The year 1919 saw increasing social unrest throughout much of the world, and Peru was no exception. A general strike in January led President José Pardo to decree the eight-hour workday, and demonstrations for lower food prices ignited a wave of looting and mob violence in May.1 Politics was equally unstable: on July 4, President-elect Augusto B. Leguía carried out a coup rather than wait for Congress to confirm his victory. Amid the agitation, few paid attention to a strike called one Saturday morning in late September. Led by clerks in the import-export firms, banks, and retail stores of Lima and Callao, the action was nonviolent, orderly, even polite. No mounted police were called in; in fact, the National Assembly voted to support the strikers demands. The pickets, numbering about 1,500, went home as soon as business leaders agreed to arbitration.2

Only in retrospect did the September strike emerge as a landmark in Peruvian social history. It was the first major public demonstration to invoke the name of “the middle class,” a concept virtually absent from the discourse of the previous century. White-collar workers had begun to assert a collective identity. They described themselves as natural leaders of the middle class, separate from the workers below and the oligarchs above. Their organized and vocal presence helped change the shape of Peruvian politics in the 1920s, and many of their demands were adopted in precedent-setting labor legislation.

The middle class has long received attention from students of modern Latin American history, and deservedly so. Hailed by some as a progressive, democratic force for change, criticized by others as a dependent, authoritarian ally of the status quo, few social sectors have aroused so much debate.3 It is all the more surprising, therefore, that an event like Peru’s 1919 employee strike should remain but a minor historical footnote. While innovative social and cultural histories of elites, peasants, and urban workers continue to challenge accepted wisdom, research on the middle class lags behind. In an effort to fill the gap, this essay uses the records of Lima’s white-collar workers to trace the emergence of a distinctly middle-class culture and consciousness in a major Latin American capital.4

The White-Collar Employee in Lima Society

In the early twentieth century, Peru was not a manufacturing country. Agricultural and mineral exports provided a handsome income, while attempts to industrialize were thwarted by a combination of comparative advantage, transport costs that fell with the opening of the Panama canal, government policy, and the elite’s taste for imported goods.5 Import-export commerce was one of Lima’s principal economic activities, responsible for many of the largest fortunes and employing some 15 percent of the city s adult male population. Less than half that number worked in factories.6

By any measure, commercial employees comprised a significant part of the Peruvian work force. Like other white-collar workers, they were known as empleados, a title that distinguished them from the blue-collar obreros. A broad range of people fell into the category of empleado. The wealthiest were accountants and executives in the banks and the largest commercial houses, many of them foreigners. They could live handsomely, and they often came from respected families, well connected in society. The poorest tended to be clerks in small retail stores, many of whom worked 15 or even 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for the meagerest of salaries.7

Across this spectrum, empleados shared a number of qualities. To begin with, gaining white-collar employment was no easy matter. Requisite job skills included proper spelling and attractive penmanship, mathematical ability, and often some knowledge of bookkeeping, making a secondary education nearly indispensable. Even so, none of those talents sufficed without the all-important personal recommendation.8 Many store owners so feared robbery and embezzlement that they carried insurance against losses from unscrupulous employees. Unless a friend or previous employer could vouch for an applicant’s moral character, the applicant was unlikely to be hired. As a result, recruitment typically followed family ties, political patronage, commercial contacts, school loyalties, provincial origins, or nationality. Even with good recommendations, many aspiring empleados had to begin as meritorios, working for up to three months on a trial basis, receiving a nominal wage or no pay at all.9

Paternalism colored every aspect of an employee’s regime, beginning with basic vocabulary. The most common synonym for empleado was dependiente (dependant), while the employer was his principal. Empleados were also known as servidores (servants), and their seniority was called tiempo de servicios (time of service). Though many empleados did move from job to job, the relationship between a principal and his dependiente was assumed to be stable and lasting. Unlike professionals such as lawyers, engineers, or architects, most empleados worked without formal contracts specifying their salary or duties.10 They were to carry out whatever tasks their employer might request, work-related or not, and to put in overtime without remuneration. Absolute loyalty was expected at all times.

