[Excerpt] In the 1990s scholars of Latin America moved from a concern with democratization to a focus on the implementation of market economic reforms. With this shift, the appreciation of labor unions' value to society was lost. Whereas earlier analyses of democratic transitions recognized organized labor's important role in bringing an end to dictatorships, later studies of market reform viewed labor organizations as either obstacles to be overcome, "losers" to be compensated, or simply irrelevant.
Perhaps more important than scholarship's neglect of labor unions is the neglect that is reflected in policies toward labor in the region. Economic and labor market policies as well as labor law reforms have left workers and labor organizations more vulnerable without creating adequate protections, bolstering labor rights, or democratizing industrial relations systems. I argue that these policies have had significant costs that in turn affect two important contemporary debates: (1) how to strengthen labor rights in the global economy; and (2) how to consolidate and deepen democracy in Latin America.