In May 1927, the arrival of the Argentine autumn signaled the start of the sugar harvest in the northern province of Tucumán. As always, that event triggered a mass migratory movement from throughout the Northwest. From Catamarca, Santiago del Estero, La Rioja, and southern Salta trekked a ragged procession. A small army of humble mestizo families seeking employment in the zafra (sugar harvest) arrived on foot; others in oxen-drawn carts bearing all their possessions; a few by rail. Throughout the sugar belt, a crescentshaped swath stretching from Tucumán’s south-central to northeast corners, the air grew thick with the acrid scent of cane juice boiling in the pressurized vats of nearby mills. On country roads grown muddy and rutted, a slow parade of ancient mule-drawn carts groaned under the weight of tightly lashed bundles of ripened cane. In scores of country towns, the rhythm of life was quickening. In Aguilares, Socompa, Bella Vista, and Monteros general stores bustled with farmers who carefully scrutinized tools, animal feed, food, and clothing. The zafra had awakened the province from its months of hibernation.1

On May 18, an outbreak of agrarian unrest interrupted this seasonal economic ritual. The province’s cañeros (cane farmers) had launched a strike of the sugar factories. A cultivators’ manifesto explained that their protest sprang from the industrialists’ refusal to pay adequate prices. Moreover, the mills had slashed cane purchases and had foreclosed on loans, forcing the farmers to give up their homes and land. Tracing cañeros’ troubles and a major economic crisis to factory owners’ greed, the tract called on all Tucumanos to support the work stoppage.

The movement swept across the province, bringing local and regional economies to the verge of collapse. Responding to farmers’ appeals for agrarian reform and social justice, rural and urban workers, farm women, and town merchants offered support. Capitalizing on this rising tide of sympathy, the leadership cadre of the Federación Agraria Argentina mobilized the largest mass demonstrations in regional history. After factory owners locked out nonstriking workers and farmers, conflict intensified. As both sides resorted to violence, casualties mounted. Saboteurs destroyed transport links, set fire to factories, and flooded plantations. Tucumán seemed headed for civil war.

This essay seeks to reconstruct and analyze this important, but previously unexplored, social movement. First, the local and international economic context will be studied to determine their impact on the outbreak of agrarian unrest. Second, the provincial class structure and land tenure patterns will be analyzed to trace the springs of cañero militancy and cohesion. In particular, discussion will focus on why Tucumán’s cane growers (in contrast to counterparts in the pampa region) were able to exert pressure on local and national Radical party officials to secure favorable action. In this context, attention will be devoted to the policies of President Marcelo T. de Alvear (1922-28). His arbitral award of 1927-28 was a bold effort to project the state’s authority to a local dispute in order to permanently regulate the level of rural class conflict. Finally, the agrarian movement’s broader significance will be assessed. Major impacts included a redistribution of income from factory owners to farmers and transformation of the province’s economic arrangements.

The Roots of Sugar Depression, 1913-26

From the Argentine sugar industry’s modernization in the late 1870s, Tucumán became the national center of production.2 Between 1876 and 1914, the cash crop brought prosperity to the Northwest, an impoverished region which included the provinces of Catamarca, Santiago del Estero, Jujuy, and Salta, as well as Tucumán. During the nineteenth century, Tucumán's lush and diversified agriculture had prompted travelers to dub it “the Garden of the Republic.” Sugar's rapid development transformed the smallest province to a classic subtropical monoculture. By 1914, over 70 percent of the industrial workforce was employed in the “food processing” sector (of which sugar was the principal constituent). That activity consumed 80 percent of the horsepower and 78 percent of the capital investment, and accounted for 89 percent of all industrial production. Within agriculture, statistics proclaiming the product’s explosive growth were equally compelling. Between 1872 and 1914, sugarcane acreage grew from 6.8 to 69.2 percent of all tilled land.3 Moreover, the industry was an artificial one, nurtured behind a protective tariff wall and unable to survive without it. Located more than 1,000 kilometers from ocean ports and two degrees latitude south of the optimal cultivation zone, Argentine sugar could not compete in international markets. Accordingly, the Northwest became a stronghold of economic nationalism.4

Beginning in 1913, the domestic impact of upheavals in the world economy revealed the industry’s structural weaknesses with tragic effect. The outbreak of war in the Balkans and in Western Europe one year later triggered a collapse of the country’s huge foreign trade sector. Commodity shortages, inflation, and a wave of strikes in the cities of the pampas followed.5 The nation’s British-owned railways responded with major rate hikes. Between 1912 and 1922, freight charges soared between 62 and 107 percent.6 International maritime rates remained relatively static, affording imports a growing advantage. In 1921, for example, Tucumán ingenios (sugarmills) paid 90.90 paper pesos to ship a ton of the product to the Andean province of San Juan. Importers paid 59.29 pesos to move an equal quantity from Buenos Aires to the same destination.7 Prices of fuel and most of the raw materials employed in sugar manufacturing rose in response to spiraling freight costs and the valorization of imported substitutes. That of quebracho, a native hardwood which was the ingenios’ favorite boiler fuel, was typical. A cheap substitute for imported Welsh coal, between 1912 and 1922 the fuel rose 56 percent in value. While the Northwest’s premier industry served domestic markets, the region’s dependence on the Littoral and foreign manufacturers for raw materials and capital goods made it nearly as vulnerable to world economic crises as the pampean provinces.8

Escalating labor costs and taxes further undercut the industry’s struggle to regain profitability. In 1919, in a move to bring workers' wages to parity with the rising cost of living, most Tucumán ingenios boosted their minimum wage 75 percent, and switched from two 12-hour to three 8-hour shifts. During the first half of the ’20s, Radical provincial governors enacted labor reforms which the factories found even more burdensome. Governor Octaviano Vera (1922-24) secured passage of a 1923 act which boosted industrial minimum wages by another 24 percent. Moreover, the law brought harvester piecework rates under Vera’s regulatory authority for the first time. Two years later, Governor Miguel Gampero (1924-28) pushed through a requirement that ingenios provide employees with free medical care and milk for their young children.9

In 1923, a factory spokesman lamented that while retail sugar prices had risen only 7.7 percent since 1913, the economic impact of the Radical reforms caused labor costs to more than double. Two years later, another spokesman noted that high labor costs put the Tucumán factories “at disadvantage compared to other countries; especially those which rely on the labor of men of color . . . [and] vis-à-vis other sugar-producing provinces of Argentina.’’ Shortly thereafter, a congressional white paper reported dolefully that wages and fringe benefits consumed over 70 percent of the cost of production.10

Mounting local taxes were another obstacle to cost containment. Seeking to reverse a treasury shortage, Governor Juan B. Bascary (Tucumán’s first Radical governor, 1917-20) boosted excises on cane and manufactured sugar and ordered assessors to tax ingenio assets at a graduated rather than fixed rate. Continuing fiscal malaise, combined with Vera’s strong reform program, prompted that leader to levy new duties on milled cane, processed sugar, and alcohol. In a crucial respect, however, Bascary, Vera, and eventually Campero as well did not deviate from “oligarchic” fiscal practice. Between 1914 and 1916, for instance, 42 percent of Governor Ernesto Padilla’s revenue came from taxes on cane, sugar, and alcohol. A scion of two mill-owning clans which had been united by ties of marriage and business, Padilla was a classic example of the factory elite. That group, a hybrid industrial-agrarian bourgeoisie, had dominated provincial politics almost continuously between the attainment of political peace in the 1860s and the election of Bascary in 1917. Throughout their decades of political hegemony, the sugar barons used a variety of sugar taxes to shift the revenue burden from Tucumanos to pampean urban consumers. While the tariff remained high, it was relatively easy for the firms to pass the tax along to consumers in the form of higher prices. But after 1914 that strategy backfired. High prices stimulated the emergence of a powerful pampean consumers’ movement which opposed granting further preferences and battled existing ones.11

While Argentine production costs soared, prices tumbled on local and international markets. The outbreak of World War I created a boom for nonbelligerent producers. Resulting shortages stimulated major cane producers Cuba and the Dutch East Indies to boost acreage and milling capacity.12 But prosperity proved short-lived. By 1922, Europe’s beet producers resumed prewar production levels, glutting already well-supplied world markets. Between 1920 and 1925, the London or world price sagged by four-fifths (see Figure 1).

