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Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico

Gender, Class, and Memory

Elena Poniatowska

Publication Year: 2014

Despite the Mexican government’s projected image of prosperity and modernity in the years following World War II, workers who felt that Mexico’s progress had come at their expense became increasingly discontented. From 1948 to 1958, unelected and often corrupt officials of STFRM, the railroad workers’ union, collaborated with the ruling Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) to freeze wages for the rank and file. In response, members of STFRM staged a series of labor strikes in 1958 and 1959 that inspired a nationwide working-class movement. The Mexican army crushed the last strike on March 26, 1959, and union members discovered that in the context of the Cold War, exercising their constitutional right to organize and strike appeared radical, even subversive.

Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico examines a pivotal moment in post–World War II Mexican history. This study of railroad labor activism argues that the railway strikes of the 1950s constituted the first and boldest challenge to PRI rule and marked the beginning of mass dissatisfaction with the ruling party. In addition, Robert F. Alegre gives the wives of the railroad workers a narrative place in this history by incorporating issues of gender identity in his analysis.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

A locomotive at full speed arrives at the station, giving rise to a spec-tacle that will forever mark the life of a child. As a child Robert Alegre witnessed the train cross the wide lonely plains of Chile and followed its endless trajectory until he reached the station. Perhaps it is in his childhood that we can locate his passion for the subject of the book you ...

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pp. xiii-xviii

I arrived in Mexico in July 1999 at the age of twenty-four with no expe-rience in the country and little knowledge of its history. My aim was to gather enough material to write a thesis on a railroad strike that oc-curred in the 1950s. That master?s thesis, completed at the University of Arizona, turned into a doctoral thesis at Rutgers University, which ...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xix-xix

Map of Mexico

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pp. xx-xxii

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pp. 1-22

Geraldo dreams of steam-powered locomotives like those on which he toiled decades ago. He misses their roar and whistle. Retired now for over twenty years, Geraldo awakes from this recurring dream with nostalgia for a life he once lived. The steam en-gines are long gone, but for this moment he feels the rush of elation he had as a child accompanying his father to the rail yard. It is the same ...

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1. “The Mexican Revolution Was Made on the Rails”

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pp. 23-64

Pancho slid a cassette into the deck and pressed play. As the tape turned and hissed, he took a seat next to me and closed his eyes. There in the spartan room, with its cold cement fl oor and modest furnishings, the sound of grinding wheels and released steam from a locomotive engine bellowed. It occurred to me later that it is the same sound that wakes Geraldo Ni?o Mendes from his sleep, the ...

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2. “Born into the Railway”

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pp. 65-101

Sometime in the early 1930s, a Zapotec woman from Mogo?e, Oaxaca, took her twelve-year-old son, Demetrio Vallejo Mar-t?nez, to fi nd a job at the railway station, where she sold food to hun-gry men on lunch break. In these men she must have seen a career path for her son, a job with a steady wage, benefi ts, and prestige. Al-though she mainly spoke Zapotec, she knew enough Spanish to per-...

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3. “Who Is Mr. Nobody?”

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pp. 102-140

During the spring and summer of 1958, rieleros put them-selves on public display by fomenting a campaign to de-mocratize the politics of the stfrm, which had become a puppet orga-nization of the pri. Their masculinity was heightened in the form of labor militancy, as their culture of combativeness became a resource for fi ghting the union and company on the streets and in the newspa-...

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4. The “War of Position"

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pp. 141-175

Mariachi bands fi lled union locals across the country, sing-ing and strumming their guitars for workers celebrat-ing the return of democratic unionism. The day after the election of Demetrio Vallejo to the post of stfrm general secretary, workers walked off the job, not on strike but to welcome their new, indepen-dent union leaders. Rieleros had proven to be the ultimate cabrones, ...

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5. Railroaded

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pp. 176-214

Before Adolfo L?pez Mateos could settle into his new role and transition from minister of labor to president, he faced a country rapidly dividing along class lines. Hundreds of thousands among the urban working class, confi dent they now had an ally, took to the streets to continue their struggle for increased wages, while less vocal but nonetheless infl uential segments of the middle class now ...

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pp. 215-224

When the federal government sent the military to oc-cupy railroad stations and yards, while arresting and caging rieleros in military camps, the ruling party used force to trun-cate a debate over how best to industrialize the country. As in the days of Porfi rio D?az, workers in 1958 continued to complain of shoddy equipment and poor working conditions, while accusing the govern-...


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pp. 225-254


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pp. 255-266


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pp. 267-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780803248700
E-ISBN-10: 0803248709
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803244849

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 6 photographs, 1 map
Publication Year: 2014