Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION WHAT IS WORKERS' CONTROL?

JONATHAN C. BROWN

Until recently, Latin American history had been written principally from the top down. That is to say, history books often reflected the viewpoints and lives of the elites: the rulers, politicians, intellectuals, newspaper editors, and professionals. Even studies of the "popular classes," the peasants and workers, have reflected the attitudes and views of their leaders, even though they might have assumed perspectives and goals different from those of their followers. That this top-down approach to history was dominant should not cause surprise. After all, those who could read and write left records, and historically in Latin America, the literate formed only a small minority. To reconstruct the past, the historian used these elite records in the form of newspapers, proclamations, letters, and account books.

But what of the voiceless in history? What of the laborers and peasants who, even if literate, had been so busy making a precarious living that they had little time to edit newspapers or leave written records of their lives? Can we assume that their lives had little meaning? Little influence? Most of all, students of history must inquire whether workers and peasants actually counted for little in history just because few of their documents have been preserved or just because the extant documentation inflates the role of the elites.

The authors of this volume protest. We believe that the full parameters of history cannot be known until scholars sharpen their focus to reveal patterns of behavior of the common people. By focusing our research as much as possible on their lives, we are both following and seeking to influence an increasingly important trend in the study of Latin America's popular classes. This line of inquiry concentrates on how historical events affected the workers and how-- and why--the workers acted to shape their own environments. 1 Therefore,

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