It is ironic that urban labor, the most rapidly expanding social and political force in contemporary Latin America, has inspired so few interpretative studies. To rectify this deficiency one of the nation’s foremost experts on economic and political developments of Latin America has written this book, an outstanding contribution to the field.

Three perceptive chapters introduce the basic characteristics and problems of the working classes in Latin America and accentuate the fundamental differences between trade unions there and their counterparts to the North. The interests of Latin American workers are not limited to monetary considerations alone; they cover the whole spectrum of socio-economic reforms. Furthermore, workers’ nationalism in those countries mitigates class consciousness and frequently aligns the laborers with those elements in the middle classes which promote industrialization and resist foreign economic encroachment. Plagued by chronic inflation, labor in Latin America often consents to employer paternalism and fringe benefits in lieu of additional wages.

A high degree of politicalization also characterizes labor movements in Latin America. Be it caused by the political propensities of early immigrant leaders, the attractiveness of subsidies from friendly political parties, or the benefits of legislation over collective bargaining, it generally results in politicians using labor rather than serving it. Professor Alexander concludes that politicalization under dictatorships jeopardizes the material interests of the working class. In my opinion, however, this conclusion should be qualified. Though the real wages of skilled labor declined under Perón and Castro, the combination of greater fringe benefits and wages actually improved the standard of living of most unskilled workers. Nor should we surmise that the development of progressive governments will decrease labor’s political proclivities. On the contrary, the growth of state and mixed industries fostered by the democratic left will inevitably make the government an interested party in the process of collective bargaining. Labor will then have a greater stake in electing sympathetic officials.

The major portion of Organized Labor in Latin America presents a concise summary of labor movements in the Latin American republics as well as the nonrepublican areas of the Caribbean. The key word in the title is “organized”; the author is primarily interested in describing the activities of anarcho-syndicalist, socialist, communist, Catholic, and syndicalist labor confederations. But since a large segment of labor is not organized—especially in the less developed nations—this book is of limited application. It is nonetheless the principal reference on labor in Latin America.