For different reasons a parallel drama was unfolding in Argentina. Confronted with major crop failures in 1914 and 1915, cane growers were forced to uproot existing cane plants and replace them with a Javanese variety possessing greater resistance to disease and frosts. Between 1920 and 1925, moreover, factories and independent farmers boosted acreage by nearly one-fourth. The result exceeded expectations; “caña java” survived plagues of plant disease and frost and swelled output by 39 percent. By 1925, this green revolution had created mammoth surpluses, cutting prices in half.13

Soaring imports delivered the coup de grâce to Tucumán’s sagging economy. Between 1920 and 1925, shipments rose 14-fold to 71,315 metric tons (see Figure 2). In August 1925, in an effort to gain tariff relief. Governor Campero urged President Alvear to cut federal sugar taxes, boost tariffs, and use his regulatory authority to lower rail freight rates. In a letter to the national Treasury Ministry, a factory delegation termed the crisis

an emergency which will have serious impact upon all of the vital forces that constitute the factors of labor and production in this essentially industrial province. . .. We believe that this year of intense activity and bounteous production will bequeath an . . . economic disaster without precedent in our history.14

Alvear respectfully declined the provincianos’ pleas. Early in his administration, in a move to revive the sagging beef industry through spurring growth of domestic markets, the Radical leader had sought an across-the-board tariff increase.15 But after beef recovered in 1923, the porteño swung to a strong defense of Argentina’s traditional free trade policies. Political considerations had much to do with the president’s antiprotectionist stance. Challenging the wisdom of Hipólito Yrigoyen’s presidential and party leadership, Alvear ordered several major policy changes in 1924. Instructing the treasury to curtail emissions of currency, Alvear also trimmed patronage hiring, and attempted to eradicate Yrigoyen’s often feckless and corrupt appointees. Further, the president ended Yrigoyen’s practice of using the power of federal intervention to ensure party control of provincial governments. Finally, in the greatest apostasy of all, he sought an alliance with the Socialist party. The Socialists were strong opponents of tariff protectionism, as well as a major competitor for the Radicals’ urban pampean constituency.16 Accordingly, in 1927 Alvear proposed sweeping tariff cuts. After sailing through the Littoral-dominated Chamber of Deputies, the bill was torpedoed by a determined Interior coalition in the Senate.17

Alvear’s fiscal orthodoxy and free trade commercial policy helped foreign capital, pampean urban consumers, landlords, and importers. By 1924, inflation had been stopped: the peso stood at par with the dollar. But low tariffs and a valorized peso made life difficult for three major Interior industries: the Northwest’s sugar, the wine industry of Mendoza and San Juan, and Misiones’ yerba mate. Each confronted heightened import competition as the peso’s rise eroded the effect of duties. By 1925, Argentina’s sugar impost became the lowest among major sugar producers.18

Hard Times in the Canefields

The collapse of Argentine sugar confronted Tucumán’s cane growers with bankruptcy; many also lost their holdings. In 1926, most cultivators owned their plantings and well over 90 percent were native-born Argentines.19 Both circumstances differentiated cañeros from pampean farmers. In the grain belt provinces of Santa Fe and Entre Ríos and in agricultural areas of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and the territory of La Pampa, cultivators tended to be foreign-born tenants of the handful of estanciero families which monopolized ownership of the best rural land.20 In 1914, holders of small and medium-sized plots composed 96.3 percent of all Tucumán farmers and held 17.7 percent of rural land. Moreover, 84.9 percent of agricultural holdings were owner-managed.21 On each of these dimensions of land ownership, Tucumán led all Argentine provinces.

Cañeros’ enfranchisement and ownership of productive land conferred economic importance and social power which had made possible their emergence as a pressure group within the Unión Cívica Radical (Radical party or UCR). The UCR was a predominantly urban grouping whose strength was concentrated in the pampa region, but in Tucumán its popularity rested on a coalition of farmers, rural and urban workers, and small businessmen, together with a dissident minority of the factoryowning elite.22 As noted above, during the 1920s two Radical governors, Octaviano Vera and Miguel Campero, had championed reforms aimed at farmers and rural workers. In 1926, cañeros numbered 5,033 of a provincial population which had stood at 332,933 12 years earlier. Since the electorate in both federal and provincial elections had never exceeded 50,000 before 1927 and gubernatorial elections were usually hotly contested, the cañero vote could provide the margin of victory. But the cane farmers also commanded special influence among the rural folk who in 1914 comprised 54.4 percent of Tucumán’s population. Of the 45.6 percent who lived in urban areas, about two-thirds dwelled in the provineial capital and the remainder in the towns of the sugar belt.23

Sugar growers’ influence in the Radical party prompted frequent UCR efforts to enact agrarian reform legislation on the provincial level. Between 1918 and 1925, Radical legislators introduced bills to provide crop insurance and progressively tax the lands of wealthy farmers and ingenios. A third bill called for expropriation and state operation of mills refusing to purchase cañero cane. But the Radicals’ factionalism combined with the continuing strength of industrialist-dominated opposition parties frustrated most reform. Only the tax bill was enacted, and that law was later struck down by a court challenge.24

Tucumán’s cañeros resembled other Argentine farmers in that they worked small parcels: over four-fifths owned ten or fewer hectares. That amount was too small to afford efficient production or a secure family income25 (see Figure 3). But collectively the growers’ economic significance was strategic. Since 1895, they had harvested at least 38 percent of the crop; by 1926, that figure had grown to 43 percent. Without cañero produce, factory owners would be unable to capture the economies of scale essential to profitable operation of their high-cost industry.26

The harsh setbacks of the 1920s slump lengthened the list of agrarian grievances against the factories. Lacking a government-chartered system of agricultural banks, growers turned to the ingenios for cash. But in return, factory owners often slapped a lien on cañero property. In addition, the industrialists made the anticipo, or cash advance, the predominant form of rural credit. Functioning like a commodity futures contract, that instrument called on the cane grower to make future cane deliveries at a specified price. But the contracting parties’ bargaining strength was too unequal. The factories demanded stiff price concessions in return for the loans. As an Argentine economist observed, “The . . . industrialists . . . have set the price of sugar and thus of cane according to their interests . . . with the cañero having no say whatever."27

The industrialists hoped that by keeping smallholders' produce off the market, they could trim their losses and bring demand closer to supply. But if a grower’s customary buyer declined to take delivery, he or she faced a grim set of alternatives. Javanese cane required processing within 24 hours; and many tilled land too far from another mill to arrive before spoilage. Only two options remained: put the cane to the torch (utilizing the ashes as fertilizer) or sell at distress prices.

The prevailing cane pricing system also had spurred agrarian resentment. Ingenios customarily set the price per kilogram according to a chemical sampling of sucrose content. In appearance that method was both fair and rational; in practice it hurt the poorer farmers whose land was less productive. The poor peasants therefore lobbied for a uniform price based on weight alone.28

Consequently, by early 1927 cañeros were an angry and demoralized group. Their capacity to gain redress was sharply reduced, moreover, by a lack of effective organization and leadership. Since 1918, the Centro Cañero had provided representation as a lobbying organ. But between January and March the Centro dissolved, probably over disputes between wealthier and poorer members concerning how to get better terms from the industrialists.29

Just as it seemed that luck had deserted the cane growers, a new force appeared which would make a major impact on their future. In January, the Federación Agraria Argentina (FAA) dispatched organizers to the Interior to launch a major organizational campaign. Born in a 1912 uprising of cereal farmers in Santa Fe, the FAA's agrarian populist ideology rested on demands for agrarian reform and eulogies of the yeoman as the repository of national values.30 But in the pampa, the FAA’s drive to mobilize tenant farmers against high rents and landlords’ exactions had foundered. The rural union had led rent strikes in 1912, 1917, and 1919, whose outcome revealed crucial weaknesses in the grouping’s constituency, composed principally of Italian and Spanish immigrants. Because of Argentina’s burdensome naturalization laws, among other factors, most failed to become citizens. Radical party leaders therefore deemed the FAA a political cipher. Many of the UCR’s top leadership and officeholders, including Hipólito Yrigoyen, president from 1916 to 1922, were estancieros and members of the cattlemen’s Sociedad Rural. Not surprisingly, the caudillo answered the tenants’ protests with a mailed fist. Yrigoyen used federal troops to crush the 1917 uprising in the territory of La Pampa. Later, Radical governors in Santa Fe and Buenos Aires used police for the same purpose. And in the 1919 episode, the officials employed antianarchist sedition laws to deport over 300 FAA leaders.31 That tactic not only gave Yrigoyen a quick solution to the prairie fire of agrarian protest. The canny Radical tarred the FAA with the brush of “foreign agitators,” fanning the flames of nativism then burning among his native-born constituency.

