The creation and rapid growth of a national urban working-class organization, the Casa del Obrero Mundial, and its ensuing conflicts with the Zapatistas, Villistas and leadership of the Constitutionalist movement, was crucial to the outcome of the Mexican Revolution. The Casa advocated far-reaching programs of political, economic and cultural changes that were incompatible with the aspirations of other revolutionary groups. Based upon contemporary essays written by the leaders of the labor movement, this study is a historical reassessment of the principal Mexican urban working-class organization during the Revolution, its development between 1909 and 1916, and its role in the revolutionary process. The urban working-class experience in the Mexican Revolution, as analyzed in this essay, can be divided into three stages. The first phase, the organizational period, began in 1909 and terminated in the fall of 1914. The second stage, that of alliance with the Constitutionalists in armed struggle against the Villistas and peasant-based Zapatistas, began in the fall of 1914 and ended in mid-1915. The third and climactic stage, the urban labor-Casa confrontation with the new government and allied factory owners and businessmen, extended from mid-1915 until August 2, 1916.1

The Casa del Obrero Mundial was a product of revolutionary turmoil, economic crisis, political instability and a long tradition of urban lower-class unrest extending back to the pre-industrial, pre-ideological Mexico City tumultos of the Spanish colonial period which were sometimes led by alienated artisans. Between 1865 and the Revolution of 1910 the principal ideological expression of Mexican working-class radicalism was anarchism. During the nineteenth century the Mexican anarchist movement was responsible for the formation of countless mutualist societies, cooperatives, industrial unions and the emergence of regional and national workers’ councils. In 1880 the 50,000 member Mexican National Congress of Workers joined the Black International. Following government suppression in the early 1880s, the anarchists constituted an underground within a conservative-dominated labor movement whose leaders frequently held government positions with the ancien régime. During the late 1880s and 1890s their presence was evident in wildcat textile and railroad strikes and during the National University student protest demonstrations in Mexico City in the 1890s.2

Radical elements within the Mexican working-class movement were given new life shortly before the Revolution by the exile Ricardo Flores Magón and the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) which operated in the United States. His newspapers, Regeneración and Revolución, were smuggled into Mexico during the years before the outbreak of the Revolution. PLM organizers had a considerable effect upon the Mexican working class, especially among the miners of Sonora and Coahuila and the textile workers in Orizaba who staged violent strikes. The strikes in Sonora and Orizaba turned into small insurrections requiring the use of troops to quell. Those events had a disquieting effect upon both urban labor and the nation in general.3

In 1909 the urban workers in the great cities of central Mexico began to reorganize in the crucible of growing government weakness. An enfeebled ancien régime, shaken by economic and political crises, allowed underground workers’ groups to operate; five years earlier this would have been unthinkable. The revival of working-class radicalism in Mexico City was initiated by Amadeo Ferrés, a Catalan anarchist émigré. Ferrés was an emissary from the Barcelona libertarian socialist movement who came to Mexico to bring the doctrines of anarcho-syndicalism to the urban working class.

Ferrés contributed greatly to the later crisis between the revolutionary urban working class and the government through his early insistence that the independence of labor organizations from government was essential to defend working-class interests and to bring about the ultimate workers’ social revolution. He saw the separation of organized labor and government as the crucial beginning in ending “bourgeois” control of society.4 A primary issue in the coming clash between the urban workers and the Constitutionalist leadership would be the choice of independent workers’ syndicates or government controlled unions.

In 1911, just one week before President Porfirio Díaz resigned, the typographic workers of Mexico City, led by Ferrés and a nucleus of anarchists, organized the Confederación Tipográfica de México. A short time later the tipógrafos voted to act as a sociedad de resistencia in order for the Confederation to take the lead in the organization of the Mexican working class.

The best educated men among the tipógrafos became the directorate or control group known as the Obreros Intelectuales. These men, José López Dóñez, Rafael Quintero, Federico de la Colina and Enrique H. Arce, were recruited by Ferrés and later assumed leadership roles in the Casa del Obrero Mundial. By late 1911 the Confederación had a total of almost 500 members and during most of 1912 it had an average weekly increment of between 15 to 20 new enlistments. In a short time most of the publishing houses of Mexico City were organized, and affiliates had been formed in Monterrey, Tepic, Guadalajara and Oaxaca. The name of the organization was changed in July 1912 to the Confederación Nacional de Artes Gráficas in order to reflect its new national status. The Artes Gráficas was run by Ferrés through the office of Secretario de Interior and by an elective board of directors dominated by the Obreros Intelectuales. They envisaged themselves as the harbingers of a nationwide workingmen’s revolutionary movement.5

In June 1912 Juan Francisco Moncaleano, an anarchist fugitive from Colombia, arrived in Mexico after a two-year stay in Havana. While in Cuba Moncaleano published a series of articles regarding the martyred Catalán anarchist Francisco Ferrer Guardia. Moncaleano was a devout believer in Ferrer Guardia’s idea of workers’ schools, Escuelas Racionalistas, which were adjuncts of workers’ organizing and cultural centers established by the syndicates. The schools were intended to proselytize and uplift the workers and to develop their sense of class consciousness. They were to be openly critical of both Church and state.6

Moncaleano was attracted to Mexico by news of the Madero revolution, the work of the tipógrafos, and the agrarian uprising in defense of village communal integrity led by Emiliano Zapata. He attended meetings of the Artes Gráficas for several weeks and then solicited support from that group in order to establish a combination workers’ central and Escuela Racionalista. The central was to recruit workers from all skill and income levels. Despite their sympathy, Ferrés and the Obreros Intelectuales decided against committing their organization to Moncaleano’s venture because it was too risky and would prematurely precipitate open conflict with both Church and state. Moncaleano was turned down but Ferrés and several Obreros Intelectuales joined him as individuals. During the summer of 1912 Moncaleano’s group, which numbered about twenty, held secret meetings at private residences. Precautions were necessary because he had been warned by the authorities to cease all such activities or face expulsion from Mexico.7

