Right-Wing Populism and the Deconstruction of Labour Laws in the Americas: Old Wine into New Wineskins

Renan Kalil, Mauro Pucheta, Matthew Bodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The surprising recent success of populist politics has been framed as a sharp break from the neoliberal world order that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This article explores how right-wing populist leaders from Argentina, Brazil, and the United States in the 1990s and 2010s have implemented policies that aimed to liberalize labour market regulations and weaken workers’ protections, despite their ‘common people’ rhetoric. Relying upon the theoretical frameworks of Kurt Weyland as well as Thomás Zicman de Barros and Miguel Lago, this article examines the ‘neoliberalization’ of populism in the 1990s in Argentina and Brazil, which had been traditionally associated with inward-looking and nationalist economic policies. Similarly, it explores the reactionary right-wing populism of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, which resulted in neoliberal labour policies that followed a conservative tradition. To shed light on how these policies have reshaped labour laws, this article first explores the experiences in Argentina and Brazil during the 1990s, in which neo-populist governments, heavily influenced by the Washington Consensus, reformed labour regulations to deconstruct traditional individual labour laws and to undermine the role of social partners. Second, this article studies the development of reactionary right-wing populism in the Americas in the late 2010s, particularly in Brazil and the United States, with a focus on the adoption of neoliberal policies that aim to deconstruct protective labour regulations. Despite the recent electoral defeats of both Trump and Bolsonaro, the incidence of rightwing populism has not disappeared in the Americas, which became an established major actor in the political arena. The risk seems to be even more concrete in Argentina where the centre-right party, pushed by far-right libertarian candidates, is adamant about implementing a major reform to liberalize labour laws if elected in the next general election in October 2023. The article concludes that even though right-wing populists portrayed themselves as champions of the working class during both earlier periods, they implemented traditional neoliberal labour law policies, which pursued the liberalization of labour market regulations, shunted aside social partners, resulting in the dramatic undermining of workers’ rights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-48
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Obras sociales are ‘social insurance funds financed by employers and formal workers and run by the trade unions’. Marcello Natili & Angelica Puricelli, Expanding Welfare State Borders: Trade Unions and the Introduction of Pro-outsiders Social Policies in Italy and Argentina, J. Soc. Pol’y 1–19 (2021). Héctor Palomino, Los cambios en el mundo del trabajo y los dilemas sindicales, in Nueva Historia Argentina. Dictadura y democracia (Juan Suriano ed., Sudamericana 2005); Cook, supra n. 36. Natili & Puricelli, supra n. 67; Sara Niedzwiecki, The Effect of Unions and Organized Civil Society on Social Policy: Pension and Health Reforms in Argentina and Brazil, 1988–2008, 56(4) Latin Am. Pol. & Soc’y 22–48 (2014). Murillo, supra n. 66, at 419, 430–436. See Cook, supra n. 36; Murillo, supra n. 66, at 196. Murillo, supra n. 66, at 426. Perride K. Blind, Democratic Institutions of Undemocratic Individuals Privatizations, Labor, and Democracy in Turkey and Argentina 124–125 (Palgrave Macmillan ed. 2009).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Kluwer Law International BV, The Netherlands


  • Argentina
  • Bolsonaro
  • Brazil
  • Labour Reform
  • Latin America
  • Neoliberalism
  • Neopopulism
  • Populism
  • Trump
  • United States


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