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

Kalil, Renan, Pucheta, Mauro, Bodie, Matthew (2023) Right-Wing Populism and the Deconstruction of Labour Laws in the Americas: Old Wine into New Wineskins. International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 39 (1). pp. 19-48. ISSN 0952-617X. (KAR id:99674)


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.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: Populism, Neoliberalism, Neopopulism, Argentina, Brazil, United States, Trump, Bolsonaro, Labour Reform, Latin America
Subjects: K Law
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Sian Robertson
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2023 09:49 UTC
Last Modified: 30 Mar 2023 09:13 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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