Taking the name Luz, meaning hope and enlightenment, Moncaleano’s group published a newspaper under the same name and used it to publicize the cause of Flores Magón, the Partido Liberal Mexicano, and anarcho-syndicalism for the Mexican working class. They also issued a “Manifiesto Anarquista del Grupo Luz” which declared their intentions:

To enlighten an enslaved and ignorant people. To overthrow the tormentors of mankind, clergy, government and capital. To refuse to serve the ambitions of any political charlatan because no man has the right to govern another. To make known that all men are equal because we are all ruled by the same natural laws, not by arbitrary ones. To demand explanations from the opulent rich regarding their wealth, from the government regarding its lying authority, and from the agents of the bandit god of the Bible for his celestial powers. To devastate the social institutions created by torturers and loafers. To gain freedom for the enslaved worker. To use truth as the ultimate weapon against inequity. To struggle against fear, the terrible tyrant of the people. To march forward toward redemption, toward the universal nation where everyone can live in mutual respect, in absolute freedom, without national political father figures, without gods in the sky nor the insolent rich.8

Luz planned to open the first workers’ central and Escuela Racionalista on September 8, 1912, but was frustrated by a police raid resulting in the mass arrest of the membership and in Moncaleano’s immediate expulsion from the country.9 While inside Belem prison, the anarchists organized the inmates and on September 15 they led a tumultuous demonstration against prison conditions and in support of their own political freedom. They were released barely two weeks after their arrests by the embarrassed and relatively democratic Madero government.

On September 22 the released prisoners, other Luz members, and their supporters held a meeting to commemorate the opening of the first center of the Casa del Obrero and Escuela Racionalista. The Casa was to serve as a workers’ central council for labor-organizing, educational, cultural and propaganda activities. Its leadership, comprised of Luz members, would plan, coordinate and implement these efforts. Outside volunteers would assist them in the conduct of various educational projects. The crowd of supporters in attendance was largely composed of stone workers, typesetters, other members of organized labor and some middle-class intellectuals. The speakers all paid tribute to Moncaleano and it was clear that the Casa had found a martyr. In the beginning the Casa held public meetings on Sundays, classes with open enrollments weekday nights, and even opened a small library of predominantly anarchist literature, the Biblioteca de la Casa del Obrero.10

In the months that followed large numbers of workers affiliated with the Casa and became increasingly politicized. As a result, by January 1913, the Luz control group was enlarged and renamed Lucha in order to incorporate the new militants and to activate a plan to organize anarcho-syndicalist unions on a national scale. These syndicates had national representation in the Mexico City-based Casa and autonomous locals at the factory or provincial level. The change in name from Luz to Lucha paralleled the growing militancy of the Casa’s directors and their soaring confidence that they could rally the workers.

The Casa was a sensation and its successes in the capital stirred an enthusiastic response in Monterrey. A group was formed there which adopted the name Luz and began publication of a newspaper of the same name on April 1, 1913. The Monterrey group claimed loyalty “to the teachings of Ferrer Guardia,” and was the first reflection of the growing influence of the Casa among workers in outlying industrial cities.11

From its inception, the Casa confronted government competition and opposition. Initially the Madero government, elected after the resignation of Porfirio Díaz, created a Department of Labor which supported the Gran Liga Obrera de la República Mexicana, a union that would cooperate with and support the regime. The government was alarmed by large numbers of workers drifting toward the Casa, an organization that rejected government-sponsored labor activities. The government officials had little but scorn for the anarcho-syndicalist labor leaders, never bothered to determine the substance of their ideas, and as a result underestimated them. The Gran Liga’s well-known ties to the government gave it a dubious reputation. On one occasion it attempted to elect its officers during an open meeting. Its directorate was defeated by a rival slate of Casa radicals who then mockingly declared the organization dissolved. The Gran Liga lacked popular acceptance and failed in its effort to attract members. It remained a paper organization.12

In the winter of 1912-1913, with the collapse of the Madero government imminent, Lucha sensed the regime’s weakness and decided to adopt more belligerent working-class tactics. Pointing out what it saw as government links with the capitalist class, the Casa leadership argued that it was useless and immoral to seek government arbitration or assistance in disputes with employers. It claimed that “direct action” via strikes and boycotts was more effective and was anxious to prove its point. In January of 1913 the Casa was invited to help during a strike being carried out by the Unión Mútua Cooperativa de Dependientes de Restaurantes del D.F. and the radical Empleados Libres y Cosmopólitas against the Cafe Inglés of Mexico City. Lucha chose this highly publicized encounter as the test it needed to prove its tactics and to gain further support for the Casa. The strike, sit-in and mass demonstration proved a quick success.13

On February 2, 1913, a crowd of 2,000 called out by the Casa and its local affiliate, the Sociedad Mutualista de Obreros Libres, the labor group responsible for the organization of Mexico City’s store clerks, gathered in the street in front of a clothing store, the Ciudad de Hamburgo. The situation became tense because Casa crowd tactics frequently led to the stoning of store windows and to violent encounters with the police. A further complication was the delicate location of the Ciudad de Hamburgo; it was situated on the Calle de Plateros near the Zócalo and the National Palace.

The Madero government acted quickly and, with expressions of concern for justice, appointed a special commision to investigate the dispute. The commission strongly rebuked the company and ordered the management to pay the striking clerks’ union 1,000 pesos compensation and to accede to the union’s demands.14 These and other successes of “Acción Directa” helped Lucha attract a number of new unions and several thousand additional workers to the Casa during January and February 1913.15 The Casa’s leaders did not give the government commission any credit for the strike’s success.