But not all Argentine farmers were landless and voteless. During the ’20s, the FAA made a determined effort to organize Interior farmers in order to bolster its political influence and establish credentials as national farmer spokesman. That campaign had three targets: Tucumán’s cañeros, the viticulturists of Mendoza-San Juan, and the cotton farmers of the Chaco.

Tucumán’s farmers responded readily to FAA’s gospel of agrarian mobilization. In January 1927, the first locals were chartered in the southern department of Graneros, long a center of cañero militancy.32 By early April, the union was ready to move to the offensive. A strategy would emerge in mass meetings in the adjacent department of Monteros. While on one hand Federation leaders encouraged farmers to strike (and backed that stance with impressive organizational skill), on the other they urged local Radical officials to impose binding arbitration. That strategy was novel in a key respect. Heretofore, growers had sought redress through legislation. Now they aimed to convince sympathetic UCR politicians to force a favorable solution on the ingenios.

FAA national leaders journeyed to the sugar province to provide direction and ideological guidance. The union’s militant agrarianism encouraged cañeros to conceive of themselves as a distinct class whose interests were antagonistic to those of the industrialists. Appearing before the Monteros assembly, national secretary Norberto Romero denounced the factory owners’ brutal exploitation of farmers, and reported that a Tucumán FAA local had telegraphed the national Agriculture Ministry to protest cane prices that were less than half of costs. Applauding the blast, the crowd voted to demand a price of ten centavos per kilogram, and authorized a strike in case the managements refused.33

“Viva la Huelga!’’: The Cañero Strike of 1927

In early May, the approach of zafra quickened the tempo of agrarian mobilization. After the Famaillá local boosted the cane price demand to 11 centavos, other locals voted to urge reform of virtually every aspect of the commercial relationship with the factories. As the prospect of a work stoppage became increasingly real, El Orden, an important Tucumán daily newspaper, expressed alarm. An editorial warned of an “economic disaster,” and bitterly rebuked what the editor termed Governor Camperos passivity.34

Without fanfare, for several weeks direct negotiations had been underway between the FAA and industrialists. But after reaching an impasse in late April, the talks had collapsed. Representing the factory owners was Alfredo Guzmán. President of the Centro Azucarero Regional (CAR), official organ of the 27 Tucumán sugarmills, Guzmán was also owner of Ingenio Concepción. A talented executive and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 1917, Guzmán was one of the industry’s most respected leaders. As CAR spokesman, he emphasized that existing cane sales contracts were legally binding agreements and therefore not an issue of negotiation. Discussions had ended after Guzmán charged that the FAA did not legitimately represent cañeros. Rather, the sugar baron maintained that CAR had always served as advocate for both “partners in the mother industry,” and would continue to do so in the future.35

Nevertheless, with the strike movement underway and the prospect of mounting losses as ripened cane began to ferment, factory owners grew more receptive to compromise. On May 17, Guzmán proposed that both sides submit grievances to a mixed arbitral commission. At the same time, the industrialist reaffirmed that the issue of prenegotiated cane prices was not on the table. That stance left little room for discussion. Undaunted, FAA leaders seized CAR’s initiative and suggested that Governor Campero offer his good offices to convince the industrialists to return to the talks. But Campero declined, averring that while he “looked with favor upon the [farmers’] betterment,” he was constitutionally barred from intervening.36

Camperos shyness here contrasted with a later energetic defense of the national constitution’s guarantee of the “freedom of work.”37 On May 18, the work stoppage got underway and the FAA dispatched pickets to ingenios throughout the province. Campero then ordered provincial police posted to four mills where violence had been predicted. The Rouges family, owner of the important Ingenio Santa Rosa, had complained that militants were already barring workers from unloading cane shipments.38

Chastened by depression, abandoned by government indifference, and confronted with the mighty political and economic power of the factory elite, the farmers needed broad public support. FAA officials therefore labored to construct a multiclass coalition. That alliance would include elements of the urban middle class and proletariat, in addition to most farmers and rural labor. On May 20, the rural union captured an important ally when the Centro de Mayoristas (Wholesale Merchants’ Center) announced its backing.39 Middle-class support was not only important in the moral sense; the center and various small business groups provided cash contributions. Cañeros’ success in garnering shopkeepers’ support sprang from several sources. The most obvious was practical; many of the retailers were dependent on farmer and farmworker patronage. And like the yeomen, most Tucumán merchants were petty capitalists who had struggled to survive amid the cost-price squeeze of the postwar era.

Meanwhile, the FAA issued a manifesto to drum up public support. After vividly depicting the provincial economy’s deep crisis, the tract detailed the farmers’ plight. Many, it said, had been deprived of home and land and forced to wander in search of a meal. Those who still possessed shelter and plantings now suffered from disease and hunger. Blaming that plight on the sugar barons, the FAA argued that cañeros were locked in a struggle for their very survival:

With profound sadness we contemplate the plight of this land and people, who pine for their mother industry. . .. We fight for Tucumán. . .. We fight to save agriculture, commerce, and the industry itself from the clutches of usury, exploitation, and capitalist greed . . . which topples in a great blow all the just goals of working people . . . to build a home of happiness and honor; of dignity and economic independence. . ..40

Factory owners soon answered this salvo with one of their own. On May 20, a CAR proclamation reiterated the charge that the FAA did not validly represent most cañeros. Rather, the Centro had always stood for both farmers and industrialists. Boasting that “owing to the justness of our cause, we are certain that the province’s vital forces will offer us their staunch support,” the spokesman maintained that the mills had never obliged farmers to conclude the price agreements. Once signed, these contracts were inviolable.41 Moreover, the spokesman gainsaid the notion that only a fixed price based on weight ensured equity. According to CAR, such an arrangement would deprive harder working, more productive farmers of well-deserved profits. The process of gauging cane value was one of the most hotly contested in any case, for it involved questions of social policy as well as industrial efficiency and the interests of consumers. Would cañeros survive, as an important segment of Tucumán society? Would factories be allowed to cut costs and continue to exist as viable concerns?

Events, meanwhile, had overtaken this war of words. The strike swept across the sugar belt, winning the loyalty of most independent cane farmers. But two groups refused to obey the strike call: tenant cane farmers and ingenio employees. Both colonos (tenant farmers) and factory laborers were more directly dependent on the ingenio than was the cañero. Permanent factory laborers held year-round jobs much coveted by the masses of temporary harvest hands. Furthermore, factory workers and technicians often secured jobs for their progeny, nurturing loyalty to the firm which field hands did not share. The dilemma was even more difficult for colonos. Tenants were sharecroppers who worked factory-owned land. The factories advised colonos that strikers would face eviction. Most consequently continued to harvest, even when that meant possible assault.42

When picketing cañeros discovered that several mills had continued to operate, violence erupted. Striking farmers attacked factory employees and colonos at Ingenio Nueva Baviera, a unit of the giant Tornquist sugar combine. Farther south at Ingenio Santa Rosa, the Rouges’ determination to proceed with business as usual spurred fierce resistance. About 1,000 mounted campesinos—mostly cane growers—put cane carts to the torch, turned draft animals loose, and sabotaged irrigation canals, flooding the canefields. Factory guards answered with gunfire, wounding several militants.43

Within a short time, the strike had throttled the provincial economy, prompting public pleas for conciliation. On May 23, El Orden warned that the recent violence had demonstrated “the determined purpose which guides cañeros and workers in this movement.. . .” For the good of Tucumán, both sides should submit all disputes to binding arbitration. That process would recognize the “impossibility of establishing a single price [and will] improve the living conditions of poor farmers.”44 For solid economic reasons the capital’s Bolsa de Comercio also was seeking a negotiated pact. Representing the city’s major retailers, the Bolsa was working on a proposal which combined proposals desired by both sides.45 The province’s heavy dependence on sugar made the work stoppage a catalyst for public involvement.

