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Women, Labor and the Left= Argentina and Chile, 1890-1925 Asunción Lavrin The manner in which women have become "visible" throughout history is one of the most important subjects of concern for the contemporary historian. Visibility leads to a recognition of presence, and once women become "a presence" we can discuss the engagement of both sexes in the activities of gender politics. Gender politics comprise relationships of power and authority between individuals, and as such they are subject to the influence of class, ethnicity, culture, political ideologies and, of course, that of the time period. Gender politics may be studied in many arenas, such as the home, the work place, or national politics. In this paper, I propose to address the interrelation of gender and political ideology by examining the attitudes of the Left (anarchists and socialists) towards women as they began to be an important element in the work force of two South American countries. In the second half of the 19th century, women became visible by becoming members of the paid labor force as industrial workers, teachers, and a small force of professional and clerical employees. This was a universal phenomenon in many European and North and South American urban centers. Once women appeared in larger numbers in the factories, in the schools, and in the offices, their presence posed questions of a personal, familial, and social character. Would the work of women devalue the wages of men? Would work change women's role at home and family stability be threatened? Was work itself beneficial for women, for the family, and for society? Would women become companions in the struggle that some men envisioned between those who worked and those who owned the means of production? These were, indeed, serious and sometimes deeply troubhng questions for men and women at the turn of the 19th century. The scenario I have chosen for the analysis of these questions is that of two leading nations of the Spanish American southern cone: Argentina and Chile. The ideology understood here as "the Left" was that of the two main labor groups, socialists and anarchists, and the period, the years between 1895 and 1925. These were years of intense labor agitation in these two countries during which large numbers of women were incorporated into the paid labor market. In broad terms, Argentina and Chile could be described as export economies. Argentina's exports were largely agricultural (wheat and beef) and expanded nine times between 1880 and 1913. These exports supported the growth of the coastal and river port cities, especially that of Buenos ® 1989 Journal of Women's History, Vol. ι No. 2 (Fall) 1989 ASUNCIÓN LAVRIN 89 Aires, the federal capital. The labor demanded for this expansion came largely from abroad; immigrants from Spain and Italy flooded the country between 1880 and 1910. Agricultural employment in the pampas, the grain and cattle-producing prairie of central Argentina, was often temporary, and a significant number of the immigrants who stayed in the nation settled in the cities. In 1914, three-quarters of the adult population in Buenos Aires was foreign-born. Forty-six percent of the nation's total population lived in the federal capital and the province of Buenos Aires. Chile's exports were mineral. Rich nitrate fields in the desertic north had been acquired after a war with neighboring Bolivia and Peru, and they allowed a significant expansion of the economy between 1880 and 1930. Unlike Argentina, Chile did not receive vast numbers of immigrants. Its labor force was largely native-born. Like Argentina, Chile experienced a significant urban expansion between 1880 and 1930, reflected in the fact that by the end of the 1920s almost 50 percent of the population was urban in character.1 Despite the differences in the nature of their exports and the composition of their labor force, both countries had some important features in common: neither of them became what we may call "heavily industrialized nations" during this period, despite the growth of their economies; the labor force in the industrial sector was predominantly male; female labor was largely urban and employed in the textile and garment industries, foodprocessing plants, and in the service sector...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 88-116
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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