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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Mexican Workers and the State: From the Porfiriato to NAFTA
Norman Caulfield

(Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1998)
180pp. Index. Bibl. $24.95; ISBN 0-87565-192-5.

The core of this short work is a narrative of Mexican labor organization, mostly at the national level, from the chaotic days of the 1910-20 revolution/civil war, to the high point of state power in its confrontation with the railway workers in 1958-9. The state imposed 'charrismo', a peculiarly Mexican form of government control of labor. This part of the story is supported with local accounts in journals and newspapers, consular reports and the like. It is supplemented with briefer, secondary accounts of the Porfiriato period (pre 1910) and the story after 1959.

It is a story of frustrated radicalism in a radical age. The author recounts clearly and in detail the early competition between the radicalisms of socialists, communists and the IWW, and the rise and demise of quasi-official confederations such as CROM. Changing Presidents used and controlled organized labor for domestic political purposes. By the WWII years the conflicts were organized around the strategic games of major powers. But although Mexico subtly used the threat of non-alignment as leverage, for labor, only limited degrees of autonomy were achieved, not a radical program.

Knowing these factional struggles helps understand the complexities of Mexican corporatism. It was certainly not a copy of the Fascist or Catholic forms. It always allowed for dissidents and fringe autonomous groups. It was above all a question of political power, both domestic and international, not of law.

One would wish for more than a narrative, though. The context of the New Deal, Nazism, WWII and the Cold War are barely mentioned. The actions of, among others, American labor is hard to understand without it. In Mexico, the agrarian issue, indigenous groups, the clash with the Church and the taming of the military, are ignored. The significance of the adoption of the import substitution industrialization strategy is not analyzed.

True, one cannot expect a comprehensive history in a short book, but the result is to produce a useful and readable, but conventional account of the left, of radicals and moderates, syndicalists and corporatists, nationalists and opportunists in a crucial period of Mexican history.

Douglas A Chalmers
Institute of Latin American and Iberian Studies,Columbia University

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