physical and psychological health. This article presents a brief comparative analysis of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay in order to discuss the challenges of confronting this phenomenon in two very different countries that have embraced divergent strategies to deal with similar problems. To do this, the article presents an overview of the incidence of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay and seeks to demonstrate how far the category of labor is from a universal definition in the academic world, which is also repeated in the debate on the definition of child labor. It is possible to identify different moments of the debate in Latin America regarding the concept of child labor. Some approaches have been more contextualized than others, but all remain controversial and are sometimes considered incomplete. It will also consider the changes in the world of labor and how they interfere in this phenomenon. Despite advances in the fight against child labor overall, Brazil is starting to stagnate in its efforts to reduce the number of child and adolescent workers, and its challenge is to find new political solutions to address this problem. Uruguay still needs to place the issue more centrally on the nation’s political and social agenda in order to guarantee consistent research on the problem that can guide its policy responses.
Marcia Guedes Vieira
Inés Pérez and Elizabeth Hutchison
The regulation of labor relations and social rights substantially changed workers’ lives over the course of the 20th century. Domestic service, however, was only poorly and belatedly protected under labor law, and its incorporation proceeded in a slow, ambiguous, and nonlinear manner. The specific ways in which domestic service regulation emerged in Chile and Argentina, respectively, offer insight into this process and also present some important contrasts, despite the nations’ geographic proximity. In Chile, although the rights recognized for household workers were limited, the Labor Code of 1931 included an article on domestic service. In Argentina, the first comprehensive regulation for this sector was a special statute sanctioned by decree in 1956. In both cases, the “special” nature of such regulation was attributed to the place of domestic service in family life. As domestic labor was reconceptualized through legislative reform in each country, household workers gradually came to enjoy some, but not all, of the rights guaranteed to other workers.
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.
The province of Tucumán, Argentina, has been used as a test case for the fallacious “theory of the two demons” because it is both where a guerrilla movement formed in 1974 and where the country’s first clandestine detention center was established in the “escuelita” of Famaillá during “Operativo Independencia” in 1975. This “theory” reduces the conflict in the province to a confrontation in the Tucumán hills between no more than 150 combatants of the People’s Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, ERP) and 5,000 soldiers of the Argentine Army. This, however, largely conceals the social catastrophe suffered by Tucumán and the high levels of conflict that had already been taking place for more than a decade. Previously, in August 1966, the provincial territory had been militarized by the new dictatorial government led by Juan Carlos Onganía. On that occasion, militarization sought to guarantee the closure of sugar mills. This generated an unprecedented economic and social crisis. Between 1966 and 1968, eleven mills were closed out of a total of twenty-seven, more than 50,000 jobs were eliminated in the sugar agro-industry alone, medium and small sugarcane producers were severely affected, and more than a quarter of the total population of the province was forced to emigrate in search of new sources of work. Such were the root causes of social conflict, led mainly by the sugar working class assembled in the Tucumán Workers Federation of the Sugar Industry (Federación Obrera Tucumana de la Industria Azucarera, FOTIA), which the 1976 dictatorship was intent on reining in.
Supported by a multiclass alliance including the working class and some sectors of industry and the military, Juan Domingo Perón’s government (1946–1955) industrialized the country, modernized and expanded the state, transformed local and national politics, empowered the labor unions, and substantially improved the standard of living. Perón combined a strong nationalistic and anti-oligarchic discourse with concrete material benefits like high wages, the expansion and consolidation of the retirement system, paid vacations, housing subsidies, and full employment that ensured the political support of large sectors of the working population. Like the workers, various other traditionally disenfranchised social sectors took center stage. The very poor became the main beneficiaries of the charities run by first lady Eva Perón; women won the right to vote with a law passed in 1947 and were mobilized and politicized by the Peronist Party; and children were recognized by the government as the true heirs of the new Argentina built by Peronism and thus subject to co-optation and indoctrination. At the same time, internal migrants, attracted by the promises of a better life and industrial employment, left the countryside and small towns in the interior for the cities, propelling a profound process of urbanization. The cultural, social, political, and economic changes that marked the Peronist years had major consequences for gender relations, roles, and identities, transforming the ways of being a man or a woman in mid-twentieth-century Argentina. Those changes profoundly reshaped discursive and symbolic representations of masculinities as well as social and cultural expectations of manhood across different social classes while creating the political, social, and economic conditions that facilitated the transformation of masculinity as a lived, everyday experience.
Since the mid-19th century, Argentine society has undergone significant demographic shifts. The expansion of capitalism and the growing complexity of the state apparatus increased the social importance of occupations that are usually considered to be part of the middle class, especially in the Pampas. There was a rapid increase in salaried labor and income distribution worsened significantly. A consumer society arose amid this climate and a good portion of the new trade opportunities rested in the hands of European immigrants, therein generating a complex panorama of both new and old forms of inequality. At the same time, various middle-class trades began to organize themselves in order to mobilize their specific demands. Nevertheless, they did not develop ties of solidarity between one another, nor a unified “middle class” identity. Such an identity would begin to form much later within the political sphere. Starting in 1919, politicians and intellectuals became concerned about the expansion of revolutionary ideas and labor activism, and in order to counteract this, they began to encourage pride in a middle class identity within the public sphere. The historical evidence suggests that from that time on, some members of the common people began to identify as middle class, thereby slowly transforming the perception of social difference that had up until that moment still been binary. A middle-class identity definitively took root after 1945 as a part of the political experience of the middle strata. Peronism, for its plebeian elements and for the social and symbolic space it granted the lower classes, posed a profound challenge to the concepts of hierarchy and respectability that had existed until then. This challenge paved the way for vast sectors to embrace a middle-class identity and to distinguish themselves from the pueblo peronista, as well as to assert their right to a central role within their country. In this context, the middle-class identity in Argentina assumed some characteristics unique to the region, weaving together narratives of nationhood that placed the middle class, the supposed descendants of European immigrants (the implication being “white”), in a place of preeminence as the champions of “civilization,” and therein, as enemies of Peronism and the cabecitas negras, or the “little black heads,” that supported him.