¡Sí Se Puede! Labor and Politics in Latin America

Sophomore and above—Year

This seminar looks at the many ways working men and women have struggled to increase their political influence and advance their economic and social standing in Latin America and the Caribbean. We will use and critique a variety of theoretical approaches to the relationship between labor, the State, and democracy. Case studies will illustrate how working people have tried to take advantage of periods of relative democracy to elect candidates and affect laws and have also organized under harsh conditions of military dictatorship when strikes, demonstrations, and unions themselves were often illegal and workers’ actions met with State and employer violence. Our focus is on industrial labor—the factory workers and miners whose concentration in urban centers and/or role in producing export commodities gave them greater potential for organizing unions and wielding some political influence. But we will also examine the struggles of workers on the land—peasants, bonded labor, and farmworkers—whose determined and often violent mobilizations sometimes had a radical impact on national or regional politics. From the late 19th century on, we will look at the participation of workers and their unions in revolutionary movements and at the socialist, communist, and anarchist ideologies to which many were attracted. To understand the political campaigns of Latin American workers, we will consider not only conditions of work and economic exploitation, but also the concerns of working-class communities, questions of nationalism/sovereignty, issues of human dignity and citizenship, and the ways in which gender, race, and ethnicity served to strengthen or weaken the labor movement. Assigned readings will include historical monographs and articles, as well as the cultural product of workers’ struggles: songs and poetry, documentary films, murals, and photographs.