Trade Unions in Latin America


According to Countryaah, there are 33 countries in Latin America and Mexico is one of them. The legislation contains fundamental rights for trade union activities, but for a long time there were many restrictions and rules that were created to favor loyalty to the former government and state-supporting party PRI. In 2018, a number of reforms were made to labor law with the aim of strengthening freedom of association and making it easier to form new unions. Among other things, the so-called “protection contracts” were abolished, which meant that a union, usually loyal to the company, gained a monopoly on a workplace and closed out all other unions. All collective agreements must now be voted on by all employees.

The total union membership rate is estimated at about 20 percent, but is significantly higher in the formal sector. The unions in the oil industry and the public sector are the strongest and the teachers’ union SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) is the largest union in Latin America and was closely linked to the PRI, but ended up on a collision course with President Enrique Peña Nieto when he launched reforms in 2013. In the same year, the legendary leader of the teachers’union Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested for embezzling more than a billion kronor from the union she led since 1989. In connection with revelations about the extensive corruption within SNTE, the smaller and more radical teachers’ union CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores) grew. of Education).

In the private sector and especially in the growing compound factories (maquiladoras) on the border with the United States, the unions have had difficulty organizing people. The majority of employees are young, often women, and sexual abuse and other forms of harassment occur to a large extent.



The trade union movement was built around unions loyal to the state-supporting party PRI. The largest national organization, the CTM (Confederación de Trabajadores de México), had one and the same chairman for 50 years, and independence from government policy was very limited. The other major organization is the CROC (Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos). Following the fall of the PRI, the party’s grip on the unions has diminished, while internal divisions have also contributed to weakened positions for the trade union movement.
There are several central organizations that sometimes cooperate and sometimes fight each other. They consist of thousands of local unions, CTM is estimated to have approx
11,000 while CROC has around 3,500 across the country. In 1997, the country’s first independent trade union confederation, UNT (Union Nacional de Trabajadores), was formed.

Four of the country’s central organizations are members of the world union ITUC: CTM, CROC, UNT and CNT (Consejo Nacional de los Trabajadores).


During the most intense periods of the armed conflict, hundreds of union activists were killed each year and Colombia was the most dangerous country in the world for union leaders. Violence has decreased in recent years, but a large number of trade unions and leaders from other social movements are still being murdered. Violence, anti-union legislation and reforms of labor law have led to a weakening of trade unions and the degree of organization, which was around 25 per cent in the 1970’s, has fallen to just under 4 per cent. The changes in labor legislation in recent years have meant longer working days, while employment protection has been weakened and the forms of temporary employment and short-term contracts have been expanded.

To form a trade union, at least 25 people with permanent employment are required. Only corporate unions have the right to negotiate, conclude collective agreements and call strikes. In a conflict situation, two thirds of the members of the majority union or the majority of the employees must vote for a strike. The Ministry of Labor can go in and order votes at the employer’s request and force the parties to a mandatory arbitration in a conflict if the strike has lasted more than 60 days.



There are three central organizations in Colombia. Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia, CUT and Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia, CTC are members of the world union ITUC. The third central organization Confederación General de Trabajo, CGT left the regional organization TUCA in 2017 due to political differences and formed its own organization for Latin America called Alternativa Democrática Sindical de las Américas, ADS.


The legislation gives all employees the right to form trade unions, with restrictions on the public sector such as the police and other professions that are classified as “essential services”. At least 30 employees are required to form a trade union. Before a strike can begin, a ten-day “cooling-off period” is required, which for farm workers is 20 days. During that time, employers and employees must agree on how many will remain in service to guarantee a minimum of service. In order for a strike to be announced, 50 percent of the company’s employees, including the unorganized, must vote for it. The capital of Ecuador is Quito.

Government employees in reality have no right to strike. According to the constitution, it is forbidden to stop activities in the public sector and especially in health care, education, the legal system, the social insurance system, water and electricity supply and fuel distribution.



Ecuador’s trade union movement is divided into thousands of small unions and a number of central organizations and the degree of organization is just under 8 percent. However, many unions within the framework of the Frente Unitario de Trabajadores (FUT) cooperate with the aim of uniting the trade unions. The Central Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Clasistas Unitarias de Trabajadores (CEDOCUT) is a member of the world union ITUC.


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