Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO ACTING FON THEMSELVES
Workers and the Mexican Oil Nationalization

JONATHAN C. BROWN

The nationalization of the foreign oil companies seemed to define Mexican national character so sharply in 1938 that the chief protagonists attempted to appropriate its meaning for their own ends. National labor leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano depicted the crisis as one in which rapacious, money-grubbing foreign capitalists had been ravaging the national patrimony. Intellectually anti-imperialistic, he suggested that the nationalization represented nothing less than economic emancipation of Mexico. 1 President Lázaro Cárdenas also desired to explain the event in nationalistic terms. In his nationwide radio speech of 18 March 1938, Cárdenas projected the crisis as one of national sovereignty. The oil companies had brought the nationalization upon themselves, he said, when they defied Mexican courts, sought diplomatic protection, intervened in domestic politics, and provoked capital flight. 2 Politicians, writers, and scholars--not all of them Mexican--subsequently have interpreted this event basically within its international dimensions. 3 Few inquire as to what the oil nationalization meant in terms of the relationship between labor and the state, essentially an internal matter. After all, it had been an oil workers' strike that precipitated the crisis leading to nationalization.

This chapter casts aside the standard perspectives to examine why Mexican labor had played a prominent role in the Mexican oil nationalization, for the oil workers had pressured the Cárdenas government to expropriate the Mexican oil industry. They had begun seizing oil industry assets prior to the actual nationalization and immediately thereafter took the leading role in replacing

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