On May 21, with violence and public sympathy for farmers both emerging, the factory owners had decided to countermobilize. In a meeting of the Centro Azucarero, envoys of all major mills voted to halt operations until the government could guarantee the safety of employees and property. Concomitantly, the spread of violence lent new urgency to mediators’ efforts. That afternoon saboteurs put the last southern bridges to the torch, blocking most east-west traffic in that economically important region.46 FAA officials heatedly denied that they had countenanced sabotage and stressed that the union opposed violence of all kinds.

While the union worked hard to allay concern that it instigated strike violence, it intensified its quest for multiclass support. On the 20th, the “Agrarians” had appended to other strike demands a proposal to boost harvesters’ piecework rates to three pesos per ton.47 That step had ominous implications. The fieldhands were a poorly paid, primarily migrant, largely illiterate, and mestizo workforce which had periodically erupted in violent (if poorly organized) strikes. A true rural proletariat which had little to lose from the abolition of the existing social order, cane cutters’ recruitment might transform the agrarian movement from a drive for moderate economic demands to one calling for structural social change.48 In a crisis as severe as the current one, the potential for radicalization was especially great. The possibility of fieldhand recruitment nudged factory owners toward compromise.

As the Northwest veered from depression to violent class conflict, the federal government joined provincial groups’ quest for a negotiated solution. In fact, since early March the FAA had privately been urging presidential intervention. Alvear had declined, declaring that he lacked authority since the dispute was a provincial matter. But where fiat was ruled out, moral suasion could be a promising alternative. The Casa Rosada drafted a model law for the sugar cane industry and submitted it to the governments of Jujuy and Salta as well as Tucumán. Authored by an Agriculture Ministry official, the scheme envisioned a tripartite Cámara Gremial de Productores de Azúcar.49 The Cámara included an equal representation of factory owners and cañero delegates, and was to be chaired by a presumably neutral gubernatorial appointee. That organ would possess legal authority to set cane prices and arbitrate disputes between factories and farmers. On May 27, Tucumán’s senate voted to consider an amended version of the bill. While a lengthy debate delayed enactment for two months, keen press interest fueled hopes for a settlement.50

Public support for the farmers, meanwhile, continued to grow. In late May, large gatherings in the southern agrarian strongholds of Monteros and Concepcion demonstrated the FAA’s success in gathering support of landless labor and rural women. For days the community of Monteros had offered its hospitality to mounted columns of country folk. The passing cavalcade mesmerized a reporter from the provincial capital. Observing mestizo horsemen garbed in brightly trimmed ponchos, bombachas (fluted trousers), and the broad-brimmed, shallow-crowned gaucho sombrero, El Orden’s correspondent mused that it seemed the montoneras of La Rioja caudillo Facundo Quiroga had returned. From balconies overhead, handsome ladies tossed flowers and yelled “Viva!”51

The Monteros gathering impressed observers with the scope and spectacle of agrarian mobilization. An estimated 9,000 sympathizers celebrated the cañero cause. As a train carrying FAA officials drew near, a throng shouted “Viva la FAA!” and “Viva la huelga!” Rural women welcomed the union chiefs with flower garlands; waiting autos festooned with banners trumpeted the farmers’ cause. More than a war council, the scene’s festive air suggested a camp meeting. For now, cañeros and their allies enjoyed the exhilaration of a new-found unity. At the same time, FAA national official René Balestra, who addressed the Concepción gathering, stressed the need for discipline and legality. Balestra urged militants to be “energetic but correct in language and agitational propaganda,” and to refrain from “undignified excesses in our methods of combat.” His conclusion was triumphant yet admonishing: “The writing of a brilliant page in the social history of the Argentine campesino depends entirely upon your alertness and organizational discipline.”52

At May’s end, the coalescing of public support began to yield important results. On the 27th, the Centro Azucarero Regional agreed to reopen talks with the FAA, provided that Governor Campero was present to mediate. Recognition of the union was an important cañero victory. For the first time, CAR acknowledged that the farmers were a separate and coequal (rather than junior) partner in the industry. Further, the industrialists’ concession implied a new willingness to negotiate the central issue of cane prices.53 In Buenos Aires, FAA leaders had also persuaded President Alvear to assume a more active role. While he still declined to arbitrate, Alvear agreed that the strike had important regional impacts and therefore promised to study its origins. Accordingly, he appointed a pair of special agents to travel to Tucumán and prepare a detailed report. 54

The FAA, meanwhile, continued to flex its organizational muscles. Now the union sought a more dramatic show of multiclass support. In May’s final days, the call went out for a June 2 general strike in the provincial capital. That step proved catalytic. Hitherto, both the Communist party and the Yrigoyenist faction of the Radicals had remained officially uncommitted. Now both offered endorsements. The Communist communiqué proposed adding several demands to the agrarian platform: cheap farm credit and a cut in retail sugar prices and in rail freights. The Communists also urged the FAA to yield leadership to soviets of poor peasants and farm and factory workers. The proposals for cheap farm loans and rail freights echoed agrarian sentiments. But the Communists had disdainfully ignored the agrarian classes in the past and possessed little visible support among their presumptive base, the urban workers of San Miguel de Tucumán. Not surprisingly, their initiative drew little response.

But the Radical party had been Tucumán’s largest since capturing the governorship in 1917. The Yrigoyenist wing was the UCR’s dominant faction in 1927. That grouping echoed Hipólito Yrigoyen’s Krausism, in asserting the state’s moral imperative to ensure class harmony through an equitable redistribution of industrial profits. Applauding the farmers’ “desire to make equal the benefits accorded to society’s vital forces,” the party urged factory owners to grant the FAA’s demands “in order that the cane producer obtain a fair and deserved compensation, translating into reality benefits which the law grants the working classes.”55

The events of June 2 exceeded in magnitude, discipline, and organizational unity all previous FAA-led gatherings and brought the agrarian movement to a dramatic climax. An impressive column of mounted country people again approached from the south. Others arrived in union-chartered express trains.56 Once again, El Orden’s reporter was swept into the moment’s spirit. “They come in pursuit of a new ideal,” he wrote. “They demand humanity and bread for their children. Their faces, bronzed by the radiant sun, glisten with hope. Welcome be this factor of progress in the public and private wealth!” In an open letter to the same journal, provincial legislator and cañero spokesman José Ignacio Aráoz thundered triumphantly: “After decades of humiliation and submission to the power of the industrialists, [the cañeros] drape themselves in glory, confronting their old masters. Fleeting moment of glory! . . . May it remain unsullied by useless, cowardly and ignoble outrages. . ..” Aráoz’s parting comment echoed continuing FAA concern that, if violence was not squelched, Buenos Aires or the local government might forcefully suppress the movement.57

The largest such gathering in regional history, the June 2 demonstration-general strike drew 30,000 cañero backers to San Miguel’s Plaza de Independencia. The presence of large numbers of laborers from nearby ingenios and the capital’s service industries testified to growing proletarian support. Resistance societies of butchershop workers and truck drivers sent delegations and tendered formal endorsement. Moreover, FAA organizers’ efforts to enlist the backing of shopkeepers and small businessmen had evidently succeeded: virtually all wholesale and retail merchants closed their doors. The private streetcar utility’s decision to suspend service reinforced the impression of near-universal adherence. Evidence of the provincial government’s tacit support came from two sources: the decision to declare a public school holiday and the government-owned provincial railway’s willingness to comply with FAA requests to charter special trains bringing supporters to the meeting. The only visible sign of middle-class opposition came from the Sociedad Sirio-Libanesa, an Arab shopkeepers’ and street peddlers’ grouping. These merchants explained that the strike was hurting business, adding that the FAA also encouraged the formation of consumer cooperatives which they feared would rob them of clientele.58

The Alvear Arbitration

In this setting of accelerating agrarian mobilization on one hand and of intensifying economic pressure on the other, President Alvear intervened to bring a quick breakthrough. During the second week of June, nearly a month after the start of the strike, the chief executive began mediating discussions between the Centro Azucarero Nacional (a grouping of all Argentine ingenios and CAR’s parent organization) and the FAA. Alvear pressed both sides to accept his offer of binding arbitration of a broad scope. The FAA had long argued for such a measure, asserting that manifold forms of exploitation demanded sweeping reform. At first, factory owners refused to allow arbitration of anything other than the issue of cane prices. But the president argued persuasively that the industry’s long-term survival and stability called for review of the entire relationship between growers and factory owners. On June 16, the industrialists acceded. Obtaining both sides’ agreement to end hostilities and resume normal operations on the following day, Alvear promised that he would grant priority to prompt issuance of the arbitration award.59

Predictably, Tucumán’s response was one of joy mixed with relief. Both farmers and industrialists lauded the pact as just, and had high praise for Alvear’s leadership. On June 17, the province resumed the collective ritual of the zafra. Cañeros hurriedly prepared overripe cane for the trek to scales or factory. At dawn the cane cutters were already walking, machete in hand, to begin the wearying chore of hacking down the stalks, clipping off their flowered tops and leaves, and then heaving them into neat piles. Inside the factories, technicians blinked away shrouds of sleep, warily eyeing gauges as idled machinery returned to life. Sweat sprouted on many brows as temperature and humidity soared to customary levels. Already the great halls filled with the roar of the crushing trapiches, boilers, centrifuges, and granulating mills.60

Tucumán’s crisis seemed past. But the president’s failure to comply with his promise of a prompt award brought tempers back to a boil. For three months Alvear temporized. Meanwhile, many farmers still awaited payment for disputed deliveries made in 1926, and some ingenios blacklisted cañeros who had played important roles in the strike.61 Farmers reacted with several wildcat strikes.

