In the early 1920s, urban and rural labor leaders opted for a role in the asyet-unconsolidated Mexican state, rejecting the potential for independent action. Tamayo’s solid contribution to the 17-volume series edited by Pablo González Casanova chronicles those years, providing no new hypothesis, but showing more clearly than before how these choices were made.
Using extensive secondary sources and newspaper accounts, Tamayo describes the origins, structure, ideology, and institutional relationships of the major labor organizations of the day. Among the latter, the most important were the collaborating Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers, the faction-ridden, anarcho-syndicalist General Confederation of Workers, and the proclerical, Bolshevikbashing National Catholic Labor Confederation. Tamayo also provides thin but badly needed coverage of labor’s relations with important regional caudillos in Veracruz, Jalisco, Tabasco, and Yucatán. Useful as well, if frustratingly brief, is Tamayo’s overview of industrial working conditions. More comprehensive is the author’s look at labor in the major industries, which, however, does not replace standard works by Marcelo Rodea (railroads), Ramón Ruiz (textiles), Majorie Ruth Clark’s earlier overview, or even memorias by former labor leaders (Araiza, Huitrón, Salazar), most of which Tamayo uses extensively.
Readers looking for broad social history, or interested in the complexities clustered around Mexican economic transformation and the social relations of production will be disappointed. Tamayo like most other authors in this important series, by limiting himself to a particular administration, ensures a political and institutional emphasis, leaving labor’s socioeconomic history virtually untapped. Further, the author ignores most foreign work (unless translated into Spanish), omitting Hall’s article on Obregón’s agrarian policy and Carr’s study of the origins of the Mexican Communist party (whose labor activities received little attention from Tamayo).
On balance, however, Tamayo has done solid work. Moreover, because he is familiar with all sectors of Mexico’s labor history scholarship, Tamayo’s bibliography is useful in itself. Despite his focus, Tamayo has written the most wide-ranging account to date of the labor movement in those critical years.