Drowning in Laws

Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture

By John D. French

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 illus., 3 tables, 2 figs., appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5527-0
    Published: June 2004
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7777-2
    Published: December 2005
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6355-8
    Published: December 2005

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Since 1943, the lives of Brazilian working people and their employers have been governed by the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT). Seen as the end of an exclusively repressive approach, the CLT was long hailed as one of the world's most advanced bodies of social legislation. In Drowning in Laws, John D. French examines the juridical origins of the CLT and the role it played in the cultural and political formation of the Brazilian working class.

Focusing on the relatively open political era known as the Populist Republic of 1945 to 1964, French illustrates the glaring contrast between the generosity of the CLT's legal promises and the meager justice meted out in workplaces, government ministries, and labor courts. He argues that the law, from the outset, was more an ideal than a set of enforceable regulations--there was no intention on the part of leaders and bureaucrats to actually practice what was promised, yet workers seized on the CLT's utopian premises while attacking its systemic flaws. In the end, French says, the labor laws became "real" in the workplace only to the extent that workers struggled to turn the imaginary ideal into reality.

About the Author

John D. French is associate professor of history at Duke University and author of The Brazilian Workers' ABC: Class Conflict and Alliances in Modern São Paulo.
For more information about John D. French, visit the Author Page.


"Offers readers a fresh perspective."--Luso-Brazilian Review

"A monograph that will interest scholars of both labor and legal history in Brazil and Latin America. . . . An intriguing analysis."--American Historical Review

"A carefully researched, clearly written, and very informative book that far transcends the borders of labor history and leadership and followers studies."--Labor History

"Drowning in Laws is an excellent discussion of--and engagement with--several of the most important threads in the historiography on Vargas and Brazilian state-labor relations, reflecting French's substantial experience in this field."--Journal of Latin American Studies

"[Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture] is the first book-length treatment of the history of Brazilian labor law in English and presents a number of important contributions."--International Review of Social History

"French makes a well-reasoned and important contribution, reconciling the two interpretations of the Consolidaçao das Leis do Trabalho, the corporatist labor code promulgated in 1943. He shows instructively and persuasively that workers fought to make their interpretation of the CLT, 'an imaginary ideal, real.'"--Joseph L. Love, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign