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

By Robert F. Alegre | Go to book overview

4
The “War of Position”:
The Making of a Strike

Mariachi bands filled union locals across the country, singing and strumming their guitars for workers celebrating the return of democratic unionism. The day after the election of Demetrio Vallejo to the post of STFRM general secretary, workers walked off the job, not on strike but to welcome their new, independent union leaders. Rieleros had proven to be the ultimate cabrones, the main machos, having beaten the suit-and-tie-wearing charros by leaning on one another and shutting down the rails. Their wives, sisters, and daughters — no less elated — took leading roles, making use of masculine codes to push their men to fight. These men and women celebrated their own efforts in the grassroots movement that was just getting started.

Rather than placate union activists, the August victory further radicalized railway families. Rieleros and rieleras came to embrace the virile militancy exhibited by rieleros who clandestinely organized in the early 1950s. Workers became more rebellious with their newfound independence at work and within the union, using their clout to support demands now made by teachers and students, as well as petrol, telegraph, and electrical workers. Women and men continued to take over city streets, turning them into sites of political theater. Independent STFRM leaders — far from directing the rank and file — now had to figure out how to contain their enthusiasm. The new leadership had to juggle negotiating with railroad companies while restraining a militant rank and file ready to strike at any sign of company inflexi-

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