The Americas 60.4 (2004) 662-664
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Vincent C. Peloso has put together an excellent collection of 16 essays (including the Introduction) dealing with labor and social movements in eleven Latin American countries. Written by thirteen historians and two political scientists from universities in Canada, Puerto Rico and the United States (surprisingly there are no Latin America-based scholars represented), these essays examine Latin America's labor history in the twentieth-century through the triangular prism of what has become the Holy Trinity of all contemporary studies in the humanities and social sciences: class, race, and gender. If the old labor history focused on trade unions and leftist parties, and the new labor history looks at how race and gender complicated issues of class, party and politics, then these essays represent the best tendencies toward synthesis of the old and new. [End Page 662]
These essays and chapters from recently published books represent some of the finest scholarship in the field. Most of these essays focus on labor unions while placing them in broader social contexts. Jeffrey D. Needell's "Rebellion against Vaccination in Rio de Janeiro" shows the way in which workers, labor unions and political parties became involved in middle class and elite struggles for power in early twentieth-century Brazil, while Anton Rosenthal's "General Strike in Montevideo" narrows the focus to show how streetcar workers' jobs put them at the center of urban social networks. Catherine LeGrand's fine essay "Colombian Bananas, Peasants and Wage Workers" shows how in the mid-twentieth century peasants could sometimes become proletarianized, yet under other conditions workers could become transformed into peasants. Norman Caulfield's "Labor Control in the Declining Mexican Revolution" shows how Mexican elites, the state, and the United States worked to create the corporate system dominated by the "charros," and how those charros were challenged by the railroad workers strike of 1959. Thomas Miller Klubock examines how a strong labor and left movement, joining with students, the urban poor and women, was key to the democratization movement in Pinochet's Chile. Anthony W. Pereira's "Brazilian Workers and Democracy" discusses the possibilities of Brazilian labor unions and left-wing parties in bringing social democracy to Brazil. However, by suggesting that Lula will not run for president, that the Workers Party probably would not win, and that real social democracy does not have much of a chance at the moment this was an interesting essay in 1995 but seems quite out of date now.
Several essays approach the working class through studies of demography, ethnicity, law or religion. Two fine essays by Alejandro de la Fuente and Miguel Tinker-Salas look at the ways in which ethnic and cultural diversity complicated but did not thwart working-class organizing, the rise of class consciousness, and political struggle in Cuba and Venezuela, respectively, in the early twentieth century. David S. Parker's "Laws Against a 'Working' Middle Class in Peru" examines the ways in which law was used to define social class and weaken broader class solidarity in the 1920s and 1930s, while Michael F. Jiménez looks at the relationship between political economy, social struggle, theology, and the social practice of Catholic religious and lay activists between the 1950s and 1980s.
A couple of these essays were more problematic or less successful. María del Carmen Baerga's "Women and the Right to (Needle)Work in Puerto Rico" looks at divisions between factory workers and home workers and attempts to give voice to the unheard women workers engaged in work at home. Yet, the voices Baerga uses are those of women paid by employers to testify at government hearings in favor of this worst sort of exploitation and she takes the women who testified as authentic voices of working women. Marc Becker's essay "Race, Gender and Protest in Ecuador" reads more like hagiography than history. He praises...