In mid-September, Alvear finally announced his decision. Somewhat chagrined, he explained that the rulings were provisional and would be amended in a more definitive future award. After explaining that the complexity of most issues required further deliberation, he ruled on cane prices for the current harvest. Decreeing a price schedule which established different marks for each factory, the Radical mandated an average of 10.84 centavos per kilogram. That figure was much closer to the cañero demand of 11 centavos than the industrialists’ 8.5.62 But in pegging price to yield, the president had sustained the industrialists’ bid for productivity incentives.

In its Solomonlike division of benefits, Alvear’s September 1927 laudo presaged his second. Issued six months later, that lengthy, complex document began with an apologia explaining that the conflict’s regional ramifications had obliged presidential intervention.63 Using phrasing that betrayed admiration for the ideas of constitutional theorist Juan Bautista Alberdi, Alvear declared that the nation-state’s purpose in underwriting the industry had been “to bring [to Tucumán] and root [there] a people whose resources and [socioeconomic] well-being would improve the poor health conditions of that zone.. . .” Having posited those broad criteria, Alvear rebuked the industrialists’ performance:

An industry which does not realize a maximum effort to satisfy these eminently reasonable conditions has no right to be protected at the expense of the whole nation. . . . Capital’s effort . . . has failed to fulfill. . . its social function. . . . The consumer has endured truly high [sugar] prices and factory and field workers and cañeros have not enjoyed the full benefits of that public burden. . . . Wherever feasible, [cane] price agreements should provide farmers an income adequate to meet expenses of cultivation and harvesting . . . and also provide a just compensation for their labor. . ..64

In commentary which shed light on what Alvear had meant by the “social function” of capital, the president concluded that a redistribution of income from factory owners to cañeros would also aid farm labor. He observed that

. . . if the factory pays a fair price for cañero produce, the farmer will be able to pay his worker a better wage. [The laborer], in turn, will no longer require his wife’s contribution [to field labor]. It is better that she care for the home. [Nor will he need the assistance of] his children, who have abandoned school to participate in field and factory labor. . ..

That observation bore a dual significance: it was a strong federal pronouncement on the need to improve farmworker wages and implied that cane growers were also guilty of cruel exploitation of that labor force.65

In one aspect, the laudo had surprised everyone. Alvear championed the cause of consumers, who were not litigants in the dispute. He noted that the nation’s subsidization of the industry sprang from a desire to nurture regional development on “scientific, rational foundations which will provide for the public interest.” Accordingly, the Casa Rosada granted factories the option to reject substandard cane and in certain cases gauge product value on sugar content. In a flourish that revealed impressive subtlety as well as political astuteness, Alvear strengthened his party’s credentials as advocate of the consuming masses. In the same vein, the chief executive curtly disposed of the FAA demand for a single cane price and placed himself on the side of Socialists who long had demanded industrial rationalization. He declared:

In the best of agreements it is impossible to rescue the cane producers in the poorest zones . . . who obtain very low yields . . . and factories located in the same zones or . . . whose manufacturing productivity falls far below the industry’s average. . . . [Those cañeros] must devote their energy. . . to other, more profitable crops; . . . [and] the less efficient factories must suífer the consequences of their errors. . ..66

Nevertheless, the multifaceted laudo also sought to protect farmers from possible fraud at the weighing station. Having investigated that part of the farmer-factory relationship, Alvear’s field agents had concluded that where machinery erred, it tended to do so in favor of the farmer. But to create an image of fairness and to respond to an old source of grower complaints, the award provided for establishment of a permanent corps of inspectors to oversee this and other aspects of the cane purchase and assessment process.

As noted above, factory curtailments of cane purchases had been a major agrarian grievance. Accordingly, the arbitral award vested the milling rights of farmers who had participated in the 1926 and 1927 harvests. In the future, whenever a factory cut production, it would be required to prorate each grower’s new share according to the amount he or she delivered in 1926.67 That proviso was one of the award’s most farsighted. It ensured that the cañero would continue to exist as a major agrarian group and partner in the industry.

Predictably, while the FAA heaped praise on the president, CAR’s response was tepid but diplomatic.68Cañeros’ favor reflected the president’s having provided for their full partnership in an industry which had long profited from their efforts. Moreover, in creating the Cámara Gremial de Productores, Alvear had forcefully established a permanent role for the state in the arbitration of rural class conflict. In the process, the Radical had wrought a major realignment of Tucumán’s economic arrangements. Moreover, Alvear had provided for improvements in the living standards of cañeros and ensured the enduring presence of that most important human asset.


The sugar depression of the 1920s was the latest in a series of economic setbacks which sorely tested Tucumán’s social fabric. The industry’s structural weaknesses had created the conditions for periodic crises of overproduction. And in the decade after 1914, crop failures and stagflation imposed newer and sterner challenges. Massive invasion of the local market by foreign sugar cheapened by world overproduction created a cost-price squeeze which threatened the industry’s very survival.

In its early phase, the crisis had prompted cañeros and factory owners to join forces in petitioning President Alvear to boost tariff levels and provide other forms of federal relief. That request had many hoary precedents. Between 1870 and 1912, Buenos Aires had underwritten the industry with tariffs and major investments in regional economic infrastructure. Those concessions were a key element in an interregional pact forged by the Generation of 1880 in order to politically pacify the Interior and fully integrate it into a modern nation-state. But after 1912, the emergence of urban populism in the form of the Radical and Socialist parties led to the betrayal of that promise. Based on an electoral coalition of pampean urban middle- and working-class voters, both parties opposed tariff increases. Indeed, Socialist and Radical congressmen often competed in calling for the sugar duty’s abolition. Branding the tariff a burden unfairly borne by the consuming masses, both parties rejected the thesis that that price was not too dear to ensure the well-being of six provinces.

The province’s numerous and economically important cañeros were an Argentine anomaly: a relatively prosperous and independent yeomanry. But before 1927, the smallholders had seldom relied on mass action to gain redress. A kulak subclass of the hybrid industrial-landowning bourgeoisie, cane farmers shared factory owners’ economic nationalism and keen sense of resentment toward Buenos Aires for its neglect of the Interior. For their part, the industrialists had long encouraged cultivators to consider themselves “partners in production.”

Indeed, the corporatist notion that the industry’s social segments were harmonious parts of a single, interdependent whole had long pervaded the thought of Tucumán’s economic and political elites. The popular sobriquet “mother industry” expressed an economic reality: the regional economy depended overwhelmingly on the products fortunes. To a degree, therefore, to strike or otherwise question the factories’ leadership was to threaten the economic security of the populace. Moreover, unlike the Littoral, between 1880 and 1914 the Interior had received relatively few foreigners. That fact largely insulated the region from invasion by radical ideologies which immigrant anarchists and socialists had preached with effect among the rural and urban proletariat and tenant farmers of the pampa. Until the sugar industry’s collapse, Tucumán’s relative economic health and ideological isolation created a surprisingly quiescent social scene.

