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

By Robert F. Alegre | Go to book overview

3
“Who Is Mr. Nobody?”:
The Rise of Democratic Unionism

During the spring and summer of 1958, rieleros put themselves on public display by fomenting a campaign to democratize the politics of the STFRM, which had become a puppet organization of the PRI. Their masculinity was heightened in the form of labor militancy, as their culture of combativeness became a resource for fighting the union and company on the streets and in the newspapers. Dissidents organized two strikes that summer, the first in June and the second in August. These strikes did not occur “spontaneously” after years of “labor peace,” as the most popular account of the movement maintains.1 On the contrary, activists who had been organizing clandestinely tapped into widespread dissatisfaction with charro representatives and declining wages. Workers blamed their economic plight on corrupt union officials. As organizers rallied the rank and file, railway men and women became labor activists, coming to understand that a wage increase depended on getting rid of the charros who controlled the STFRM.

In view of the STFRM’s unwillingness to fight for economic concessions, railway radicals organized a fight for democratic unionism. Democratic unionism, as I define it, has two parts. First, it is the practice of carrying out transparent elections for union posts on a regular basis. The rank and file must elect their officials free of coercion. Second, it requires leaders to maintain their autonomy vis-à-vis the company as well as local, regional, and national politicians. Autonomy from the employer and the state empowers the union as a collec

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