Antigua and Barbuda
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago

The European conquest and the transatlantic slave trade set the fundamentals of the distribution of land and power in the Americas, leaving profound legacies of inequality. In Venezuela, Argentina and Mexico strong unions developed in paternalistic corporatist frameworks. Cuba’s socialist system established a trade union monopoly. Modern socialist projects in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador in some cases clashed with established unions.

The US and Brazil are the largest labour movements in the region, at 14 and 12 million members, though Canada and Argentina have higher density relative to their populations. In Central America membership and density is in several cases very low. The US and Canada conceptualise unions as representative agents in a highly localised system rooted in workplace ballots. Employers use captive audience meetings and employment relations consultants (union busters) to thwart union campaigns.

The US and Canada exclude numerous public sector workers from the right to organise, to bargain, and / or to strike, at the state and provincial level. Panama, Ecuador, Trinidad, and Bolivia separate public and private workers under separate labour laws. Brazil permits only one union at each level, e.g. municipal, inter-municipal, state or federal. In several countries, including most US states, strike action is banned or restricted for public sector workers. Wide definitions of ‘essential services’ ban strikes in non-essential industries.

Anti-union violence is a very serious problem in the region, on a scale quite unlike that seen anywhere else in the world. Between 1986 and 2009 more than 2500 trade unionists were killed in Colombia. Between 1986 and 2002 there were only 376 criminal investigations and just five convictions for these crimes. In Guatemala there has been a grave escalation of threats to freedom and security of person for trade unionists: in 2013 58 trade union murders were pending investigation. Peru has also witnessed serious violence against trade unionists in recent years.

Full details for all countries in the region, including political history, the development of trade unionism, and contact and affiliation details for all national trade union centres can be found in ICTUR's in-depth global reference book: Trade Unions of the World.

Link to reportFull country profiles: Trade Unions of the World (2016)


The International Centre for Trade Union Rights

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union rights through research and advocacy services.
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