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2 Context: The Labor Movement and the State in Latin America WE HAVE hypothesized that the emergence of the labor movement in Latin America, along with the forging of new patterns of state-union relations dur­ ing the incorporation periods, had a major impact on the subsequent evolu­ tion of national politics. Why should this transition be so important? Why should the emergence of and response to working-class conflict have a major impact? Analysts of many different actors both in society and within the state are often adept at interpreting and explaining larger patterns of political change from the "angle" of the particular actor they study. Indeed, any larger picture of change can usefully be viewed from many different angles. Why, then, should the labor movement be of particular significance? We argue that in crucial phases of Latin American development, labor pol­ itics has been a kind of coalitional "fulcrum." In different countries and dif­ ferent historical periods, organized labor has been a pivotal actor, and the choices made by other actors in positioning themselves vis-a-vis organized labor have had a crucial impact on national politics. This idea is expressed subtly but pointedly in Alexander Wilde's analysis of the breakdown of Colombian democracy in the 1 940s, an instance that nicely illustrates our argument as a kind of "crucial case" because it is one with a labor movement that was conspicuously weak. Wilde suggests that despite their weakness, the unions in Colombia contributed to democratic breakdown because their presence in coalition politics of this period was "constantly unsettling." They could force the political party with which they were then mainly identified, the Liberals, to "support or repudiate them," and in the process seriously strained the Liberals' commitment to the basic rules of the political game (Wilde 1978:45). Obviously, if the coalitional pres­ ence of unions can be constantly unsettling in a country where they are weak, they potentially play an even more central role in countries that have stronger labor movements. Why should the coalitional presence of unions in crucial periods of change be "constantly unsettling"? Why should the labor movement be a coalitional fulcrum or a pivotal actor? What understanding do we have of labor politics in Latin America that allows us to build on the answers to these questions and to construct an argument about the larger political impact of the labor movement? This chapter addresses these questions. We first examine general argu­ ments about the political significance of the labor movement in Latin Amer­ ica, focusing on its strategic importance in the economic and political sphere L A B O R A N D T H E S TA T E 41 and its potential role in legitimating or delegitimating the state. We then explore further the theme raised in the Overview concerning the choices of actors within the state regarding strategies of labor control and labor mobi­ lization, along with the complementary choices on the side of actors within the labor movement regarding strategies of cooperation or noncooperation (the traditional anarchist position) with the state. In discussing these strate­ gies, we introduce the idea of a "dual dilemma" that underlies the interac­ tion between these two sets of choices. This interaction is explored further in the context of a discussion of corporatism, the concept commonly used to describe many of the principal institutions of state-labor relations in Latin America. Political Importance of Labor Movement The political importance of the labor movement may be looked at both from the perspective of its capacity for collective action and in terms of the special significance of this capacity in bestowing political support and mobilizing opposition. Capacity for Collective Action. The location of many unionized workers in spatially concentrated, large-scale centers of production and/or their stra­ tegic position at critical points in the economy or the polity gives them an unusual capacity to disrupt the economic and political system and hence provides incentives for sustained collective action. This capacity is funda­ mental to organized labor's political importance. The contexts of work conducive to collective action are analyzed in the next chapter. They include: ( I ) isolated "enclaves" of export production, along with related networks of transportation and communication, that are crucial to the prosperity of the export sector in a number of countries and that can easily be paralyzed by strikes; (2) large-scale urban factory produc­ tion located in close proximity to the centers of national political power in what are...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780268077105
Related ISBN
9780268017729
MARC Record
OCLC
966859884
Pages
904
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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