When General Victoriano Huerta overturned the Madero government in February 1913, the apprehensive Lucha directorate refrained from public comment. They had been circumspect in avoiding a confrontation with Madero and continued the cautious policy. Fearing suppression Lucha protested that the Casa was an “educational institution,” albeit one that preached against the three “octupi” of clergy, government and capital.18 Despite Lucha’s fears, Huerta, perhaps because of his tenuous political situation, proved to be exceedingly tolerant. He did not move against the Casa until directly challenged by it several months later.17

In the next two months the Casa organized new syndicates among the restaurant workers, retail clerks, and weavers. It was ready for Mexico’s first large May Day rally. Thousands of workers marched across Mexico City. Lucha took the initiative in organizing the event and two of its members addressed the crowd. Signs carried by the workers called for the eight-hour day and six-day work week. The Huerta government tolerated the event which took place without major incident.18

Later in May, Lucha amplified the name of the Casa to include the word Mundial (world) in recognition of the anarchist International Association of Workers headquartered in Amsterdam. The leadership of the Casa del Obrero Mundial then held a series of clandestine meetings with other enemies of the Huerta government in order to prepare anti-government demonstrations for May 25. The crowd was smaller than that of May Day, but it totaled several thousand. Eight Lucha members addressed the assembly and condemned “military dictatorship” and “usurpation” without directly mentioning Huerta. They appealed for a “return of democracy.”19

Despite Lucha’s caution in avoiding an overt call for the removal of Huerta, the dictator moved quickly in retaliation. Confronted with revolutionary armies to the north and south, he could not tolerate growing unrest in the capital. The government arrested about a dozen Lucha members and deported as undesirable aliens three of their speakers at the May 25 rally.20 Lucha was temporarily disrupted and demoralized. Labor-organizing activities by the hard-pressed Casa floundered for about three months until August 1913 when Amadeo Ferrés and the Obreros Intelectuales came to the rescue by integrating it with the hitherto independent Confederación de Artes Gráficas. The government allowed it to remain open and although it had lost momentum, the Casa continued to function.21

By the end of 1913 the Casa syndicates presented clear organizational principles. Members of trade unions were organized into syndicates and, consistent with artisan tradition, maintained their independence from other trades. Faced with unacceptable conditions, workers of an industry could strike with the expectation that their fellow tradesmen nationwide, by means of Casa directed coordination, would support them. The short-run objectives of these strikes were improved working conditions and higher salaries. Lucha regarded the early strikes as preliminary struggles prior to the great nationwide general strike which would end capitalism. The anarcho-syndicalist leaders of urban labor were convinced that once the syndicates were sufficiently developed they would be in a position to paralyze the entire national economy. This would result in the take-over of all industry and trade by the workers’ syndicates which in turn would inaugurate a new “Industrial Republic” without “capitalist exploitation.”22

By the end of 1913, the Mexico City working class and the Casa were both in pitiful economic shape. Without funds, El Sindicalista, the Casa newspaper, ceased publication and the leadership instituted mass meetings as a means of recruitment. A popular group of orators known as the Tribuna Roja held sway. The Tribuna Roja addressed large crowds that overflowed into the streets in front of the meeting hall. General economic misery and the Casa’s financial bankruptcy ironically had a beneficial effect on its recruiting efforts. The mass meetings, given the generally difficult economic setting, succeeded to an unexpected degree and reached the rank-and-file workers more effectively than El Sindicalista and its literary predecessors had done. The Tribuna Roja era, beginning in late 1913 and ending in late May 1914, was the most successful period of membership recruitment the Casa had yet enjoyed. The crowds were often excited and unruly as one orator after another attacked the Church, capitalism and the state.23

On May 27 the police raided Casa headquarters, arrested between fifteen and twenty persons and destroyed the Casa facilities. Several leaders were detained, some were deported, and others escaped. Normal Casa activities were suspended until “liberation” by the revolutionary Constitutionalist Army two months later.24

After the defeat of Huerta, the Constitutionalist forces loyal to Venustiano Carranza moved quickly to recruit urban labor support against their former northern allies led by Francisco Villa and the peasant forces of Emiliano Zapata. On August 20, the date of Carranza’s triumphal entry into Mexico City, a “liberation celebration” was held at Casa headquarters. General Alvaro Obregón followed up by donating the building of the former Jesuit convent of Santa Brígida to the Casa as a meeting place.25

With Constitutionalist blessings the Casa reopened in late August 1914 and began an intense organizing campaign in which Lucha representatives visited factories and artisan shops in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and the other industrial centers of the nation. The basis for the resurgence of the Casa had been prepared during its months of suppression under Huerta by means of an underground system of committees and emissaries sent out from Mexico City to towns all over central Mexico. As a result, a fledgling national structure, composed of affiliated syndicates already existed. At both the national and local levels the syndicate was to be self-governing and integrated with the Casa structure for mutual aid and armed defense through workers’ militias. Mutual aid included cooperation in such endeavors as nutritional and hygienic instruction; syndicate-organizing and ideological proselytizing; and coordinaton of efforts during strikes.