Those who rebelled against demands they deemed unreasonable filled the records of Lima’s labor tribunals. Sales assistant Daniel Flores, feeling ill one day, told his superior that he was unable to stack and move cases in the warehouse. He was promptly fired. Typist Teodora Vega met the same fate when she left the office at 8 p.m. against her boss’s orders, though by law women were not supposed to work after that hour. Juan Marticorena was struck in the face by the owner of the pawnshop La Aurora, after complaining about the kind of work he was being asked to perform. In return, Marticorena threatened the man with a revolver kept on the premises.11 For each of these cases, many more chose to obey their supervisors without debate.

Nevertheless, paternalism also worked in the employee’s favor, because employers considered it a moral duty to provide for the well-being of their faithful servants. Some awarded pensions; others paid medical or funeral expenses. Many empleados depended on their bosses for interest-free salary advances to see them through times of need. Mutual loyalties often went very deep indeed, with dependiente and principal bound socially as well as economically through the institution of compadrazgo (ritual kinship).12 Typical was the case of Antonio Fontana, who had worked for 38 years in one man’s store.

Fontana was, for [his employer] Mr. Juan Nosiglia, not an empleado earning 12 pounds a month, but a friend, more than a friend, rather something like a member of the family, who sometimes dined at their table. He had the complete confidence of his boss, which he never abused. That confidence, certainly very justified in the case of this empleado of notable honesty, reached the point that he had been authorized by Mr. Nosiglia to take from the warehouse whatever he might need, to be discounted later from his paycheck.13

Paternalism was accompanied by the firm belief that commercial employment meant a career with a future. The story of Augusto and Fernando Wiese was well known: from simple empleados in the Emilio F. Wagner & Co. import house, they had risen to become the firm’s owners in 1915.14 While their ascent was unusual, it was hardly unique. Banks and commercial houses relied upon internal training and promotion; biographies of the highest executives usually included a start at the bottom of the ladder. In smaller stores, a successful empleado might be given a share of the profits or named as a partner. Though only the lucky few reached top management positions, mobility up the ranks was the rule and the expectation.15

The Culture of Respectability

The attraction of white-collar employment derived not so much from the prospect of mobility as from the empleado’s relatively privileged place in Lima’s social structure. To understand this point, it is necessary to look at the rules of class stratification as Peruvians themselves did. Sociologist Lowry Nelson described a common Latin American pattern when he wrote about Cuba in the 1940s:

An arbitrary classification on the basis of income and occupation might . . .reveal a range of classes with a pattern not unlike that of the United States. However, on the more subtle socio-psychological basis,. . . Cuban society can more easily be classified into two groups only, upper and lower—or perhaps it would not be too inaccurate to say those who hire servants and those who do not; or, if one wishes, those who work with their hands and those who work with their heads, or do not work at all. The latter are the heirs of the old aristocracy, the former, the heirs of the serfs and slaves.. . . This simple dichotomy of “upper” and “lower” is based primarily on tradition . . ., rather than on differences in income and wealth, which are only secondary criteria. It is very likely that on the basis of occupation, there would be included in the upper group not only the wealthy and well-to-do, but also the professional workers of all kinds and the “white-collar” workers, even though among the latter there may be many with lower incomes than would be found among the skilled manual workers.16

This two-class order had the deepest of roots in Latin America’s history. Nations forged in conquest, where Indians were organized and Africans imported to labor for a Spanish minority, Latin America had for centuries been divided between rulers and ruled, masters and slaves. Colonial law and custom provided for a theoretical division of society into estates (estamentos), castelike social groupings based on race and profession, each with different rights, duties, and privileges before the crown. Though the liberal republics of the nineteenth century legally abolished all but minor traces of the sociedad de estamentos, traditions forged over three centuries of Spanish rule did not die easily.17

