Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico: Gender, Class, and Memory

By Robert F. Alegre | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Working Class in Cold War Mexico

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 engines 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 thrill he would later experience when he took a job himself at the yard. At nights he welcomes those old locomotives. “Good God, the steam engines are back. I pictured them as if it were yesterday,” he explains. “I dreamed of the steam engine I worked on.”1

If paternal influence and the lure of locomotives drew men like Geraldo Niño Mendes to railroad work, working-class women held no illusions that they would one day cross the country atop a rolling locomotive. The railroad workers’ union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores Ferrocarrileros de Mexico (STFRM), and the company, the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (FNM), prohibited women from working in yards or on trains.2 With few opportunities to strike out on their own, many women opted for the path chosen by Ruth Ramírez, who, following in her mother’s footsteps, married a railway man, or rielero.3 When Ramírez married José Jorge Ramírez in the 1940s, rieleros could count on an independent union to fight for regular wage increases. But within a few years, national economic priorities and political machinations would result in a co-opted union, frozen wages, and economic hardship for railway families. Opening her arms to indicate her disappoint

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