The national syndicate leadership became part of the expanded directorate of the Casa. As the directorate grew, the Lucha leadership group also increased in number and finally disappeared as a separate entity. In the late months of 1914 the rubric Lucha fell into disuse. The Casa-controlled labor movement had grown a great deal and its organizational structure was increasingly complicated. Casa activities were divided among twenty-three committees run by unpaid secretaries who were members of the national directorate. The rejection of remuneration was a fundamental tenet of the leadership’s commitment to egalitarianism. The leaders of the new syndicates increased the total number of the Casa directorate to more than seventy-five.26

In late 1914 and early 1915, rapid unionization, the continuing turmoil and instability of the Revolution, extreme inflation, and high urban unemployment rates led to serious strikes in the major cities. These strikes closed down the Mexico City rail transit system, the Electrical Power Company, and the Telephone and Telegraph Company. The syndicates involved, all affiliates of the Casa, had developed a strong sense of workers’ unity and, because of the crucial public service nature of their industries, they possessed unusual strength. The Carranza government found a solution for the power company strikes; in order to restore service, it gave the union a partial management role. The government handpicked a syndicate leader, Luis N. Morones, for this task. He resigned his labor post and suddenly emerged with enormous influence. The Casa leadership initially applauded these developments because, to them, it represented workers’ control of industry. No anarchist, Morones thereafter maintained regular contacts with both General Obregón and the Carranza government. He established close friendships with many high-ranking government officials and prepared the way for his future rise to power as leader of the Department of Labor and the government sponsored Confederación Regional de Obreros Mexicanos (CROM) that replaced the Casa.27

The Casa was already indebted to the Carranza movement as the advance of Villa’s army forced the Constitutionalists to withdraw from Mexico City. In response to Casa demands the Constitutionalists donated meeting halls and permitted syndicate-organizing again. Emergency monetary policies, such as paper centavo bills, helped alleviate desperate conditions for the lowest echelon workers in Mexico City. Compared to the immediate sense of goodwill created by the Carrancistas and the conciliatory diplomacy of Obregón, the Villista northerners and Zapata-led peasantry seemed very remote to most urban workers. The urban labor leaders objected to the ceremonial meeting of Zapata and Villa at the National Palace. They complained that Villa acted suspiciously like an ambitious “personalist.”28

Cultural and economic factors played an important part in the decision by urban labor to reject Zapata and Villa in favor of the Constitutionalists. Villa was a far-removed, unknown and threatening outsider who offered scant programmatic reassurance to urban workers. There was more sympathy for Zapata, but urban workers, as proud citizens of Mexico City, considered themselves more sophisticated and modern than the Zapatista campesinaje. As constituents of Mexico City they also enjoyed the general wealth of the metropolis even if an unbalanced distribution of income gave them only peripheral advantages such as public transportation and parks, sewage disposal and other public services. For the urban workers, a particularly aggravating aspect of the Zapatista revolutionaries was their begging of food from the Mexico City “bourgeoisie” during their occupation of the city, their humility, and their religious devotion and acceptance of the clergy. Religious armpatches and banners, such as the Zapatista Virgin of Guadalupe, especially galled Casa “rationalists.”29

In February a Casa delegation traveled to Veracruz and met with Carranza representatives and Obregón for several days. The result of their deliberations committed organized labor to the Constitutionalist military effort. The delegation’s explanation for this commitment went far beyond the mere condemnation of the distrusted forces of Villa and Zapata as “the reaction” or the bizarre allegations of “Church and banker” support. They had no illusions about the “bourgeois alliances” of President Carranza, but reasoned that the agreement ushered in a new era of syndicate organizing and working-class power. They interpreted the pact as a contract giving the Casa full authority to organize workers’ councils and syndicates throughout the country. The Casa intended to organize the remainder of the Mexican working class under the aegis of anarcho-syndicalism. Accomplishing that goal, it was believed they would be strong enough to confront the Constitutionalist government. The Casa delegates, representing 50,000 workers nationwide, clearly felt that they were in control of the situation.30 An “agrarista” minority of the Casa leadership dissented but with minimal impact because the greater number of them had already left Mexico City six months earlier during urban labor’s confrontation with the Huerta regime in order to join Zapata in the south.31

In early March 7,000 Mexico City workers departed for the Constitutionalist military training center in Orizaba. They were organized into six Red Battalions. The nationwide total of industrial and urban labor militiamen has been most reasonably estimated at 12,000. These forces included provincial Casa affiliates and independent units. Among them were workers’ militias from the mines in Coahuila which joined the Constitutionalist movement in the beginning and contingents of Casa members from Monterrey and Guadalajara. The urban labor forces constituted a massive augmentation of the small Constitutionalist army.32

A Comité de Propaganda was formed from Mexico City and provincial Casa leaders. The committee, which numbered about eighty members divided into fourteen commissions, had a threefold task. First, to open preliminary contacts with unorganized workers and to explain the national political situation as well as the Casa’s support of the Constitutionalists. Second, to establish local affiliates of the Casa and to neutralize the potential hostility of the local elites and press by not revealing revolutionary ideology or long-range plans to them. Third, to obtain from the Constitutionalists “help and guarantees for the new adherents.”33

By June 1915 Villa and Zapata had suffered military setbacks which rendered their positions hopeless. With that threat removed, the Constitutionalist amalgam of upper-class elements and urban workers began to unravel. Open Casa support for the “International Working Class Movement,” and the presence of armed workers’ militias, provoked the concern of industrialists and public officials. With food shortages, runaway inflation, unemployment, public demonstrations, script monies for some factory payrolls, wildcat strikes and armed workers calling themselves “Red,” it was a volatile situation.

