Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
MAINTAINING UNITY

Railway Workers and the Guatemalan Revolution

MARC CHRISTIAN MCLEOD

Since its abrupt termination in 1954, scholars have tried to understand the essential nature of the "Guatemalan revolution." Recent debate has centered on the agrarian reform program carried out by the administration of Jacobo Arbenz from 1952 to 1954 and its subsequent effects on rural society. 1 Other works have documented the role played by international forces during this period--namely the nefarious activities of the U.S. government, whose Central Intelligence Agency organized the overthrow of the elected Arbenz regime. 2 While also analyzing the role of the United States, the recent study by Piero Gleijeses views the revolutionary decade from the perspective of the Guatemalan actors; yet his account focuses on Arbenz himself and on a few national labor leaders in the Communist Party. 3 The question remains to be answered: What role did labor play in the Guatemalan revolution? And, to the extent that we can ascertain it, what influence did the rank-and-file workers have on the course of their country's history from 1944 to 1954?

The existing historiography holds that a small group of communist labor leaders dominated the Guatemalan workers' movement during the revolution--apparently by manipulating an ignorant or apathetic rank and file. Although a "moderate" group of railway workers resisted communist control of their union for several years, the railroaders eventually were "neutralized" by "Communist tactics and propaganda," according to North American commentators. 4 For more than thirty years, these assumptions have gone unchecked. No study has been made of a single union during this period, includ

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