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Roberto Korzeniewicz - Labor Unrest in a 1887-1907

Roberto Korzeniewicz - Labor Unrest in a 1887-1907

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L A B 'O R
U N R E S T
I N
A R G E N T IN A
1 8 8 7 -1 9 0 7 "
RobertoI ! K orzeniew icz \ue000
S ta te U n iv e r s ityo f N e w
Y o rk a t A lb a n y \ue000

T h is a rtic le w ill e x a m in e th e d e v e lo p m e n t of la b o r u n r e s t in A r- g e n tin a b e tw e e n 1 8 8 7 a n d 1 9 0 7 . B e c a u s e o ffic ia l s ta tis tic s w e re n o t c o m - piled until after 1907, new

d a ta o n s trik e s h a v e b e e n g e n e ra te d fo r th e
e a rlie r p e rio d
th ro u g h
a d e ta ile d

reading of new spapers. These data p ro v id e in fo rm a tio n o n th e o c c u p a tio n a l a n d g e o g ra p h ic a l d is trib u tio n of s trik e s , th e ir tim in g , a n d th e k in d s of d e m a n d s m a d e b y s trik e rs . T h e n e w d a ta a ls o p ro v id e h e lp fu l in s ig h ts in to th e n a tu r e of la b o r o rg a n iz a - tio n s a n d th e c a u s e s of la b o r u n r e s t. M o s t im p o rta n t, th e s e d a ta in d i- c a te th a t c h a n g e s in th e o rg a n iz a tio n of th e w o rk p la c e w e re a s ig n ific a n t fa c to r in a lte rin g th e c o m p o s itio n of d e m a n d fo r la b o r a n d in g e n e ra tin g la b o r u n r e s t. F in a lly , th e y s h o w

th a t th e o rg a n iz a tio n of th e w o rk p la c e
a ls o
a c c o u n te d
fo r s ig n ific a n t d iffe re n c e s in
th e
form s of
a c tio n a n d

o rg a n iz a tio n a d o p te d b y v a rio u s s e c to rs of th e la b o r fo rc e . H e n c e in s o - fa r a s th e p o s itio n of d iffe re n t g r o u p s of w o rk e rs in th e la b o r m a rk e t w as itself

s h a p e d
b y
th e
n a tu re
o f
th e
labor process and

w o rk p la c e re la tio n s , th e tra n s fo rm a tio n of th e s e s p h e r e s c o n s titu te s a n im p o rta n t a n a ly tic a l p o in t of d e p a r tu r e fo r e x p la in in g th e c e n tra l fe a tu re s of th e e m e rg in g la b o r m o v e m e n t.

T he first p art of th is article w ill review
s o m e of th e m e c h a n is m s
b y w h ic h g e o g ra p h ic a l m o b ility s tr e n g th e n e d

th e b a rg a in in g p o w e r of la b o r in A rg e n tin a d u r in g th e p e rio d u n d e r c o n s id e ra tio n . B u t th e re la - tiv e s tre n g th of w o rk e rs a c ro s s th e la b o r fo rc e a ls o d iffe re d sig n ific a n tly . To e x p la in th e s e d iffe re n c e s , th e s e c o n d p a rt of th e a rtic le w ill fo c u s o n th e im p a c t of th e o rg a n iz a tio n of th e w o rk p la c e a n d th e la b o r m a rk e to n th e fo rm s of a c tio n a n d o rg a n iz a tio n a d o p te d by w o rk e rs in m a n u fa c - tu r in g . F in a lly , s o m e c o n c lu s io n s w ill b e d r a w n a b o u t m a jo r fe a tu re s of th e la b o r m o v e m e n t a t th e tu r n of th e c e n tu ry .

* A n nE . F o rs y th e p ro v id e d
s u b s ta n tia l c o m m e n ts o n th is a rtic le .I a ls o b e n e fite d
fro m
c o m m e n ts m a d e by th eL A R Re d ito rs a n d a n o n y m o u s re fe re e s.
Latin Am erican Research Review
L A B O R
M O B IL IT Y
T ig h t la b o r-m a rk e t c o n d itio n s d u r in g th e la s t q u a rte r of th e n in e -
te e n th
c e n tu ry in A rg e n tin a
c re a te d a s tru c tu ra l te n d e n c y to w a rd fu ll
e m p lo y m e n t a n d h e n c e p ro v id e d
la b o r w ith s tro n g b a rg a in in g p o w e r.
T h u s , a c c o rd in g to
L a c la u , " th e
g ro w th
o b s e rv e d
d u rin g
th is p e rio d
[betw een 1892 and
19041 in agriculture, industry and com m erce occa-
s io n e d
scarcity of labor and a consequent increase in w ages"
(L a c la u
1969, 39). In
th is s itu a tio n , la b o r o rg a n iz a tio n s f o u n d little re a s o n