The economic and social crisis in Mexico City, crucial to the worker -upper-class confrontation, continued to deepen. Hundreds of small shops and businesses closed while larger concerns reduced their production and work forces. Thousands of workers were reduced to poverty and charity. Beggars were omnipresent. Counterfeiting, script money, and a loosely managed flow of paper currency contributed to an inflation which further exacerbated the situation. Middlemen and Spanish merchandizers came under fire from organized labor for profits which reached 150 percent on beef which was in short supply. The government responded to mounting criticism with fines for overcharging in order to bring violators in line with newly imposed profit guidelines. In the outlying states some governors, confronted with widespread hunger and rising lower-class unrest, resorted to the distribution of basic foodstuffs and clothing, and to price controls.34

The urban workers, haunted by the economic crisis, flocked to the Casa. During the first six months of 1915, dozens of new syndicates formed throughout the nation and thousands of new members swelled the Casa’s ranks.35 Most of the newcomers had little ideological understanding. They were only vaguely aware of the concepts of anarchosyndicalism, anti-governmentalism, and the “class-struggle.” Marxism was unknown except to a small group of German glassworkers in Toluca and Mexico City. Some of the new syndicates were susceptible to appeals for cooperation with the “revolutionary” government made by less radical labor leaders including Morones.

The Casa was now headquartered in a formerly prestigious Mexico City salon, the House of Tiles. Urban workers flocked there for an endless agenda of protest meetings and revolutionary speeches. The House of Tiles was an ample facility, well suited to their needs, and on October 13, 1915, the Ferrés-Moncaleano dream of a full-fledged Escuela Racionalista was inaugurated with a burst of enthusiasm. For the anarchist leadership of the Casa, the Escuela Racionalista represented workers’ control of the learning process and the dissemination of “libertarian socialist” ideals.36

By late 1915 the final outcome of the armed conflict stage of the Revolution was obvious; the Constitutionalists had won. Now the working class moved toward confrontation with the government. Most of the old guard of Lucha members had survived the fighting with the forces of Villa and Zapata, had returned to Mexico City, and were reunited at Casa headquarters in an effort to push urban labor demands. They published an official Casa newspaper, Ariete, featuring articles which called for the restructuring of the Mexican society and economy around the newly formed Casa syndicates. The Casa leadership defined the Mexican Revolution in urban working-class terms and espoused doctrines completely unacceptable to the more conservative elements within the Carranza government.37 The paper also carried revolutionary essays written by famous European anarchists including Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and a plethora of Spaniards. The hostility between government and organized labor deepened.

The heavy recruitment of workers into the Casa continued during the second half of 1915 and was accompanied by a growing sense of worker unrest caused by the hated and devalued script monies, inflation, unemployment and food shortages. The first wave of strikes provoked by this crisis occurred in the early summer when school teachers and carriage drivers affiliated with the Casa left their jobs. On July 30 the Bread Bakers’ Syndicate forced the bakery store operators to increase bakers’ wages, guarantee the ingredients and quality of their products to the consumers, and to lower prices, which, the strikers and working-class press claimed, had been raised 900 percent in a few months. The next flare-up happened in October when workers shut down the British-owned Compañía Mexicana de Petróleo “El Aguila” S. A., and turned to the Casa for support and then joined it. In October and November the Textile Workers’ Syndicate struck and received a 100 percent increase in wages, the eight-hour day and six-day work week. The Mexican labor movement had never before acted with such audacity in industrial disputes or experienced so much success. Almost two dozen syndicates joined the Casa in November and December alone.38

In December 1915 the strikes became even more serious. The Casa Carpenters’ Syndicate struck, paralyzed construction, and gained a 150 percent wage increase. The buttonmakers and barbers followed suit and achieved immediate gains.39 El Oro mine in the state of Mexico closed down and strikebreakers and violence were used in an attempt to reopen it. Sabotage and physical assaults were registered by both sides.40

The anarcho-syndicalist leaders of the Casa demanded workers’ control of production, wages and prices. They challenged the role of both capitalism and government and yet they were confident in their course of action. No era in the history of Mexican labor has witnessed the militancy and belligerence that the Casa demonstrated in the last six months of 1915 and the first half of 1916. The turbulence moved toward the general strikes of 1916. The dubious loyalty of even the most sympathetic government officials waned.

On January 13, 1916, faced with increasing syndicate unrest, Carranza ordered the Red Battalions dissolved and disarmed. When the discharged worker-soldiers returned to their homes, they were angered by the script currency issued by employers, runaway inflation and widespread unemployment. During the winter of 1916 the final stage of the urban worker confrontation with the government and businessmen began when impoverished veterans of the Red Battalions held violent street demonstrations critical of the government. They demanded jobs and government compensation for their service to the Revolution. Smaller demonstrations took place in the provincial cities. In reaction, the government carried out almost simultaneous raids on Casa headquarters throughout the country. General Pablo González ordered his troops to raid the Mexico City Casa headquarters at the House of Tiles and to arrest those found on the premises. A number of Casa leaders, jailed at military headquarters in Mexico City, remained in custody for nearly four months.

The urban labor leadership, in response, planned a general strike to paralyze commerce and public services in the Mexico City area. It was to be carried out by the Federation of Federal District Syndicates, an amalgam of Casa unions located in the Federal District of Mexico. Controlled by the Casa directorate, it totaled some 90,000 members. In Veracruz and Tampico angry workers staged demonstrations and wildcat strikes forcing state governors to declare a state of siege in order to regain control.41

The climax in the struggle between the Constitutionalist government and urban working class began when the first general strike of 1916 paralyzed Mexico City in the early morning of May 22. Called by the Federation of Federal District Syndicates, it protested the seizure of the Casa’s House of Tiles headquarters, the arrests, and pressed economic demands. Public utilities and services were shut down in Mexico City and stores remained closed. Thousands of workers marched on the Alameda plaza in the heart of Mexico City. The government, caught by surprise, agreed to meet with the Casa leaders. General Benjamín Hill, Commander of the Federal District, met with the workers delegation and received a list of demands. Hill then pleased the workers by issuing an ultimatum, published by the press, which forced the businessmen and industrialists to negotiate. Electrical power and other vital transportation services were soon restored by a mutual accord reached by government and labor.

