Revolution within the Revolution: Cotton Textile Workers and the Mexican Labor Regime, 1910-1923

By Jeffrey Bortz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Challenging Authority, 1912–1916

AUTHORITY IS THE CENTRAL QUESTION in every social revolution. The insolence of workers during the early years made authority a problem in textile factories. This chapter examines the degree to which their challenge to authority fundamentally altered the social relations of work in Mexico, private property rights, and the labor regime. Second, it explores how challenging authority changed during the course of revolution. As will be seen, authority relations in the factory by the end of the revolution were not like those at the beginning.

Acceptance of authority and hierarchy is ultimately an embedded social process. At work, it is a function of the labor regime, the “rules, habits, norms, conventions and values” of work and the social relations of work.1 Within these habits and norms, none are more important than the relationships of command and obedience.

While the general premise of a market economy is the authority of capital, the legitimacy of that authority, indeed its specific reach, can vary greatly from one society to the next. Historically, private property rights are not only a legal but also a social concept, particularly though not exclusively with regard to command and obedience. Although property rights normally include the right to command at work, the constraints of such commands have varied greatly over time and from one society to another. Whatever the constraints, when the legitimacy of command breaks down, the old labor regime collapses because capital can no longer rule labor. The formal mechanisms that enforce authority at work are normally not sufficient to make the work place function without the legitimacy of that authority.

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