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Reviewed by:
  • Contested Communities: Class, Gender, and Politics in Chile's El Teniente Copper Mine, 1904-1951
  • Joan Supplee
Contested Communities: Class, Gender, and Politics in Chile's El Teniente Copper Mine, 1904-1951. By Thomas Miller Klubock. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. Pp. xiii, 363. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $60.00 cloth.

This book makes a compelling contribution to post-Pinochet scholarship on modern Chile. Klubock focuses on the copper mining community of El Teniente, a key component of the "motor of the Chilean economy" (p. 3). Historians have long appreciated El Teniente's central role in shaping Chilean labor history. Klubock's new perspective enables us to better understand that importance. He puts the community of workers, their workplace, home lives, and "structures of feeling" at the center of his narrative. The result is not just a contribution to modern Chilean history, but a model for labor studies elsewhere.

The book's three sections correspond to changes within the mining community and particularly labor relations with the Braden Copper Company. The first covers the early development of the copper industry from 1904 to 1938 and the shift from an undisciplined, transient labor force in the mines to a permanent, regulated one. The process resembles what occurred in other Latin American industries and communities in this era. The Braden Copper Company used persuasion and coercion to create a reliable and resident work force. One of the company's primary, state-supported strategies encouraged the formation of stable, nuclear families. Klubock skillfully illustrates how workers and their families acquiesced, accommodated, and resisted these efforts, concluding that the depression of the 1930s did more to stabilize the work force than company or government policy. As jobs and economic circumstances became less certain, workers found strength in family life and social ties. These resources braced the working community as hard times helped forge a separate working class identity. The depression also drove nitrate workers into the copper mines. With these workers came organizations and traditions that would reshape and ultimately reinforce the copper mining community.

The heart of the book is an examination of the intersection of working class culture and politics. After 1938, the Popular Front government supported the mine workers' incorporation into the political system. Its rhetoric articulated a sympathetic vision of worker rights and citizen responsibilities. Drawing on oral histories, popular literature, police reports, and welfare records Klubock traces the formation [End Page 437] of community culture and identity as the predominately male labor force defined and defended its role and authority in the community. Judicial records and oral testimonies provide evidence of the limited role of women in the camps and their difficulties constructing "an alternative female culture" (p. 220).

The third section explores what Klubock believes are the unintended consequences of the Popular Front's simultaneous efforts to bring order and stability to mining communities like El Teniente and to moderate the direction of labor groups and organizations. Even as it encouraged workers to compromise and accommodate company interests, Popular Front policies fostered a separate identity among workers and empowered them to pursue their own interests. Strengthening the foundations of family and community life enabled workers to assert and defend their own interests even in the face of company and state resistance. Klubock uses the strikes of the 1940s to illustrate these power struggles. The conclusion and the enduring working-class culture of El Teniente carry the story past 1951 to the Allende administration and the pivotal strikes of 1971 and 1973. He challenges arguments that miners' culture or behavior reflected a sense of themselves as "aristocracy" or class "vanguard." The community defined its interests as separate from and in opposition to those of the company, and ultimately, the state.

Contested Communities replaces sterile arguments about labor elites with a richer understanding of class formation, gender identity, and community integration. Mining the records of the Braden Copper Company's Welfare Department, legal proceedings, oral histories and popular culture, Klubock not only reconstructs the world the workers of El Teniente made for themselves, but also illustrates how politics, class and gender shaped their efforts. The book's organization--alternately chronological and thematic--creates some space for misunderstanding...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6247
Print ISSN
0003-1615
Pages
pp. 437-438
Launched on MUSE
2003-02-26
Open Access
No
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