On May 23 the crisis appeared to be resolved through concessions forced upon employers by the government. These included the mandatory replacement of company script monies with government currency for the payment of wages, the maintenance of the current level of employment for at least three months in order to protect the strikers from retaliatory dismissals, full compensation for working time lost during the strike, and military approval prior to a company closing down its operations. The government agreed to examine the question of veterans’ unemployment and the complaints regarding the arrest of urban labor leaders and the seizure of the House of Tiles, but acknowledged no wrongdoing. The workers, unaware that none of the stipulations in the agreements would be adhered to, agreed to return to work.42

At first, the general strike of May 1916 seemed a notable success for urban labor, but rather than heralding the final demise of government and capitalism as the anarchists had predicted during the previous fifty years, the Constitutionalist regime demonstrated considerable acumen in quickly settling the affair. The anarcho-syndicalist leaders of the Casa were jubilant at the outcome. To them it confirmed the existence of a powerful and independent labor movement. However, other newer labor leaders such as Morones, the future leader of the CROM, saw in the outcome the advantages of working with the government and enjoying its patronage. The government was building a bridge of confidence between itself and a rising generation of pragmatic, cooperative, career-oriented, and bureaucratic labor leaders. Also, the government had seen the threat posed by the continued growth of an independent and revolutionary urban working-class movement. It responded decisively and crushed the Casa during the second general strike of 1916.

In less than three months following the May general strike the paper currency pesos guaranteed the workers by General Hill had been devalued by the banking houses of Mexico City to two gold centavos in purchasing power. The industrialists and businessmen still issued script money to the workers and petitions to the government, and strike threats against employers did nothing to rectify the situation. Once again the Federal District syndicates, through a series of surreptitious leadership meetings, secretly prepared and then declared a general strike for the Mexico City area. The walkout began on the morning of July 31. However the government, through its police intelligence activities and sympathizers within the movement, was apprised of the planned shutdown. It responded energetically on the morning of the first day of the strike. Troops, brought into the city under the cover of darkness, raided and closed the Casa’s headquarters arresting working-class leaders. Subsequently the regional offices and armories of the Casa in the provinces were seized. On August 2 martial law was declared in Mexico City and the strike was broken. The Casa was declared subversive and outlawed.43

The urban workers and their anarcho-syndicalist leaders were defeated. Later, many former Casa members joined the CROM, the government-supported forerunner of the present-day Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos. In 1921 others created the rival anarcho-syndicalist Confederación General de Trabajadores. During the 1920s their ideas were predominant in that organization, but its total membership never exceeded 80,000.

Urban labor participation in the Mexican revolutionary process between 1910 and 1917 was understandable in its development. The coalition of upper-class, urban worker, and peasant elements that overthrew the ancien régime soon came apart. The urban classes first united in order to defeat the northern-oriented Villistas and the Morelos peasant-based Zapatistas. That task completed, they turned against each other and asserted their own violently antagonistic economic, political and cultural interests. The anarcho-syndicalist workers of the Casa lost and Mexico remained capitalist. The turning point came during the general strike of July 31 to August 2, 1916. The idealistic and democratic nature of anarchist methods and organization weakened an already vulnerable Mexican urban workers’ movement in its confrontation with a new political elite and resurgent upper class.


A fourth phase, of socioeconomic and political reorganization, which began after August 2, 1916, and ended with the creation of the government-supported Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM) is outside the purview of this analysis. Recent studies which have contributed to a better understanding of the workingclass role in the revolutionary process are Ramón Eduardo Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries: Mexico, 1911-1923 (Baltimore, 1976); Jacinto Huitrón, Orígenes é historia del movimiento obrero en México (México, 1975); Barry Carr, El movimiento obrero y la política en México, 1910-1929, 2 vols. (México, 1976); and R. Th. J. Buve, “Protesta de obreros y campesinos durante el Porfiriato: Unas consideraciones sobre su desarrollo e interrelaciones en el este de México central,” Boletín de Estudios Latinoamericanos, 13 (1972), 1-25. For a useful and comprehensive assessment of working-class conditions in the late Porfiriato see Rodney Anderson, Outcasts in Their Own Land: Mexican Industrial Workers, 1906-1911 (DeKalb, Ill., 1976). The most comprehensive of the traditional histories of the Mexican working class during the Revolution is Luis Araiza, Historia del movimiento obrero mexicano, 5 vols. (México, 1966).


For an extended analysis see John M. Hart, Los anarquistas mexicanos, 1860-1900 (México, 1974). Anderson, in Mexican Industrial Workers, p. 301, describes the “ineptness” of the government’s labor policy. For an analysis of the increasingly sophisticated government manipulation of the labor movement over a thirty-five-year period see David Walker, “The Mexican Industrial Revolution and its Problems: Porfirian Labor Policy and Economic Dependency, 1876-1910” (M.A. Thesis, University of Houston, 1976).


For the essential aspects of the Flores Magón movement and the revolutionary strikes at Cananea and Rio Blanco see Juan Gómez Quiñones, Sembradores: Ricardo Flores Magón y el Partido Liberal Mexicano (Los Angeles, 1973), pp. 23-25; James D. Cockcroft, Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1913 (Austin, 1970), pp. 117-137; Armando Bartra, “Ricardo Flores Magón en el cincuentenario de su muerte,” Supplemento de Siempre, No. 1015, December 6, 1972; Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 71-72; Isidro Fabela, Documentos históricos de la Revolución Mexicana: X, Actividades políticas y revolucionarias de los hermanos Flores Magón (México, 1966), 36-40, 78, 89-90, 99; and XI, Precursores de la Revolución Mexicana, 1906-1910, 53; Manuel González Ramírez, Fuentes para la historia de la Revolución Mexicana, III, La huelga de Cananea (México, 1956); Buve, “Protesta de obreros,” 1-15; and Moisés González Navarro, Las huelgas textiles en el Porfiriato (Puebla, 1971) and “La Huelga de Rio Blanco,” Historia Mexicana, 6 (abr.-jun., 1957), 510-533. For an interpretation which questions the significance of the PLM and radical tendencies in the prerevolutionary labor movement see Anderson, Mexican Industrial Workers, pp. 312-328.


