Volume 69 Issue 3, summer 2019, pp. 337-370

This article explores the rise of a strong labour movement in Brazil during the 1970s, known as Brazil’s New Unionism (Novo Sindicalismo) and the innovative institutional strategies it employed to change the labour system. We argue that these strategies can be considered institutional bypasses, which are parallel institutions created in an attempt to reform a state-centred and state-controlled system. We examine two specific examples of these institutional bypasses which performed the same functions as the existing labour system but aspired to be more functional and effective. First, factory workers’ committees (comissões de fábrica) were created to bypass dysfunctional labour unions controlled by an autocratic state and offer workers an option of effective and legitimate labour representation and rights protection. Second, the movement also created an alternative institutional framework for labour organizations known as Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT). This second type of institutional bypass was another attempt to provide workers with alternative means for labour organization and representation. We evaluate the innovative design of these two bypasses, while acknowledging that over the last three decades they have not managed to promote significant structural changes in the system.