t o c h a lle n g e th e p r e d o m in a n t m o d e l of d e v e lo p m e n t b e c a u s e p e rio d s of re c e s s io n

a n d
fa llin g
w ages
w ere
o n ly
m om entary
s e tb a c k s
t o
th e
s tr o n g e c o n o m ic p o s itio n
of w o rk e rs. T h u s fo r th e p e rio d

a s a w h o le , real w ages tended to rise or at least rem ain stable except during tem po- rary recessions. For exam ple, recent research by C ortes C onde indicates th a t la b o r

s tu d ie s
h a v e
o v e rs ta te d
th e
e x te n t of
th e
d e c lin e
i n
re a l

w ages experienced in the early 1890s and that the first an d m ost crucial decline of real w ages in A rgentina occurred in 1887 (rather than 1890, as has been

c o m m o n ly
b e lie v e d ).'
T h is d e c lin e w a s re a d ily
o b s e rv e d
i n
1887 by a press correspondent w riting for the South American Journal:
In this new
la n d th e r e is a p ro c e s s in o p e ra tio n w h ic h is slo w ly -o r
m aybe
q u ic k ly -p ro d u c in g

a re v o lu tio n in th e id e a s of th o s e m e n w h o , in a ll la n d s , h a v e h ith e rto b e e n e s te e m e d a s th e w o rk in g h e a d s of th e h u m a n c o m m u n ity . They begin to feel sore. For m ore than two years back their w ages have been g o in g d o w n , d o w n ! T h e r e n ts of th e ir h o u s e s a n d th e p ric e s of th e ir c lo th in g , e tc ., h a v e b e e n g o in g u p , u p ! B e tw e e n tw o o r th r e e y e a rs a g o th o s e s k ille d workm en could save--aye,

and did save-m oney

s u ffic ie n t to b u y th e ir o w n h o u s e a n d g r o u n d , a n d e ith e r to e s ta b lis hafam ily of "A rgentinos" or return w ith ac o m p e te n c e to th e ir o w n c o u n tr y . Ya no se puede selior.I tis n o w a lm o s t im p o s s ib le .2

B u t a s C o rte s C o n d e h a s in d ic a te d , th e o v e ra ll tre n d d u r in g th is p e rio d w a s fo r re a l w a g e s to rise : "A llo w in g fo r im p o rta n t flu c tu a tio n s w h ic h occurred over the 30 years, real w ages increased over this period [from the 1880s through the1 9 1 0 ~ 1 .

T o w a rd s th e e n d of th e p e rio d , a w o rk e r c o u ld a c q u ire a th ird m o re g o o d s a n d s e rv ic e s th a n h is e q u iv a le n t s o m e three decades before" (C ortes C onde 1986, 340).

N o t a ll w o rk e rs in A rg e n tin a e n jo y e d s tro n g b a rg a in in g p o w e r, h o w e v e r. S u g a r a n d y e rb a m a te p la n ta tio n s in n o rth e a s t a n d n o rth w e s t A rg e n tin a c o n tin u e d to re ly h e a v ily o n c o e rc iv e m e th o d s to s u b o rd in a te th e ir la b o r fo rc e , m u c h of w h ic h w a s In d ia n . N o r d id th e v io le n t s u b o r- dination of N ative A m ericans in A rgentina end w ith the m ilitary cam - p a ig n s of th e la te1 8 8 0 s, c o n tin u in g in s te a d w e ll in to th e tw e n tie th c e n - tury. In the early 1900s, the press still referred to Indians as "elem ents not yet reduced tola v i d a d e l t r a b a j o "a n d fre q u e n tly re p o rte dd n m ilita ry v io le n c e d ire c te d a g a in s t th e s e

e le m e n t^ ." ^ Clearly, these sectors of the
L A B O R
U N R E ST
I N
A R G E N T IN A
la b o r fo rc e fa c e d p o o r w o rk in g c o n d itio n s a n d fo u n d it d iffic u lt to p re s s
effectively for im provem ents.