In Peru, as elsewhere, those above the great social divide were known as g ente decente, while those below were alternately gente del pueblo, la plebe, las masas, los pobres, la clase trabajadora or, after World War I, el proletariado.18 Steve Stein has argued that well into the twentieth century, Peruvian schoolchildren were taught that this social hierarchy was both inevitable and morally just. As one standard elementary textbook explained:

Urbanity greatly respects those categories established by nature, by society, and by God himself, and therefore it obligates us to give preferential treatment to some persons over others, according to their age, their social position, their rank, their authority, and their character.19

Nonmanual labor was a defining quality of the gente decente, along with such factors as race, family name, and education. Income was far less important. While the wealthy Chinese shopkeeper would not be considered a part of respectable society, a widow living in absolute poverty might still be decente, if she had a certain last name and kept up appearances.

The opposition between the gente decente and the gente del pueblo tended to be seen in rigidly dualistic terms, with no middle ground. Members of respectable society felt that they had little in common with the great unwashed masses. Racial and cultural differences reinforced the sense of distance, as if the decent people and the multitude were distinct species of human being. Yet this castelike dualism was more imaginary than real, the line of demarcation not always clear-cut. If an artisan owned his own shop, employed others, sent his children to private school, and invested in urban real estate, he could become a respectable proprietor—assuming that he belonged to the church and was not too dark-skinned.20 Of course, decency alone did not win entry into the closed circles of the oligarchy, and no artisan was likely to see his son or daughter marry into one of the “better” families. Still, being above the great social divide meant that he could take a box in the theater, sit in one of Lima’s smart cafes, spend a summer weekend at the beach resorts of La Punta or Barranco, even hold political office, without arousing scandal or criticism. In status-conscious Lima, where men dared not enter the central plaza unless they wore a jacket and tie, these were serious issues.

Predominantly white and educated, empleados were widely accepted as gente decente.21 Two examples demonstrate this point. While industrialists held parties for their workers on the factory grounds or in a nearby hacienda, commercial owners honored their empleados at banquets in Lima s private clubs or fashionable restaurants, places likely to refuse entry to most manual laborers.22 In the 1920s, a public housing plan called for two types of construction, one for obreres and one for empleados. The manual workers dwellings allowed 25 square feet of space per person, while those for the employees gave 40 square feet.23 The proposal did not have to explain why the empleado required more space than the obrere; it was taken for granted that their needs were intrinsically different. Both cases show how the distinction between empleado and obrere went far beyond any mere census classification.

Empleados jealously defended their identification as gente decente, adhering as faithfully as possible to the norms of respectable society. Men cultivated the bearing of gentlemen, from their concern for personal honor and reputation—including familiarity with dueling protocol—to their practice of such aristocratic sports as cricket, tennis, and billiards.24 Many empleados had their suits made from imported fabrics, even though Peru was a wool and cotton exporter with a domestic textile industry.25 White-collar families sought to avoid those types of housing considered unbefitting decent people; and above all, the wife was not to work, children went to private school, and housework was done by a maid.26

Such was the case despite evidence that a large number of empleados were quite poor, surviving from paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings to cover an emergency. Even well-paid empleados frequently died in poverty, when sickness or forced retirement took away their livelihood.27 Some owners came to the aid of their former dependientes; unfortunately, as white-collar advocate Daniel C. Urrea argued in 1915, these were the minority: “the commercial employee . . . always has before him the spectre of misery in his old age.”28 Indeed, social workers of the time reported on the problem of “the middle-class poor,” evidence that the term middle class, when it was used, referred not to an economic category but to a kind of social caste.29 The middle class was that group of people not of the oligarchy but still decente, no matter what their income.

