Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico


Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico

Gender, Class, and Memory

Robert F. Alegre
Foreword by Elena Poniatowska

The Mexican Experience Series

270 pages
6 photographs, 1 map


January 2014


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April 2020


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January 2014


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About the Book

Despite the Mexican government’s projected image of prosperity and modernity in the years following World War II, workers who felt that Mexico’s progress had come at their expense became increasingly discontented. From 1948 to 1958, unelected and often corrupt officials of STFRM, the railroad workers’ union, collaborated with the ruling Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) to freeze wages for the rank and file. In response, members of STFRM staged a series of labor strikes in 1958 and 1959 that inspired a nationwide working-class movement. The Mexican army crushed the last strike on March 26, 1959, and union members discovered that in the context of the Cold War, exercising their constitutional right to organize and strike appeared radical, even subversive.

Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico examines a pivotal moment in post–World War II Mexican history. The railroad movement reflected the contested process of postwar modernization, which began with workers demanding higher wages at the end of World War II and culminated in the railway strikes of the 1950s, a bold challenge to PRI rule. In addition, Robert F. Alegre gives the wives of the railroad workers a narrative place in this history by incorporating issues of gender identity in his analysis.

Author Bio

Robert F. Alegre is an assistant professor of history and affiliated faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of New England. His work has been published in the Journal of Women’s History, Labour/Le Travail, and Reviews in History. Elena Poniatowska received a lifetime achievement award from the International Women’s Media Foundation and is the first woman to win Mexico’s National Journalism Prize.


"[Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico] is a long overdue addition to Mexican labor history that belongs in undergraduate and graduate classrooms everywhere."—Myrna Santiago, American Historical Review

"A fascinating book that provides an original, well-documented perspective on modern Mexico."—A. Vergara, CHOICE

"Railroad Radicals is highly recommended for both scholars and students."—Andrew Paxman, Mexican Studies

"Robert Alegre writes with palpable empathy. He cares for the railway men and women whom he portrays in Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico. The result is a thoughtful examination of the lives and times of railroad workers, especially in the years immediately following WorldWar II until the massive strikes that rocked Mexico’s railways in 1958 and 1959. . . . Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico is a strong contribution to the historical literature on railway workers, unions, and gender in post–World War II Mexico. The numerous oral histories that Alegre uses are particularly compelling and insightful. A relatively brief book that is clearly written and tackles a myriad of important themes, it would make an excellent classroom text. It definitely belongs on the shelves of historians of twentieth-century Mexico."—J. Justin Castro, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Alegre’s study fills a significant void. . . . An in-depth study of labor activism in the context of Mexico’s Cold War experience is long overdue in the scholarly literature.”—Susan Gauss, associate professor at the University at Albany, SUNY, and author of Made in Mexico: Regions, Nation, and the State in the Rise of Mexican Industrialism, 1920s–1940s

“The railroad movement in Mexico has been the subject of many books, but none as passionately written or meticulously documented as this one.”—from the foreword by Elena Poniatowska

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Elena Poniatowska
List of Abbreviations
Map of Mexico
Introduction: The Working Class in Cold War Mexico
1. "The Mexican Revolution Was Made on the Rails": Revolutionary Nationalism, Class Formation, and the Early Impact of the Cold War
2. "Born into the Railway": Patriarchy, Community, and Underground Activism in the 1950s
3. "Who Is Mr. Nobody?" The Rise of Democratic Unionism
4. The "War of Position": The Making of a Strike
5. Railroaded: The Cold War Idiom in Practice
Conclusion: Rethinking Postwar Working-Class History

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