But as the economy descended into depression, that tranquility disappeared. As cañeros struggled to avoid pauperization and landlessness, they first sought redress through Radical members of the provincial legislature. However, that path was frustrating. The Radicals’ factionalism, together with conservative opposition, effectively blocked efforts at change. In early 1927, the farmers were therefore a demoralized and leaderless group. As petty capitalists and employers, under more prosaic circumstances they would have been loathe to accept the leadership of an organization with the FAA’s militant past. But many had already been pro-letarianized. Their conversion to the FAA’s agrarian ideology was an important benchmark in the transformation of Tucumán’s class relations from conciliation to intense conflict. The rural union provided a world view which enhanced the farmers’ class awareness and thereby enabled their mobilization to apply strong economic pressure on the mill managements. Equally important, the FAA’s coalition strategy succeeded in marshalling middle class and proletarian groups. Such support was vital to match the formidable economic and political influence of the factories.

If the Radical party’s antiprotectionism had contributed to the farmers’ troubles, its populism fashioned the arbitral award which aided them. Ironically, the Laudo Alvear was a classic example of the symptom-treating cure of populist reform; so also was its division of economic benefits between farmers and industrialists. Combined with a vast expansion of the state’s regulatory role in the economy, that nostrum sought to contain class conflict within limits which would maintain the industry’s essential stability and Tucumán’s class structure. Alvear’s critics have characterized him as a neoconservative ally of the landed elite; a Trojan horse within the Radical house. Rather, his role in resolving the Tucumán affair was clearly in the populist tradition. Indeed, both the 1927-28 laudo and Alvear’s class-conciliatory intervention in an analogous meat industry conflict of 1923 sprang from a populist methodology whose intent was preventive as well as curative. The quality of both rulings compares favorably with Yrigoyen’s clientelistic treatment of the furor over sugar prices between 1917 and 1922, and his forceful suppression of tenant farmer and Patagonian meat packing strikes during the same period.

The Laudo Alvear was significant for the future in several ways. The award’s expansion of the state’s regulatory role presaged the interventionism of Agustín Justo in the 1930s. And Alvear’s effort to redistribute income from industrialists to farmers anticipated the social policies of Juan Perón. But the award left many questions unanswered. Designed to buffer rural class conflict, it largely ignored the vital question of the industry’s stagnation and overproduction. Thereafter, provincial Radicals proposed legislation to restrict production to 70 percent of the 1926 level. Enacted in 1928, the measure exempted the poorest farmers from a punitive tax on excess production and thereby maintained the Alvearist principle of equity for cañeros.69

During the 1930s, the return of sugar depression undermined Alvear’s social contract, kindling intense rural unrest and political turmoil. In the post-1943 era, the emergence of Juan Perón’s labor populism further complicated Tucumán’s social and political landscape. Perón’s repeated intervention in favor of FOTIA, a new union representing sugar laborers, reinforced and extended Alvears precedent. In so doing, Perón provided real socioeconomic participation to a group which had remained marginalized in both the industry and the wider society.70


For the economic geography of Tucumán’s sugar industry, see John A. Kirchner, Sugar and Seasonal Labor Migration: The Case of Tucumán, Argentina (Chicago, 1980); “The Sugar Industry of Argentina,” Review of the River Plate, 62 (1924), 1700-1720; and Elizabeth Violet Ryberg, “Oasis Agriculture in Tucumán, Argentina” (M.A. thesis, University of Washington, 1942).


A wealth of literature, both scholarly and impressionistic, portrays the sugar industry’s emergence between 1870 and 1900. For an overview of historiography, see Daniel J. Greenberg, ‘“The Dictatorship of the Chimneys’: Sugar, Politics and Agrarian Unrest in Tucumán, Argentina, 1914-1930” (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1985), 26-113 and Inés Villascuerna, Bibliografía para el estudio histórico de la marginalidad en el Noroeste de Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1970), 65-89.


República Argentina, Comisión Nacional del Tercer Censo, Tercer censo nacional, 10 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1917), VII, Censo de las industrias, 148, 155, 278. Rich in statistical detail and encyclopedic in scope, the standard study of the industry’s modernization is Emilio J. Schleh’s La industria azucarera en su primer centenario (hereafter, Centenario) (Buenos Aires, 1921). Long the industry’s chief spokesman, Schleh has also been its principal historian. See also his Noticias históricas sobre el azúcar en la Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1945); La industria azucarera argentina: Pasado y presente (Buenos Aires, 1910); and Centro Azucarero Argentino [sic for Schleh] (hereafter CAA), Cincuentenario del Centro Azucarero Argentino (Buenos Aires, 1944); William Cross, “Notas sobre la cultura agronómica de Tucumán en su régimen y desenvolvimiento en los últimos cincuenta años,” Boletín de la Estación Experimental Agrícola de Tucumán, 20 (Dec. 1932), 3–55; Jorge Balán, “Una cuestión regional en la Argentina: Burguesías provinciales y el mercado nacional en el desarrollo agroexportador,” Desarrollo Económico (hereafter, DE), 18:69 (Mar.-June 1978), 49-88.


Lying between 26 and 28 degrees south, Tucumán is just beyond the latitude agronomists consider apt for sugarcane. Schleh, Centenario, 173-175; “The Sugar Industry of Argentina,” 1672–1675; Antonio Micele, La industria azucarera en la República Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1936), 15-17. Also see Antonio Correa, Geografía de la provincia de Tucumán (Buenos Aires, 1925), chs. 4, 7, 9-11; Ryberg, “Oasis Agriculture,” 42-47; and Pierre Denis, The Argentine Republic: Its Development and Progress, Joseph McCabe, trans. (London, 1922), ch. 3. A splendid recent study is Teodoro Ricci, Geografía de Tucumán (Tucumán, 1983).

Donna J. Guy’s studies have thoroughly documented the industry’s growth and problems. See especially “Politics and the Sugar Industry in Tucumán, Argentina, 1870-1900” (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1973), chs. 2 and 4; “Sugar Industries at the Periphery of the World Market: Argentina, 1860-1914,” forthcoming, Proceedings of the Conference on the International Cane Sugar Industry (Edinburgh, 1982); “The Refinería Argentina, 1888–1930: The Limits of Sugar Technology in a Peripheral Economy,” mimeo (University of Arizona, 1984); and “Carlos Pellegrini and the Politics of Early Argentine Industrialization, 1873-1906,’’ Journal of Latin American Studies, 2:1 (1979), 123–144.


On the war's economic impact see Carl E. Solberg, Oil and Nationalism in Argentina: A History (Stanford, 1979), 22-32; Alejandro Bunge, Los problemas económicos del presente (Buenos Aires, 1920), 178-223; República Argentina, Ministerio del Interior, La desocupación de los obreros en la República Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1915), 57-87; José Panettieri, Los trabajadores (Buenos Aires, 1967), 169-183; Elizabeth Murphey, The Economic Position of Argentina during the War (Washington, 1920), passim.


See, for example, Máximo Hagemann to President Hipólito Yrigoyen, in CAA [sic for Schleh], Compilación legal sobre el azúcar, 13 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1939–52) (hereafter, Compilación), I, 258–267 and La industria azucarera ante la crisis: Reflecciones del momento y cifras que no deben olvidarse (Buenos Aires, 1923), 46-55; CAA, Las tarifas ferroviarias y la industria azucarera: Memorial presentado a la Comisión Pro-unificación de Clasificadores de la Dirección Gral. de FF. CC. respecto de los transportes (Buenos Aires, 1928).


CAA, La industria . . . crisis, 56-59; see also the 1925 national Senate report, “Resolución del Senado de la Nación de 22 de septiembre de 1925,” in CAA, Compilación, I, 297-310.


CAA, La industria . . . crisis, 46-55. The terms “Littoral,” “pampa,” and “pampean” are used herein to refer to the provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Santa Fe, and the territory of La Pampa. “Northwest” and “Interior,” also used interchangeably, refer to Tucumán, Salta, Santiago del Estero, La Rioja, Catamarca, and Jujuy.


CAA, La industria . . . crisis, 10-11, 53; Tubal C. García, La industria azucarera y las consecuencias de su protección (Buenos Aires, 1920), 171-173; “Resolución del Senado,” 304. The text of the Vera reforms is printed in “Ley sobre jornada legal de trabajo,” Boletín Oficial de la Provincia de Tucumán, 1923, p, 1078; “Ley sobre salario mínimo,” ibid., 1097; see also Manuel Lizondo Borda, “Historia de la provincia de Tucumán y sus pueblos, 1860–1930,” in Academia Nacional de la Historia, Historia argentina contemporánea, 7 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1965-67), V (1), 454-456. For the Campero laws, see "Ley de 12 de mayo de 1925,” Compilación, V, 28-30. That factories had implemented these improvements is evident from the discussion of wages and working conditions in “The Sugar Industry of Argentina,” 1674; Schleh, La industria azucarera (Buenos Aires, 1935), 65 and Asistencia social en la industria azucarera (Buenos Aires, 1943), passim. Data on real wages are drawn from Solberg, Oil and Nationalism, 24.


