Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

ment. As demonstrated by their actions both before and after Colonel Arana's death in July 1949, the pressure they placed on President Arbenz in April 1951, and their continuous support for agrarian reform, Guatemala's railroad workers increased the pace and extent of social transformation throughout this period. The combined force of the U.S. government and Guatemalan elites in mid-1954, however, prevented the ferrocarrileros from halting the derailment of the Guatemalan revolution.

Yet the struggle for workers' control did continue. Immediately after Castillo Armas's coup, the International Railways began a program of "arbitrary, large scale dismissals" of railway workers suspected of "engaging in any sort of union activity." 102 The SAMF remained united, however, and the ferrocarrileros still attempted to strike to satisfy their economic concerns. In 1957, the railroaders sought a 50 percent wage increase and other fringe benefits. Nine years later, the samfistas tried to strike when the IRCA refused to pay Christmas bonuses that were required by law. Yet in both cases the military intervened to end the strikes. 103 The railway workers no longer could count on support from a prolabor state. Furthermore, the railroaders ceased to be such a critical element in the smooth functioning of the Guatemalan export economy. The strategic nature of the railroad, whose rolling stock and other infrastructure were already in a state of deterioration during the revolution, declined upon completion of the highway to Puerto Barrios in 1959. In the late 1960s, the International Railways sold its weakened holdings to the Guatemalan government. The railway workers have never enjoyed as much control over their working lives as they did during the revolution.


Notes

The author would like to thank Jeffrey L. Gould and Virginia Garrard Burnett for their advice regarding this chapter.

1.
See Jim Handy, Revolution in the Countryside: Rural Conflict and Agrarian Reform in Guatemala, 1944-1954 ( Chapel Hill, 1994); Cindy Forster, "The Time of 'Freedom': San Marcos Coffee Workers and the Radicalization of the Guatemalan National Revolution, 1944-1954," Radical History Review 58 (Winter 1994): 35-78; Carol Smith, "Local History in Global Context: Social and Economic Transitions in Western Guatemala," Contemporary Studies in Society and History 26, no. 2 ( 1984): 193-228; Edelberto Torres-Rivas, "Crisis y coyuntura crítica: La caída de Arbenz y los contratiempos de la revolución burguesa," Revista Mexicana de Sociología 41, no. 1 (January-March 1979): 297-323; Robert Wasserstrom, "Revolution in Guatemala: Peasants and Politics under the Arbenz Government," Contemporary Studies in Society and History 17, no. 4 ( 1975): 443-78.

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