From la Adelita to the suffragette, from la chica moderna to the factory girl dressed in red shirt and black skirt—the colors of the anarchist—women’s mobilization in the midst of Mexican Revolution was, to a large degree, rooted in their workforce participation. The evolution of gendered occupational segregation of the workforce, sex-typing of occupations, and gendered wage differentials marked women’s experiences and the way they organized to take control of their lives and to shape working conditions and politics. While women’s employment nationwide contracted during the period 1890–1930, it was nevertheless a moment of significant cultural change in the recognition of women’s work outside of the home. Women shifted public debates over their right to work and mobilized around the issues of maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, and respect for seniority. Across the workforce, women fought for the application of the rights afforded by the Mexican Constitution (1917) and then, in the 1930s, by federal labor law. By the fact of their work and because of their activism, women shifted the conversation on the rights of women—single or married, mothers or not, and regardless of personal beliefs or sexual morality—to dignity at work and the right to combine a life of work with other activities that informed their lives and fulfilled their passions.
Susie S. Porter
Since the immediate post–World War II era, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has played a leading role in the political, economic, and social lives of Latin Americans. Its role has evolved from the Bretton Woods era of the postwar period, through the era of the Washington Consensus, and into the post-2008 crisis period. However, throughout those times the institution served as the enforcement instrument for orthodox economic policies within the liberal international order. It conditioned emergency lending to countries in economic distress on the implementation of austere economic policies. The region’s workers consistently bore the costs of the IMF’s prescribed policies. Such policies resulted in fewer public-sector jobs, reductions in welfare state benefits, and increased levels of foreign involvement in national economies. Consequently, the IMF became the subject of frequent labor protests. Workers understood the key role the IMF played in devising the policies that caused them pain and often took steps to resist. Although the IMF’s effects on the working class are well understood within Latin America, it has not been the subject of sustained historical analysis. To understand the dynamics of the region’s political economy, historians should focus on the IMF to a degree similar to that of economists and political scientists. More specifically, the relationship between the IMF and Latin American workers is ripe for sustained analysis across disciplinary boundaries.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (b. Caetés, Pernambuco, Brazil, October 27, 1945) was born in severe poverty in the Brazilian northeast. “Lula” was a nickname which he legalized as an adult so that it could be listed on election ballots. He is universally referred to as Lula in Brazil. When he was seven years old his mother took the family on the back of a truck to the state of São Paulo in the hope of joining Lula’s father, who had abandoned the family. With her help, and without Lula’s illiterate and abusive father’s encouragement, he went to school to become a lathe mechanic. He then became a union activist and a leader of massive strikes in the industrial suburbs of São Paulo during the last years of Brazil’s military regime. In 1980, Lula joined with progressive union leaders, activists, and intellectuals in organizing the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), or Workers’ Party. The PT was distinguished by its internal democracy and intellectual openness, and many on the left, in Brazil and elsewhere, believed it had great potential for reconciling socialist economics with political democracy. It initiated participatory budgeting practices in an effort to go beyond formal electoral democracy. Lula da Silva’s charisma made him the Party’s most popular leader. Lula won a seat in Congress in 1986, then was defeated in presidential campaigns in 1989, 1994, and 1998. In 2002, he adopted a more moderate campaign platform and was elected president of Brazil. He was re-elected in 2006 and passed the presidency on to his chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, at the end of his second term. As president of Brazil, Lula followed moderate economic and social policies, building on the accomplishments of his predecessor rather than making the radical changes many Workers’ Party activists and supporters wanted. The economy grew during his presidency, and he was able to increase funding for income redistribution programs that helped the poorest Brazilians. His administration was tarnished, however, by a massive corruption scandal involving illegal payments to members of Congress. Brazil went into a recession after Dilma Rousseff’s re-election in 2014, and there was an even larger corruption scandal involving the national oil company. Rousseff was impeached in 2016, and the Workers’ Party lost control of the Brazilian government and fared badly in municipal elections. Lula da Silva was convicted on corruption charges. If his conviction is not reversed on appeal, or if he is convicted on other pending indictments, he will not be allowed to compete for the presidency in the 2018 elections.
Leonilde Servolo de Medeiros
The struggle for land pervades Brazilian history, but it was not until the 1950s that various groups coalesced, thus forging the basis of a national peasant movement. Prior to the military dictatorship, small farmers associations and Peasant Leagues, irrespective of their strategies, had placed agrarian reform in the public spotlight. Since then, the issue has become the driving force for rural social movements. The 1964 coup violently suppressed these organizations, persecuting peasant and rural labor union activists. At the same time, it created legal mechanisms to make land expropriation viable while giving incentives for massive technological modernization in rural areas. It also encouraged the occupation of frontier zones by corporations. Such initiatives aggravated the land issue in the country in areas of recent and historical occupation rather than alleviating it. By the late 1970s, new actors emerged, putting land disputes back onto the political arena: landless workers, rubber tappers, small farmers, squatters, and the indigenous peoples. New organizations emerged, sometimes in opposition to rural workers’ unions, which performed a relevant role during the dictatorship while at other times working from within them. One of these emerging actors was the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra, MST), which stood out nationally and internationally due to its innovative approach in terms of strategies such as land occupations and encampments, and in the late 1990s by building networks with other organizations worldwide, as is the case with the Via Campesina. In parallel to that, family farmers also became politicized as they demanded public policies through union organizations to survive in a rural environment controlled by large entrepreneurs.
Marco Estrada Saavedra
The summer and fall of 2006 saw a violent, protracted conflict in Oaxaca, Mexico between the state government and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO). What began as a contentious labor negotiation between the local government and the teachers’ union soon developed into a popular protest and mobilization throughout the state, especially in the Valles Centrales region, home to the state capital. The governor’s repressive actions against critics and opponents of his administration led the APPO members to a consensus demanding his removal. The result was a government in paralysis, with none of the three constitutional branches able to exercise their normal authority or carry out their activities. The APPO achieved territorial control by the following means: with the erection of hundreds of barricades throughout the capital to protect it from sneak attacks by irregular units of the state police; with its occupation, operation, and diffusion of public and private media outlets; with a permanent mobilization of its members; and with the construction of a popular government, the Oaxaca Commune, to manage public affairs and services. This experience of popular autonomy involved the dismantling of the local system of domination and also of the authoritarian, clientelist, patrimonialist, and patriarchal relationships within the organizations of the APPO itself. It ended in violent repression.