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Latin American Labor Regulation in the 21st Century  

Matthew E. Carnes

The labor market of the 21st century is evolving at a rapid pace, making traditional manufacturing and agricultural jobs increasingly precarious and generating significant pressure for turnover, retraining, and adaptation by workers. Latin America’s labor regulation, adopted in the middle of the 20th century to foster industrial development and incorporate urban workers, has been slow to adapt to these conditions. Its restrictive and costly hiring and firing rules offer stronger protections than in many other parts of the world, but they often apply to a diminishing minority of laborers. Despite a few exceptions, once-strong unions have been hollowed out in the region, and workers have become increasingly atomized in their job seeking. The region’s educational systems are plagued by underinvestment, and they struggle to provide the needed technical skills that could galvanize investment that would provide higher-wage employment. Large segments of the workforce—a majority in most countries—find themselves in the informal sector, in jobs that are not registered with the state and that do not make contributions to pensions and social security systems. Why has Latin America—a region endowed with a variety of natural resources and a resilient entrepreneurial spirit—exhibited these patterns in its labor market regulation? The answer lies in an overlapping nexus of economic and political influences in the region. In this complex mix, one strand of scholarship has documented the lasting and recurrent alliance between organized labor and political parties on the left. Another strand has highlighted the concentrated power of business interests—both local and transnational—that have had the power to shape policies. And a third body of research concentrates on the electoral dynamics that have given rise to a growing set of politically motivated policies that seek to support informal sector workers, but may incentivize their remaining in that status. Finally, considerable attention has been given to the under-resourced state agencies that are not adequately monitoring labor regulations, allowing for widespread evasion of required payroll taxes. A change-resistant cycle has predominated in the region, in which protected insiders in the unionized sectors seek to preserve a set of protections that apply to a shrinking few, while politicians court support among outsiders with direct benefits that address immediate needs but have not yet achieved long-term or intergenerational change. Business interests have largely benefited from the status quo of labor law evasion and social security avoidance, so they have been slow to invest in upgrading the workforce or changing technology that would inspire additional investment in education. Addressing this situation will require efforts at both the political and economic levels, perhaps loosening the partisan ties that lock in preferential policies, as well as increasing the skill levels that would attract higher-tech industries and higher-paying jobs.

Article

Parties and Non-State Actors in Latin America  

Santiago Anria and Christopher Chambers-Ju

Since the dual transition to democracy and the market in Latin America, associational linkages or the exchanges between parties and interest associations representing different groups in society gained prominence for their crucial role in structuring political representation and framing policy processes. In the early 21st century, how do the relationships between political parties and interest associations vary across and within countries? The literature on party–voter linkages has begun to examine the distinct relations that emerge when political parties interact with interest associations that represent societal groups in order to incorporate those groups into party organizations or coalitions. Although associational linkages can be constructed when party leaders reach out to interest associations, they can also be constructed when interest associations negotiate the terms of their political support. One approach to analyzing associational linkages involves focusing on the diverse relationships that emerging societal actors established with political parties. Social movements have constructed movement-based parties. These parties are a particularly puzzling phenomenon because they incorporate social movements into their organizations without necessarily demobilizing them. Emerging sectors of organized labor have also established an array of relationships to parties, with unions engaging in contentious or electoral mobilization, with different degrees of support for political parties. There are major opportunities to advance a broad agenda for research on associational linkages that highlights cross-regional contrasts and changes in the political economy.