Trade Unions in South America


According to Countryaah, there are 12 countries in South America and Argentina is one of them. The union structure has its roots in Juan Peron’s corporate policy. In exchange for political loyalty, the trade union movement gained certain privileges and a relatively strong position in the labor market.

All employees (except military personnel) have the right to freely form and join trade unions. Collective bargaining is allowed at regional, provincial and business levels. In order for a collective agreement to be binding, it must be approved by the Ministry of Labor. The right to strike is legally recognized. Trade unions can, however, be forced to try 15 days of mediation before they have the right to start a strike. Both parties to a conflict have the right to request a hearing. Historically, only one union per industrial sector and geographical region has had the right to negotiate collective agreements, collect fees and call strikes, something that has been criticized by the ILO.



The largest central organization, the Peronist Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), was formed in 1930 and represents the majority of the country’s unions. The other major trade union central organization, the Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), was created in 1991 by unions that left the CGT in 1991 when they considered the CGT to be too loyal to the government. Both CGT and CTA are affiliated with the world union ITUC.


Bolivia is one of 12 countries in South America. The country’s new constitution provides comprehensive protection for the right to organize trade unions and bargain collectively. Agricultural workers and self-employed people also have the right to strike and the right to form and join trade unions.

It takes 20 people to form a union. The Labor Market Act only allows one union per company and requires the support of at least 50 percent of the employees. The law denies civil servants the right of association, with the exception of employees in the health care, education and oil industries. About a quarter of the workforce is organized in trade unions, but the large informal sector makes it difficult to increase the number of members.



In 1952, Bolivia’s various unions merged to form the Central Organization, Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), which organizes wage earners, small farmers, students, street vendors, and women’s organizations. COB is dominated by industrial workers, whose main representatives are still the Federation of Miners’ Federation of Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (FSTMB) despite the weakening of the sector. COB is not a member of the ITUC.

The trade union movement has been one of Evo Morale’s strongest allies, although several conflicts and strikes have taken place in protest against the government’s policy. After the political crisis at the end of 2019 that culminated in Morale’s resignation, COB has been a leading force in the opposition to the new government.


The constitution guarantees the right to organize, the right to strike and a maximum of 44 hours of work week. All employees have the right to organize, with the exception of the military, uniformed police and firefighters. There can only be one trade union organization for each economic area or occupational group. All employees must pay a special “union tax” corresponding to a daily wage. The state then distributes the tax revenue between the unions in proportion to the number of employees they represent.

During his time in power, the Labor Party tried to reform labor legislation, which largely came into being in the 1940’s, with the aim of adapting it to international standards. A national working forum with representatives of the government, employers and trade unions was set up to discuss financial support for trade unions, stronger collective bargaining rights, the extension of labor law to small and medium-sized enterprises and the ratification of ILO Convention 87.



Brazil has a number of central organizations, of which the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) is the largest with about 8 million members and has historically had close ties with the Labor Party. Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores (CGT) was formed after a split in 1989.

CUT, Confederacao Nacional des Profissoes Liberais (CNPL) and Uniao Geral dos Trabalhadores Brasil (UGT) are members of the world union ITUC. Another of the larger national organizations, Força Sindical (FS), left the regional organization TUCA in 2017 and was involved in forming the new Latin American partner organization ADS.


Chile’s trade union movement was hit hard by the military dictatorship. The largest national organization CUT (Central Unica de Trabajadores) and seven other trade union federations were banned after the 1973 coup and many trade union leaders were assassinated. CUT did not re-emerge until 1998, and in 2001 the restrictions on trade union rights introduced by the dictatorship in labor market legislation were largely abolished.

Employees now again have the right to form trade unions and the right to collective bargaining, which is, however, only allowed at company level. “Voluntary” negotiations at national and sectoral level are permitted if the employer agrees. The right to strike only applies to the private sector. In about 30 “socially important” companies, conflicts are subject to mandatory arbitration. Farm workers are forbidden to strike during harvest time.



There are three national central organizations that organize about 15 percent of the working population. The largest CUT (Central Unica de Trabajadores) and the smaller CAT (Central Autónoma de Trabajadores de Chile) and UNT (Union Nacional de Trabajadores de Chile) are members of the world union ITUC.

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