Labor and Democratization: Comparing the First and Third Waves in Europe and Latin America



In the ongoing scholarly effort to explain democratic transitions, the role of the working class has emerged as an axis of contention. While few would argue that the working class plays no part, there is substantial disagreement over its importance. Some analysts understand the working class as a primary carrier of democracy, and believe that its role is of fundamental importance to the emergence of democratic regimes. For these scholars, an understanding of the relative strength and organization of the working class is crucial for explaining how democratic regimes are established.1 Others argue that processes of democratization are best analyzed in terms of political behavior at the elite level. For these scholars, an explanatory emphasis on labor is unnecessary because democratization is primarily the product of strategic choices made by political elites.2 This paper will explore these two hypotheses through an analysis of the first and third waves of democratization in Europe and Latin America.3