The forgotten history of Mexican-American activism

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It is important to recognize that machismo has been a feature and function of labor exploitation entrenched in American capitalism since its inception and has impacted women in all cultures. Not only have women historically been paid less for the same work, but racial exploitation of labor has meant that women of color are paid even less than white women. Mexican women, alongside black women, were paid the lowest wages in the formal economy.

In the 1930s, Mexican women formed a significant part of the working class within the gendered divisions of labor that characterized industry and employment in the Southwest. For example, women made up the majority of workers in canning and packaging, clothing manufacturing and nut shelling, as well as in domestic services, laundry services, cigar making, and various other industries. . During World War II, Mexican women became a large contingent of the workforce in war industries.

Mexican women have been at the forefront of some of the most significant episodes of militant labor organization and strike efforts. From the barrios, they emerged as mass leaders, radical theorists and national figures within the Communist Party and the IOC. Their leadership at many points in the nascent labor movement during the period impacted the thinking of many men, created the basis for a broader discourse on gender and gender equality, and challenged the patriarchal structures of trade unions and political organizations.

Mexican women peel pecans at a factory in San Antonio, Texas, 1939 (Lee Russell / Library of Congress)

For example, women canneries negotiated the first union contracts to guarantee equal pay to all workers regardless of gender, race or nationality, paid maternity leave, and Spanish language rights provisions guaranteeing publication. bilingual of contracts, work notices and all other businesses. Documentation. In fact, you can see how the concept of civil rights first emerges in the bitter union struggles and union contract guarantees won at the point of production around this time.

Due to their resilience and activism, Mexican women have been brutally suppressed alongside men. There is a long history of police violence against Mexicans in neighborhoods, including women and children. Labor unions and worker-led civil rights organizations at the time, such as the Workers’ Alliance in San Antonio and the Spanish Speaking Peoples Congress in Los Angeles, organized their communities to fight the police-shattering of strike and to resist and oppose racist brutality. that they live on a daily basis.

In many strikes, women have been at the forefront of blocking and combating scabs and standing up against the police. They also protested and organized against the migration (immigration authorities), as people were regularly arrested and deported during the Great Depression, with agents directly targeting strikers, union organizers and political radicals.

In some cases, state repression of male workers has led to situations where women have gone on strike or struggle forward. From 1908 to 1911, during the Mexican Revolution, the women of the PLM led and coordinated a transnational movement from the southwest to the interior of Mexico, while the male leaders were constantly harassed and incarcerated by the police. In the Zinc Empire strike in 1950 in New Mexico (memorialized in the film Salt of the earth), the wives of the striking miners took over after the corrupt local government declared the strike illegal and threatened the men with arrest if they maintained their picket lines.

At a pivotal time in American work and radical history, the Mexican working class has often been in the foreground – with women in the foreground.


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