Amadeo Ferrés, “Hacia el porvenir,” El Tipógrafo Mexicano (México), July 1, 1912; Ferrés, “¡Compañeros, Saludemos!” El Tipógrafo Mexicano, November 10, 1911; and Ferrés, “El despertar del obrero mexicano,” El Tipógrafo Mexicano, December 27, 1911.


Ferrés, “Hacia el porvenir,” El Tipógrafo Mexicano, July 1, 1912; Anastasio D. Marín, “Nuestro llamamiento en favor de la lucha reinvindicadora ha merecido la atención de los tipógrafos,” El Tipógrafo Mexicano, December 27, 1911; and Agustín Segura, “La influencia de Amadeo Ferrés,” El Tipógrafo Mexicano, December 27, 1911. These developments took place in the context of growing nationwide labor unrest; see Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 66-67; and Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 28-30.

It is noteworthy that the typographic and stone workers (canteros), the most most active and radical artisan groups at the time, were from industries that were feeling the impact of technological innovation: the advent of the linotype machine and modern cement processing. During the 1870s the most militant artisan groups, the tailors (sastres) and hat makers (sombrereros), were suffering the disastrous economic consequences of an emergent textile industry.


José Ortiz Petricioli, Cincuentenario de la Casa del Obrero, 1912-1962 (México, 1962), p. 7.


Fernando Córdova Pérez, “El movimiento anarquista en México, 1911-1921” (Licenciado Thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1971), pp. 36-39. Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 27-28, cites Rosendo Salazar and José G. Escobedo, Las pugnas de la gleba, 2 vols. (México, 1923), p. 9, in the incorrect claim that the tipógrafos entered the Casa in 1912.


“Manifiesto anarquista del Grupo Luz,” Luz (México), July 15, 1912. Anderson, in his otherwise thorough and intelligent Mexican Industrial Workers, p. 313, while doubting the role of ideology in the formation of the Mexican labor movement omits Ferrés and the Obreros Intelectuales from the text, describes Jacinto Huitrón (Mexican) as a “Colombian anarchist,” and Moncaleano as a “socialist from Venezuela.” Earlier he inexplicably labels the nineteenth-century industrial worker experience as “mutualist.”


Moncaleano eventually settled in Los Angeles, California, where he opened a Casa del Obrero Internacional.


Huitrón, Orígenes e historia, pp. 210-212; and Córdova Pérez, “Movimiento anarquista,” pp. 42-43.


“Luz,” Luz (Monterrey), April 1, 1913; “Los pajarillos de la jaula de oro,” Luz, May 18, 1913.


“La Gran Liga Obrera y la sesión tormenta de la Confederación,” El Obrero Liberal (Mexico), February 1, 1913. The government frequently supported management during strikes in 1912. The Maderista newspaper Nueva Era (México) described the Casa as a “nest of anarchists.” For more on the government’s role see Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 30, 37.


“Un boicott, un jurado y una manifestación,” Lucha (México), May 1, 1913.


Ibid.; and Lorenzo Camacho Escamilla, “Ingenioso primer jurado sindical,” Gaceta Obrera (México), 6, (June 1962), p. 26.


Confederación Internacional del Trabajo,” Lucha, February 5, 1913; and Córdova Pérez, “Movimiento anarquista,” pp. 81-82.


Hilario Carrillo, “¡Aparteos vampiros!,” Lucha, May 1, 1913.


For a careful assessment of Huerta’s policies see Michael C. Meyer, Huerta: A Political Portrait (Lincoln, 1972).


Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 63; Camacho Escamilla, “Gotero histórico: La tragedia de Chicago y primeras conmemoraciones en México,” Gaceta Obrera, 5, (May 1962), p. 29; and Meyer, Huerta, p. 174.


Huitrón, Orígenes e historia, pp. 236-237; Araíza, Movimiento obrero, III, 43-44; and Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 64-70. A number of sources cite this as the “first” May Day celebration in Mexican history. Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 111, claims the first such demonstration occurred in 1912. In fact, workers’ May Day observances began in the nineteenth century. The march of 1913, however, was much larger and more important than its predecessors.


José Santos Chocano, Por la raza y por la humanidad (Puebla, 1914), pamphlet; and Federico Gamboa, “México aplica el artículo 33 al poeta J. Santos Chocano,” Excélsior (México), July 7, 1940; both cited in Córdova Pérez, “El movimiento anarquista,” p. 88.


“Actitud del Sindicato de Tipógrafos,” El Sindicalista (México), October 10, 1913. During its first fifteen months, the Huerta regime, despite its reputation for repression, was more tolerant of the Casa than the Madero government.


Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, “Educación racional, lucha reinvindicadora,” El Sindicalista, September 30, 1913; Epigenio H. Ocampo, “Valor y serenidad,” El Sindicalista, September 30, 1913; and Santiago R. de la Vega, “La paradoja triste,” El Sindicalista, November 20, 1913.


“Los últimos mítines que se han celebrado en la Casa del Obrero Mundial,” Emancipación Obrera (México), May 15, 1914; and Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 76-77.


“Los tartufos de la clase trabajadora,” Tinta Roja (México), October 24, 1914; and Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 80.