Revista Azucarera (hereafter, RA), 243 (Apr. 1923), 65-67, and see the sources in n. 7.


Concise analysis of the structure of provincial taxation is in Bunge, Riqueza y renta en la República Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1917), 244–245; see also the lucid comparative study of Jorge Balán and Nancy López, “Burguesías y gobiernos provinciales en la Argentina: La política impositiva de Tucumán y Mendoza entre 1873 y 1914,” DE, 17:67 (Oct.-Dec. 1977), 399-417; and Provincia de Tucumán, Contaduría General, Memoria del ejercicio de 1916 (Tucumán, 1917), Anexo 1.

For the text of statutes mentioned, see “Ley de 14 de junio de 1919.” in Compilación, III, 65-68; “Ley de presupuesto de 1923,” ibid., 85-86; “Decreto de 9 de mayo de 1923,” ibid., 88-go. Bascary’s reformulation of the tax on fixed capital is discussed in Eduardo B. Alsogaray, “El gobierno de Juan Bautista Bascary,” mimeo (Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 1982). 13 and “La intervención radical a los primeros gobiernos radicales de Tucumán,” mimeo (Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 1983).


The standard study of the world sugar industry is Noel Deer, History of Sugar (London, 1950). Data on production and prices have been drawn from vol. II, 491-532.


See, for example, Greenberg, ‘“The Dictatorship,’” 164-170, 196-205; Cross, “Notas,” 15-18, 22-23. 30–31; “Informe anual de la Estación Experimental, año 1919," Revista de la Estación Experimental Agrícola de Tucumán, 11 (1920), 5-24, 29-44; La estación experimental agrícola de Tucumán, de 1914 a 1946 (Buenos Aires, 1952), 9-10; Fernando Siviero et al., 75 años de historia (Tucumán, 1984), 32.

Data on acreage, production, and prices are in “Caña molida por provincias y territorios,” La Industria Azucarera (hereafter, ZA) 45:558 (Apr. 1940), 216; “Area cultivada con caña en el país,” ibid., 2o9; “Precios de azúcar en la capital federal,” ibid., 45:559 (May 1940), 365.


Alfredo Guzmán, et al. to Tomás A. Chueca, minister of treasury, public works and industries, in “Gestiones del Centro Azucarero en Tucumán para conjurar la actual crisis de la industria,” IA, 1925, pp. 768–771.

Import data are tabulated in “Los diez años de mayor importación y exportación en el país,” IA, 45:560 (June 1940), 344.


Tariff policy is lucidly analyzed in Solberg, “The Tariff and Politics in Argentina, 1916-1930,” HAHR, 53:2 (May 1973), 252-274; see also Raúl Molina, “Presidencia de Marcelo T. de Alvear,” Historia argentina contemporánea, I (2), 273-290.


Solberg, “The Tariff and Politics”; David Rock, “Radical Populism and the Conservative Elite, 1912-1930,” in Argentina in the Twentieth Century (Pittsburgh, 1975), David Rock, ed., 82–83.


See the sources in n. 15. Discussion of the impact of Alvearist fiscal policies is in Virgil Salera, Exchange Control and the Argentine Market (New York, 1941), 36–41. The national congress debated proposals to boost the tariff in 1925 and 1926. A 1925 Senate white paper recommended doubling the duty. See “Resolución de Senado” in Compilación, I, 297-310 and República Argentina, Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación (hereafter, Diputados), ses. ord., Sept. 28, 1926, p. 378; República Argentina, Senado de la Nación, Estado actual de la industria azucarera: Informe de la comisión especial (Buenos Aires, 1925); República Argentina, Diario de Sesiones del Senado de la Nación, ses. ord., Sept. 22, 1925, pp. 384-385. For the Socialists’ policies, see Richard Walter, The Socialist Party of Argentina, 1890-1930 (Austin, 1977), 86, 102-103, 110. 146-147.


According to the 1925 Senate report, only the United States possessed a lower duty than Argentina among major sugar producers and consumers. “Resolución del Senado,” Compilación, I, 299-300.


Data on cañero land ownership and nationality are drawn from “Censo cañero de Tucumán,” IA, 32 (1927). 576–578. Enumerated by the Centro Azucarero Regional in 1926, that count largely reinforced the data presented in the national census of 1914. See Tercer censo nacional, V, Explotaciones agropecuarias, 39-40, 201, 872.


The standard study of pampean landowning patterns is Miguel A. Cárcano, Evolución histórica del régimen de la tierra pública, 181o-1916, 3rd ed. (Buenos Aires, 1917). See also Jacinto Oddone, La burguesía terrateniente argentina (Buenos Aires, 1956), 182-185 James R. Scobie, Revolution on the Pampas: A Social History of Argentine Wheat, 1860-1910 (Austin, 1964).


Tercer censo nacional, V, 39-40, 872; Correa, Geografía de la provincia, 100-102.


Detailed description of the Bascary and Vera governments is in Páez de la Torre (h.), “Crónica del gobierno de Bascary, primera parte,” Revista de la Junta de Estudios Históricos de Tucumán (hereafter, RJEHT), 2 (July 1969); “Crónica de la intervención Garro,” RJEHT, 3 (Dec. 1970), 9–66; “Octaviano Vera, el tucumano radical,” Todo Es Historia (hereafter, TEH), 135 (Feb. 1976), 11-27. See also Greenberg, “'The Dictatorship,’” 271-313, 336-354, 355-410, 486-521.


Data on population are drawn from República Argentina, Informe demográfico de la República Argentina, 1944-1954 (Buenos Aires, 1956), 60–61; electoral data are from Eduardo B. Alsogaray, “Evolución del electorado tucumano entre 1916–1930,’’ mimeo (Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, 1982); also see Darío Cantón, Materiales para el estudio de la sociología política en la Argentina, 2 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1968), I, 81-94.


For the reform effort, see Greenberg, “‘The Dictatorship,’” 214-223.


“Censo cañero de Tucumán,” IA, 32 (1927), 576-578. Social science studies of the cañero have been amazingly sparse. One of the few exceptions is Francisco José Delich, Tierra y conciencia campesina en Tucumán (Buenos Aires, 1970), 36–40 and passim. Conducted during the sugar crisis of the mid-1960s, Delich’s study uses sociological survey techniques to measure small farmers’ demography, economic behavior, and attitudes. See also Miguel Murmis and Carlos Waisman, “Monoproducción agroindustrial, crisis y clase obrera; La industria azucarera tucumana,” Revista Latinoamericana de Sociología (hereafter, RLS), 5:2 (Jan. 1969), 334-382; Silvia Sigal, “Crisis y conciencia obrera: La industria azucarera tucumana,” RLS, 6:1 (Mar. 1970), 344-382.


“Censo cañero de Tucumán,” IA, 32 (1927), 576-578; Cross, “Notas,” 30 and “Informes relacionados con el conflicto fabril-cañero,” Revista Industrial y Agrícola de Tucumán, 19:1-2 (June-July 1928), 6-7. See also Schleh, La industria azucarera (1935), 43; República Argentina, Ministerio de Agricultura de la Nación, Industria azucarera: Conflicto fabril-cañero de la provincia de Tucumán. Laudo del Excmo. señor Presidente de la Nación, Marcelo T. de Alvear. Maio de 1928 (hereafter, Laudo Alvear) (Buenos Aires, 1928), 32-33. The rarely cited studies of F. Rojas offer an important Marxist analysis of the cañero’s role in the industry, landowning patterns, and farmers’ relationship with the factories. See “Los productores de azúcar,” Argumentos (Buenos Aires), 1:2 (1938), 130-140; “La distribución de la propiedad territorial y el desarrollo de la industria azucarera en Tucumán,” ibid., 1:1 (Nov. 1938), 10-14.


Quoted in Micele, Industria azucarera, 46. See also Cross, “Informes relacionados,” 6–7. Cross contended that the anticipo was “generally pernicious, for not only does it permit the cañero to avoid the necessity of capital formation deriving from savings, it also places him . . . in dependency on the ingenios.” The factory owners defended the practice, arguing that it provided farmers desperately needed cash. See RA, 28:243 (1923), 67-69 and Denis, Argentine Republic, 76–77, 90-91.


