Cover of Continuity Despite Change by Matthew E. Carnes
Continuity Despite Change
The Politics of Labor Regulation in Latin America
Matthew E. Carnes


256 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804789431
Ebook ISBN: 9780804792424

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As the dust settles on nearly three decades of economic reform in Latin America, one of the most fundamental economic policy areas has changed far less than expected: labor regulation. To date, Latin America's labor laws remain both rigidly protective and remarkably diverse. Continuity Despite Change develops a new theoretical framework for understanding labor laws and their change through time, beginning by conceptualizing labor laws as comprehensive systems or "regimes." In this context, Matthew Carnes demonstrates that the reform measures introduced in the 1980s and 1990s have only marginally modified the labor laws from decades earlier. To explain this continuity, he argues that labor law development is constrained by long-term economic conditions and labor market institutions. He points specifically to two key factors—the distribution of worker skill levels and the organizational capacity of workers.

Carnes presents cross-national statistical evidence from the eighteen major Latin American economies to show that the theory holds for the decades from the 1980s to the 2000s, a period in which many countries grappled with proposed changes to their labor laws. He then offers theoretically grounded narratives to explain the different labor law configurations and reform paths of Chile, Peru, and Argentina. His findings push for a rethinking of the impact of globalization on labor regulation, as economic and political institutions governing labor have proven to be more resilient than earlier studies have suggested.

About the author

Matthew E. Carnes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

"Rather than overturn previous research, Carnes's book extends and deepens it, both by expanding the time frame and by applying quantitative tools that reinforce and refine elements of earlier work . . . Carnes's book is an important addition to the literature on Latin American labor laws. His effort to provide a coherent explanation for the evolution of labor codes raises new questions as well, inviting more scholars to explore this complex topic."

—Maria Lorena Cook, Hispanic American Historical Review

"Carnes undertakes an ambitious exploration of Latin America's labor laws over the past several decades. Utilizing cross-national data from 18 major Latin American economies, the author presents qualitative and quantitative analyses that conclude that two factors—labor's organizational capabilities and the distribution of worker skills—determine the extent of labor reforms adopted by Latin American countries . . . Summing Up: Highly Recommended."

—L. W. Young, CHOICE

"This important book pushes us to think afresh about labor's enduring role in Latin American politics. Through a meticulous analysis of the region's diverse laws governing work and worker organization, Carnes helps us see how national-level organized union activity has shaped the path of labor law reform. It deserves high praise for its skillful combination of quantitative and qualitative methods—and rich case studies of Argentina, Chile, and Peru—which work together to tell a compelling and important story about the evolution of labor law in Latin America. Carnes' findings are especially pertinent now, as they help explain why Latin America has largely preserved labor codes that are mismatched for the competitive demands of a global economy. This book will be essential reading for those interested in Latin American labor, economic change, and political economy."

—Timothy R. Scully, University of Notre Dame

"This book will be a required read for labor scholars of Latin America and beyond, and a wonderful contribution to any course on labor or the political economy of development."

—Mark Anner, Latin American Politics and Society

"Carnes's conclusion that most labor codes in Latin America have not been rewritten to make them compatible with market reforms is significant. His work, further, shows how the industries deemed key for twentieth-century projects of nation-state formation (such as mining) had the most protective individual labor legislation (for instance, provisions structuring hiring and dismissal)."

—Alejandra González Jiménez, Latin American Research Review