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Rise and Decline of Brazil’s New Unionism

The Politics of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores


Jeffrey Sluyter-Beltrao

This book explores the political trajectory of Latin America’s most important contemporary labor movement. The New Unionism played a central role in Brazil’s struggle for democracy in the 1980s and recast the country’s subsequent party politics through its creation of the innovative Workers’ Party (PT). The author breaks new ground by analyzing this celebrated prototype of «social movement unionism» as a heterogeneous alliance of component factions that evolves in relation to shifting economic, political, and ideological contexts. Through the prism of internal politics, he shows how Brazil’s transitions – from military–authoritarian to liberal–democratic rule, from statist to free-market economic policies, and from a Leninist to a post-Leninist left – undermined the independent labor movement’s commitments to internal democracy, political autonomy, and societal transformation. The book concludes with a comparative assessment of Brazilian, South African, and South Korean social movement unionisms’ shared dilemmas, arguing that an adequate understanding of their relative declines demands more rigorous attention to the dynamic nexus between internal movement politics and shifting external environments.
Contents: Brazil’s New Unionism: Late Twentieth-Century Movement and Early Twenty-First-Century Vestige – Movement Actors, Labor Institutions, and the Dynamics of Distinction – Convergence (1978-1984): Organizing Civil Society against the State – Turbulence (1985-1989): Between Civil and Political Society – Divergence (1990-1995): The Bid for Constructive Integration into Political Society – Dilemmas of Decline: The Politics of Brazil’s Social Movement Unionism in Comparative Perspective.