B u t in m u c h of th e c o u n try , th e b a rg a in in g p o w e r of w o rk e rs w a s s tre n g th e n e d by a h ig h d e m a n d fo r w a g e la b o r in th e c o u n try s id e (p a r- tic u la rly d u r in g h a r v e s ts ) a n d fo r s k ille d w o rk e rs in m a jo r u r b a n a re a s . To m e e t th is la b o r d e m a n d , s ta te a g e n c ie s a n d c a p ita lis t e n tr e p r e n e u r s p ro m o te d

o v e rs e a s im m ig ra tio n , w h ic h w a s fa c ilita te d b y fa llin g c o s ts
o f
tra n s p o rta tio n
w o rld w id e : " T h e
in c re a s in g
num ber
o f
s te a m s h ip s

p ly in g th e R io d e la P la ta ro u te a n d th e re s u lta n t c o m p e titio n b e tw e e n lin e s s h a rp ly r e d u c e d th e c o s t of th ird -c la s s p a s s a g e . A lth o u g h A rg e n - tina w as tw ice as far as the U nited S tates from

European ports, by the 1 8 9 0 s th e g o lo n d r in a(m ig ra n t w o rk e r) n e e d e d to w o rk o n ly tw o w e e k s in A rg e n tin a to p a y fo r h is ro u n d -trip p a c k a g e " (S c o b ie 1 9 7 1 , 1 3 1 ).

B u t m ig ra tio n a ls o a llo w e d w o rk e rs to d e fe n d th e m s e lv e s fro m
u n e m p lo y m e n t o r fa llin g re a l w a g e s b y
" v o tin g
w ith
th e ir fe e t"
a n d
leaving the region for the duration of these crises. H ence the first dras-
tic
d e c lin e
i n
n e t im m ig ra tio n
t o
A rg e n tin a
o c c u rre d
i n

c o n ju n c tio n w ith the crisis of the late 1880s and early 1890s.A s noted by the press, "W ith

th e
p re m iu m
at its present figure, the
Ita lia n
w o rk in g
c la s s e s
h e r e c a n n o lo n g e r re m it m o n e y h o m e to b rin g o u t th e ir re la tiv e s a n d
frie n d s
as form erly; besides, their letters to
th e
s a id
frie n d s
a re
n o
lo n g e r
of
th e
m ilk -a n d -h o n e y
a n d
la n d -o f-p ro m ise
te n o r
of
fo rm er
years. O n the contrary, the w orking m en in the cities can now
b a re ly

liv e , m u c h le s s ta lk of s a v in g . T h is s ta te of th in g s is w ritte n to th o s e a t h o m e , a n d th e y s ta y th e re till tim e sm e n d ." 4 N o t o n ly d id im m ig ra tio n flo w s d e c lin e , b u t m a n y w o rk e rs e ith e r re tu rn e d to E u ro p e o r m o v e d to U ru g u a y o r B ra z il. In th e m id s t of th e c ris is , o n e jo u rn a lis t c o m m e n te d , "It is fo rtu n a te fo r th e w o rk in g m e n of th is c o u n try th a t th e y h a v e th e Banda O riental [U ruguay] near at hand, w here the w ages given is not 'a

m ockery, a delusion, and a snare.'" 'O nly in 1892 did the press re-
p o rt o n w o rk e rs re tu rn in g fro m
B razil after their flight from
th e ~ r i s i s . ~

S im ila r d e c lin e s in n e t im m ig ra tio n flo w s o c c u rre d d u r in g th e la te 1 8 9 0 s a n d e a rly 1 9 0 0 s, a lth o u g h th e y w e re le ss p ro n o u n c e d th a n in th e e a r- lier crisis. In

short, although recessions led
t o
sh o rt-te rm
u n e m p lo y -
m e n t, th e ir e ffe c t w a s s o o n b u ffe re d
b y re d u c tio n s in th e n e t flo w
o f
im m ig ran ts.
W orkers also responded
t o
c h a n g e s in
e m p lo y m e n t c o n d itio n s
and wages by m igrating back and forth betw een
u rb a n
areas and

th e c o u n try s id e . D u rin g th e c risis of th e 1890s, for exam ple, "Som e of the m a n p o w e r a lre a d y in th e c o u n try m o v e d to th e ru ra l se c to r w h e re th e a re a u n d e r c u ltiv a tio n c o n tin u e d to e x p a n d d u r in g th e.. .crisis. T his a lle v ia te d th e p ro b le m

of u n e m p lo y m e n t a n d p re v e n te d th e c risis fro m
b e c o m in g
even m ore serious"
(C o rte s C o n d e
1986, 339). As a conse-

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