Laudo Alvear, 14-15, 42; Cross, “Informes relacionados,” 24-26; Micele, Industria azucarera, 45-46; “La reunión de agricultores en Villa Quinteros,” El Orden (hereafter, EO), Apr. 11, 1927.


La Gaceta de Tucumán, Oct. 9, 1918.


The FAA's origins and ideology are traced in several Argentine accounts of varying quality. By far the most balanced and systematic is Gastón Gori, El pan nuestro: Panorama social de las regiones cerealistas argentinas (Buenos Aires, 1969). Useful, but tinged with Stalinist ideology, is Plácido Grela, Alcorta: Origen y desarrollo del pueblo y de la rebelión agraria de 1912 (Rosario, 1975). See also Lázaro Nemirovsky, Estructura económica y orientación política de la agricultura en la República Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1933), 216-218. FAA insiders’ accounts include Alejandro Tornatore, Historia de la evolución y revolución agraria y de la creación de la Federación Agraria Argentina (Salta, 1967); Antonio Desidue, Netri: Líder y mártir de una gran causa (Rosario, 1969); and Tomás García Serrano, Esteban Piacenza: Apuntes biográficos, 2nd ed. (Rosario, 1967).


Radical party reaction to the FAA's emergence is studied in Solberg, “Rural Unrest,” 18–44 Prairies and the Pampas: Agrarian Development and Agricultural Policy in Canada and Argentina, 1880-1930 (Stanford, forthcoming), ch. 6-7. Yrigoyen’s relationship with the landowning elite is examined in Peter H. Smith, Politics and Beef in Argentina: Patterns of Conflict and Change (New York, 1969), 48-50, 71-88, 129-136.


The FAA’s expansion into the Interior is discussed in García Serrano, Esteban Piacenza, 103-112, 149-173; Tornatore, Historia, 44-45, 62–69; Jorge Luis Ossuna, “El conflicto azucarero de 1926-1927: Cañeros e industriales,” TEH, 15:180-181 (May-June 1982), 90; EO, Jan. 4, 1927.


“La reunión de agricultores,” EO, Apr. 11, 1927.


“Los cañeros realizarán,” EO, May 7, 1927; “La cuestión agraria,” EO, May 14, 1927.


“Los cañeros afiliados,” EO, May 7, 1927; “Los cañeros han creado . . .," EO, May 18, 1927.




“Tiende a agravarse,” EO, May 19, 1927.




“Asume caracteres cada vez más graves,” EO, May 21, 1927.


“Tiende a agravarse,” EO, May 19, 1927.


“Se agrava por momentos,” EO, May 27, 1927; Micele, Industria azucarera, 45-46. CAR’s claim to represent cañeros rang hollow. During the 1890s, for example, the Centro Azucarero Nacional (CAR’s parent organization) had attempted to derail a proposed tariff cut by blaming cañeros for price increases. Guy, “Politics and the Sugar Industry,” 201—215.


Tenant farmers and factory workers are discussed, for example, in Cross, “Notas” and Sigal, “Crisis y conciencia obrera: La industria azucarera argentina,” RLS, 6:1 (Mar. 1970), 60-99.


“Gravedad de la situación,” EO, May 20, 1927.


Ibid.; “El conflicto cañero y el arbitraje,” EO, May 20, 1927.


“Asume carácteres,” EO, May 21, 1927.


“Ante la indiferencia del gobierno,” EO, May 22, 1927; Ossuna, “El conflicto,” 90-91.


“Asume carácteres,” EO, May 21, 1927.


Solberg has noted that while the FAA’s rhetoric was radical, farmers generally joined landowners in opposition to strikes by rural workers. As small businessmen, cultivators were a relatively conservative group. Accordingly, in 1919 pampean tenant farmers denounced farmworker strikes; in 1923 cañeros joined ingenios’ opposition to a particularly violent farmworker strike. For a profactory version of that event, see “La huelga de los ingenios de Tucumán,” RA, 20:244 (May 1923), 121-138. See also Solberg, “Rural Unrest,” 41-43; La Prensa (Buenos Aires), May 21, 22, 23, 31, June 1, 1923; La Gaceta de Tucumán, May 31, 1923; La Nación (Buenos Aires), May 30, 1923.


Aubone to minister of agriculture (Emilio Mihura), Mar. 7, 1927 and minister of agriculture to governors of Tucumán, Jujuy and Salta, May 24, 1927, in Compilación, V, 82–86; “Por la insistencia de no negociar,” EO, May 24, 1927.


The enabling legislation is printed in “Ley de 5 de julio de 1928,” Compilación, V 82–88; “Decreto reglamentario de la ley de creación de la Cámara de Productores de Azúcar de Tucumán,” IA, 33 (1927), 750; La Prensa, May 22, 1927.


“Por la insistencia,” EO, May 24, 1927; La Prensa, May 22, 1927; “Más de diez mil trabajadores,” EO, May 28, 1927.




“Continúa sin solución,” EO, May 27, 1927.


“Va a ser absoluta,” EO, May 31, 1927.


Ibid.; Ossuna, “El conflicto,” 90–91.


“Se calcula que más de treinta mil,” EO, June 1, 1927; “Más de diez mil trabajadores,” EO, May 28, 1927; “Va a ser absoluta,” EO, May 31, 1927.


“Se calcula,” EO, June 1, 1927; Páez de la Torre (h.), “Juan Luis Nougués, la bandera blanca,” TEH, 93 (Feb. 1975), 11-12; Ossuna, “El conflicto,” 90-91; “Arribó anoche el vicepresidente,” EO, June 2, 1927.


See the sources in n. 57.


EO, issues dated May 29, 31, June 14, 15, 16, 17, 24, 1927; Laudo Alvear, 1-8; Micele, Industria azucarera, 47.


“Los ingenios iniciaron ya la molienda,” EO, June 24, 1927. (I toured Ingenio Bella Vista, a sugarmill built in the late 1800s, in Nov. 1982.)


“Sólo en casos muy extremos . . . ,” EO, June 22, 1927; “El delegado nacional,” EO, June 23, 1927; “Reclamaciones interpuestas,” ibid.; “El pleito,” EO, Aug. 23, 1927; “Se han declarado huelga,” EO, Aug. 29, 1927; “El fallo presidencial,” EO, Sept. 5, 1927; “Los agricultores,” EO, Sept. 13, 1927.


“Los industriales adelantan,” EO, June 15, 1927; Laudo Alvear, 51. The text of the 1927 award is in “El pleito cañero-industrial: Fallo arbitral del Pres, de la Nación respeto a la zafra de 1926,” IA, Sept. 1927, pp. 860 ff.


Laudo Alvear, 7-9.


Ibid., 10, 13, 51.




Ibid., 9-14, 18-36, 47-50, 52.


Ibid., 32-33, 47-50.


“Ha causado buena impresión,” EO, Sept. 15, 1927; “El presidente del Centro Azucarero Nacional,” EO, Sept. 16, 1927; “El laudo arbitral,” EO, Sept. 20, 1927; “El laudo . . . y los cañeros,” EO, Sept. 21, 1927; “El laudo arbitral en el conflicto industrial-cañero,” EO, Sept. 22, 1927.


See “Ley de 21 de junio de 1928,” in Compilación, IV, 175-179.


Lamentably few studies exist on the sugar worker. Among the few discussions of FOTIA’s emergence are Louise Doyón, “Conflictos obreros durante el régimen peronista, 1946–1955,” DE, 17:67 (Oct. 1977), 446-447, 462–464 and “El movimiento sindical bajo el peronismo,” DE, 15:57 (Apr.-June 1975), 151-163.

Author notes


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the late Carl E. Solberg and Professor Dauril Alden of the University of Washington, who successively directed the dissertation from which this article is drawn. An earlier draft was read at the Aug. 1986 meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association. Thanks are extended to Professors Ronald Palmer and Richard Slatta, who provided critical reviews for that meeting.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the Institute of International Education (Fulbright Commission), which supported research in Argentina, and to the following institutions which graciously permitted use of their holdings: Biblioteca Tornquist, Instituto Torcuato Di Telia, Biblioteca del Congreso, Instituto Miguel Lillo, Archivo de la Legislatura de Tucumán, and the Archivo Histórico de Tucumán.