From this situation, in which social position did not necessarily reflect economic means, a particular culture arose. From the shooting club to the billiard salon, middle-class culture was a reflection—some said an imitation—of an idealized elite lifestyle. But as contemporary observers were quick to point out, much of the Peruvian middle class lacked the income to support the type of housing, dress, and consumption expected of the gente decente. They were constantly accused of living beyond their means, keeping up appearances at tremendous sacrifice. Wrote Peruvian historian Jorge Basadre:

The tragedy of an important sector of the middle classes during the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century derived from their heroic effort to approach the ranks of the aristocracy and differentiate themselves from the mass of workers or artisans. They were condemned to a lifestyle and to social rituals in their dress and appearance that were constantly beyond their objective possibilities. . . . Theirs was a life of intimate tragedies, carefully covered up.30

The fiction of the period is filled with stories of families who decorated their sitting rooms in great elegance but were unable to furnish the rest of the house; women who copied the latest European styles in cheaper fabric; men who pawned their belongings to get a box seat at the theater because they could not bear to be seen anywhere else.31 Nor were such observations limited to novels. Two municipal inspectors wrote about those who chose to dwell in dangerously overpopulated mansions (casas de vecindad, abandoned by their original owners, subdivided, and rented) rather than move into physically superior but socially stigmatized working-class housing (rustic dwellings built on lots called callejones):

For unfounded preoccupations, for feigned social respect, they . . . prefer to live in such filthy and unhealthy conditions, in order to cloak themselves in the illusion of residence in a decent house.32

These and similar practices became a hallmark of the middle class in early twentieth-century Lima; to characterize such behavior, pundits coined the now classic Peruvianism, huachafo.33

White-Collar Organization

Given their identification with respectable society and their faith in the values of the elite, few empleados considered directly challenging the established economic order. They did organize, however, founding the Sociedad Empleados de Comercio in December 1903. Like other mutual aid societies of the time, the SEC’s principal objective was to cover members’ medical and funeral expenses. Nevertheless, the organization had a political purpose from its inception, lobbying for enforcement of the municipal Sunday closing law.34 In its early years, most empleados saw the SEC as little more than a life and health insurance policy, with dues instead of premiums. Fewer than half its members voted in elections, and a much smaller number attended meetings. Leaders typically were high-level functionaries, some of whom used their position as a steppingstone to public office.35

Over time, however, the organization slowly gained acceptance as an advocate for white-collar workers of all kinds, from bank clerks to bureaucrats. Its first significant campaign was in 1914, when the government unveiled a plan to tax salaries. By threatening a general employee strike, SEC leaders succeeded in defeating the proposal.36

Throughout its early history, the SEC emphasized the goals it shared with employers. Important political and business figures were made honorary members, while the major commercial enterprises helped finance the organization’s first meeting hall. The society boasted that it provided company owners a valuable service by organizing classes to improve employee skills and by acting as a reference to guarantee the moral character of its members. As late as 1916, the SEC declared as its purpose “to cement upon solid bases harmony between bosses and employees, endeavoring that both might find the guarantee of their rights and commitments.”37

This picture changed after World War I. Led by the SEC, empleados emerged as spokesmen for the middle class, highly critical of the economic elite. What brought about such a major transformation? For one thing, a significant commercial crisis began in August 1914 as the war disrupted international trade and employees suffered pay cuts and unemployment.38 The postwar era saw an unprecedented economic boom, but it was accompanied by high inflation. While working-class day-wages rose—fueled by the demand for construction labor—the more rigid empleado salaries remained constant. In some cases not even the wartime cuts were restored.39

Empleados were directly influenced by the organization and radicalization of the working class, as the anarchist message began to find resonance in a society shaken by economic crisis. More important, however, was the growing wave of elite reformism. Several major figures in government and business believed unrest could be prevented by copying European models of labor legislation, fomenting cooperatives, and improving urban sanitation and hygiene. A new generation of politicians placed the “social question” at the top of their agendas; among them were leaders like Luis Miró Quesada and José Carlos Bernales, both active patrons of the SEC. Even “socialism,” albeit poorly understood, took on a new respectability in elite circles, as demonstrated by the triumphant visit of Argentine socialist Alfredo Palacios.40

