The twentieth century brought industrialization to Texas cities. For Mexican workers in the state, this meant worsening economic conditions, widespread discrimination, and an indifferent or at times hostile Anglo labor movement. Faced with such challenges, Mexicans often looked to each other or toward Mexico for support and inspiration in building a largely autonomous, occasionally trans-border labor movement. In this first book-length examination of the earliest organized efforts by Mexican-origin workers in Texas, Emilio Zamora challenges the usual, stereotypical depiction of Mexican workers as passive and hard to organize.
Instead, working within the framework of the "new labor history," he looks beyond the conventional focus on trade unionism and collective bargaining to encompass the broader social experiences and culture of Mexicans as a national minority and a repressed segment of the working class.
Through extensive use of Spanish-language archives in Mexico and the United States, Zamora examines workers' independent organizations--including mutual aid societies and cooperatives that functioned as unions--as well as spontaneous informal actions, including strikes, by Texas Mexican workers. He portrays the gradual yet increasing integration of those organizations into the mainstream labor movement and examines labor solidarity across ethnic lines. In addition, he discusses the special role Mexican labor played in bridging labor struggles across the international border and in challenging racial exclusion on the job in the predominantly Anglo labor federations and in the broader institutional life of South Texas.
Although the early efforts at inter-ethnic unity failed to materialize fully, Zamora concludes, they nevertheless provided a legacy that tells much about the minority position of the Mexican community, the impressive organizing activity and bid for incorporation of Mexican workers, and the ambivalent response by organized and unorganized Anglo workers.
What Readers Are Saying:
"This splendid work enlarges the ethnic and geographic boundaries of southern working class history and in its sensitive and vigorous treatment of Mexican workers it does honor to them . . . " --Robert H. Zieger, University of Florida
"A model of historical scholarship that merits a wide readership. It offers a balanced, thorough account of how an immigrant labor community attempted to deal with segregation and discrimination. Zamora . . . has drawn attention to the often innovative ways in which Mexican labor in Texas responded to their low status in Texas' agricultural and industrial economies. He has accomplished this using clear, precise language and an impressive array of sources." --Jesús F. de la Teja, Southwest Texas State University
"The most significant monograph yet published on Mexican labor in Texas . . . an impressive revisionist text sure to influence fellow Texas historians who study the greater labor movement in the state. Certainly [the book] gives us clearer insight into a neglected dimension of Texas Mexican history." --Pacific Historical Review
"Zamora's historical study will be of great interest to those studying race relations and labor in Texas during the early twentieth century." --Contemporary Sociology
"This book is a welcome addition to the literature on Chicano and labor history in Texas and to the growing literature on American ethnic and working-class history in general. . . . Zamora provides a sophisticated insight into the causes and complexities of Mexican working-class thought and local institutions created on either side of the United States-Mexico border. . . . a solidly researched and well written book that will become standard reading for students of borderlands, Texas, Chicano, and American working-class history." --Journal of American History
"This is an important study about how workers of Mexican extraction in south Texas organized to combat low wages, social discrimination, poverty, and the exclusionary practices of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) during the first two decades of the twentieth century. . . . Employing a New Labor History approach, he . . . provides a refreshing look at the blend of cultural traditions and social reality that shaped Mexican workers' collective response to the commercial transformation of south Texas . . . It also sheds light on how American economic penetration of Mexico and the politics of the Mexican Revolution influenced the interactions of workers on both sides of the border.” --American Historical Review
"One of the strengths of this study is the attention paid to Spanish-language newspapers and their role in reinforcing the values of mutualism and collective action. . . . the binational and bicultural focus of Zamora's work adds an important and little understood dimension to Mexican labor activity in Texas.” --Western Historical Quarterly
"Earlier labor historians ignored the activities of Texas' Mexican population, creating the impression that Mexican laborers were apathetic and disorganized in the first twenty years of this century. . . . [the book] will probably become the definitive work on this topic; the research is extensive and impeccable." --Legacies (Dallas)
"This is a significant work that will be most helpful to scholars in understanding complex social and economic problems in a multicultural society." --Review of Texas Books
"Meticulously documented, making use of previously unused Spanish language archive materials. . . . A must for Chicano and labor studies collections." --Library Journal