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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A tale of two Parliaments : representativeness, effectiveness and industrial citizenship in Argentina and Chile, 1900-1930

  • Author(s): Mackinnon, Moira
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the role that the Argentine and the Chilean Congresses played in the process of institutionalization of the rights of industrial citizenship. The first objective is to study, through the variables representativeness and effectiveness, how a critical institution for democracy -Congress- dealt with a complex social issue -the incorporation of workers- in Chile and Argentina in the first three decades of the twentieth century. The second objective is to analyze the possible causes of the differences encountered in the two cases under study. A central argument of this dissertation is that although the literature often holds up the Chilean case as an example as a result of emphasizing the importance of effectiveness and lawmaking over that of representativeness and debate, both dimensions are equally important and that democratic regimes that lack inclusiveness and participation are as much affected as those that lack different aspects of contestation. The investigation was carried out on the basis of archival research of congressional records, studying the passage through Congress, the debates and controversies that ensued, and the contents of the provisions of the main pieces of social legislation of those years: the law on the right to form trade unions (including the right to assemble, strike and bargain collectively), the law of Sunday Rest, the Eight-hour Workday law, the laws of Residence and many daily exchanges on social issues. I find that Argentina's Congress is more representative than Chile's on the basis of the source of the bills, their more permissive and enabling content, the views and the arguments of the different legislators and, finally, of the centrality of the debate itself that makes Congress function as a public forum. On the other hand, I find Chile's Congress more effective as a lawmaker: the period from the bill's inception to its passing is much shorter, and although in both countries it is finally a military regime that gets the trade union laws passed, Chile's advances further down the legislative path than the Argentine one for it is approved by a Joint Committee, together with other bills. Finally, once passed, for better or for worse, the legislation remains in force, through civilian and military governments for many years while Argentina's will change under each successive government. I argue that Argentina is more representative due to the fact that after 1912, a higher percentage of the population voted comparatively more freely; thus, legislators had more incentives to compete for votes; second, Argentina was organized politically on the basis of federalism which captured more diverse interests both territorially and ideologically and lead to the presence of different positions on the floor and, therefore a stronger debate. In Chile, on the other hand, a lower number of people voted due to the literacy requirements and the voting systems in the hands of local notables. Besides, the country was organized as a unitary political system which meant that the provincial level was subsumed in the national one. On the other hand, Chile's Congress is more effective due to the fact that it had solved more congressional "state of nature questions" by developing more differentiated offices such as more debate and agenda -setting in committees than the plenary, and more member stability than Argentina. Finally, Chile had a post- independence history of institutional continuity which, combined with its centralized political organization, contributed strongly to shape elite unity and homogeneity. Argentina, on the other hand, after independence, experienced fifty years without a central state which led to the provinces developing distinctive and autonomous provincial elites and political lives, thus shaping elite division and heterogeneity

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