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

By Robert F. Alegre | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Rethinking Postwar Working-Class History

When the federal government sent the military to occupy railroad stations and yards, while arresting and caging rieleros in military camps, the ruling party used force to truncate a debate over how best to industrialize the country. As in the days of Porfirio Díaz, workers in 1958 continued to complain of shoddy equipment and poor working conditions, while accusing the government of growing the economy on the backs of railway men and women. Mexican company managers and compliant union representatives may have replaced the abusive foreign managers of the Porfiriato, but they nevertheless kowtowed to the president and his policy imperatives. By the 1940s, those policies tried to defang labor unions in order to freeze wages for the benefit of private industry, which, as in Díaz’s time, promised to bring Mexico into the modern era.

Much had changed since the nineteenth century, however. Most important for our story, the Mexican Revolution had radically empowered the industrial working class. As Jeffrey Bortz has shown, workers had won major concessions from state governments — including a minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining — before rebels had even put down their rifles.1 These dramatic changes in state law became granted in the Constitution of 1917, which gave all workers the right to organize and strike, while ending child labor and providing the right to a national minimum wage. When in 1938 President Lázaro Cárdenas conferred management of the railroad industry to workers who led the FNM, he affirmed the primacy

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