Araiza, Movimiento obrero, III, 49; Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 83-85; “Calendario laico: Efemérides: Septiembre,” Luz, September 25, 1918; and Córdoba Pérez, “Movimiento anarquista,” 131-132.


“Movimiento obrero,” Ideas (Monterrey), November 22, 1914; “Calendario laico: Efemérides: Septiembre,” Luz, September 25, 1918; “Sindicato de Carpinteros,” Nueva Patria (México), October 13, 1914; “Quedará constituido el sindicato de costureras,” Nueva Patria, October 13, 1914; and Araíza, Movimiento obrero, III, 65-66.


Córdova Pérez, “Movimiento anarquista,” 133-134; and interviews: Salazar (Tlalnepantla), August 10, 1969, and Celestino Gasca (Mexico City) August 19, 1969.


Interviews: Salazar (Tlalnepantla), August 10, 1969, and Gasca (Mexico City), August 19, 1969. For a useful discussion of urban labor’s economic plight, radicalism and decision to join the Constitutionalists, see Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 41–42 and 48-53.


Huitrón, Orígenes e historia, p. 267; Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 93; Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, p. 50; Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 84-85, 91; and interviews: Salazar (Tlalnepantla), August 10, 1969, and Gasca (Mexico City), August 19, 1969.


Huitrón, “Organización,” La Vanguardia (Orizaba), June 1, 1915; Carlos M. Rincón, “La Casa del Obrero Mundial de México es el alma de la revolución constitucionalista: El alma mundial de la revolución,” Pluma Roja (Los Angeles), August 30, 1915; and interviews: Salazar (Tlalnepantla), August 10, 1969, and Gasca (Mexico City), August 19, 1969.


For other analyses see Buve, “Protesta de obreros,” pp. 1-25; Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, p. 50; and Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 91.


José Colado, “El proletariado nacional unificado a Carranza,” La Vanguardia, June 5, 1915; and Araíza, Movimiento obrero, III, 78-91. A useful study of the red battalions is Jean Meyer, “Los obreros en la Revolución Mexicana: Los Batallones Rojos,” Historia Mexicana (jul.-set., 1971) 1-37.


Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 116-119; Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 90; and interviews: Salazar (Tlalnepantla), August 10, 1969, and Gasca (Mexico City), August 19, 1969.


“Acaparadores y traficantes,” La Vanguardia, June 5, 1915; “El hambre no llegará a Yucatán,” La Vanguardia, May 25, 1915; El hambre provoca motines en Parral y en Torreón,” La Vanguardia, May 24, 1915; Critica situación de la ex-capital,” La Vanguardia, June 3, 1915; “La carestía de los viveros” La Vanguardia, June 3, 1915; “Por que la carne cuesta cara,” La Vanguardia, June 2, 1915; “Nuestros mejores auxiliares,” Ariete (México), November 7, 1915; Adalberto Concha, “Maquinaciones del alto comercio de México para aumentar el costo de la vida del pueblo,” Acción Mundial (México), February 5, 1916; and Concha, “Cargos concretos al alto comercio sobre el costo de la vida,” Acción Mundial, February 12, 1916.


Huitrón, “La Casa del Obrero y la revolución social,” Regeneración (México), August 1, 1943; and Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 53–54.


“Ecos de 13 de octubre,” Ariete, October 24, 1915; “¡Salud!” Ariete, October 14, 1915; Araíza, Movimiento obrero, III, 106-107; and Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 73.


“Excitativa a los obreros y empleados de la Compañía de Tranvías de Mexico,” Ariete, October 31, 1915; “Justicia social,” Ariete, October 24, 1915; “Destruyamos los viejos moldes,” Ariete, December 12, 1915; and Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 52-53.


“Nuevos sindicatos,” Ariete, October 24, 1915; and “Movimiento obrero local: Las obreras se sindican,” Ariete, November 21, 1915.


“Movimiento obrero local: Huelga de panaderos,” Ariete, November 7, 1915; “Movimiento obrero local: Sindicato de carpinteros y similares,” Ariete, December 12, 1915; “Un triunfo más del sindicalismo,” Ariete, October 31, 1915; and “Movimiento obrero local: Sindicato de zapateros,” Ariete, November 21, 1915.


Interview, Antonio Matta Reyes, Tacubaya, Mexico City, July 8, 1975. Antonio Matta Reyes is the son of Elias Matta Reyes, a Lebanese immigrant, who led tire El Oro strikers.


Huitrón, La Casa del Obrero y la revolución social,” Regeneración, August 12, 1943; Araíza, Movimiento obrero, p. 85; Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 165-166; and Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 95-98.


“La huelga general de obreros del Distrito Federal,” Acción Mundial, May 22, 1916; “Los obreros y la Revolución: La huelga actual,” Acción Mundial, May 22, 1916; “La huelga, su orígen, su desarrollo, sus consecuencias,” Acción Mundial, May 22, 1916; Dr. Atl, “Los obreros y la Revolución: La huelga actual,” Acción Mundial, May 22, 1916; Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 184-187; Huitrón, “La Casa del Obrero y la revolución social,” Regeneración, August 12, 1943; Huitrón, Orígenes e historia, pp. 294–295; Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 54-55; and Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 99.


Araiza, Movimiento obrero, III, 138–178; Salazar, La Casa del Obrero Mundial (México, 1962), pp. 217-222; Salazar and Escobedo, Las pugnas, I, 181–184; Huitrón, Orígenes e historia, p. 295; Ruiz, Labor and the Ambivalent Revolutionaries, pp. 54-55; Carr, Movimiento obrero, I, 101-102; and interview: Salazar (Tlalnepantla), August 10, 1969.

Author notes


The author, Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston, wishes to express his gratitude to the University of Houston Faculty Research Committee for a grant which aided the completion of this study.