The unquestionable catalyst was the general strike for the eight-hour day, in January 1919. Against expectations, the government acceded to the workers’ demands with little resistance, making Peru one of the early countries in South America to adopt the measure. Empleados did not play a central role in the strike, which was led by textile workers and stevedores. Retail shops and import houses closed their doors only because store owners feared general violence.41 Nevertheless, as soon as President Pardo decreed the shorter workday, white-collar employees began to mobilize on an unprecedented scale. The reason was simple: as formally written, the eight-hour decree applied only to factory workers, igniting controversy over who was covered by the measure and who was not.

When the commercial houses made it clear that they were going to continue business as usual, empleados began to hold conferences and demonstrations to protest their unequal treatment.42 In the climate of general discontent, a group of young employees came to exercise increasing influence within the SEC, leading the call to broaden the decree.43 Citing the rising cost of living, they lobbied the government and employers for higher salaries and shorter hours. After several months passed without a response, employees in the port city of Callao finally decided to walk off the job. The strike spread to Lima the following day.44

The empleados’ rhetoric underwent an equally revolutionary transformation as white-collar workers for the first time began to speak of a society divided by class. In its 1913 statutes the SEC had not once mentioned the word class. Its stated purpose was

To raise the moral condition of its members, doing whatever possible to achieve the guarantees to which they have a right, by merit of the dignity with which they sustain their commitments as empleados.45

Yet by January 1919, a mere six years later, SEC communiqués had begun to describe the organization as the representative of a class in conflict, whose interests could only be defended through concerted action.

The Sociedad Empleados de Comercio of Lima and the Asociación General de Empleados of Callao believe it their duty to [give] their unanimous support in service of the vital interests of the social class that they represent: interests deeply affected by the growing rise in the cost of living, so noticeably marked since the beginning of the great war that just ended.46

At first glance, the changing language seemed to provide further evidence that commercial employees were taking their place in the emerging labor movement, abandoning paternalism, discarding traditional prejudices, and recognizing their common interest with all workers. On closer inspection, however, this white-collar militancy stemmed from a very different set of underlying attitudes. Though empleado demands had indeed taken on a new, class-conscious tone, it was a middle-class consciousness, largely oblivious to the cause of manual workers. In their speeches, white-collar activists used the terms empleado and middle class interchangeably, arguing that empleados made up the vast majority of the middle class: “The hour of revindication has arrived for the commercial employees, for the middle class in general. . . .”47

This rhetoric was also increasingly disseminated in the press: “Without a doubt, this movement of the middle class is justified. . . . If any social class merits special consideration, it is that within which are comprised the commercial employees, and also, those who hold the inferior posts in the [public] bureaucracy.”48

Opinion makers agreed that the empleados’ campaign embodied the needs and desires of the middle class as a whole, even if the definition and boundaries of that class were left ambiguous. At any rate, they argued, these were not the needs of blue-collar workers, who had already received preferential treatment with the eight-hour day.

“The Class That Suffers Most”

Paradoxically, the discourse used to advance the claims of the middle class made sense only in the context of the traditional, culturally defined categories of the gente decente versus the mass. As the nascent Association of Bank Employees stated on the eve of the 1919 strike:

The so-called middle class, formed by employees of the public sector, banks, and commercial offices, is a group of men born into distinguished social classes, belonging at times to aristocratic families, possessing education and culture. But they are also men punished by fate, obliged to educate their children and support their families within the bounds of decency, and within conditions imposed by their social circle. This social class is the true victim of the grave economic situation; obligated to live in decent houses, to dress with relative elegance and to eat with some comfort, they are most affected by the rise in the cost of rents, clothing and food. Their income does not keep up with the constant rise in the cost of those elements required to maintain themselves within a social situation that, for their very modesty, they cannot possibly abandon.49

The assertion, in other words, was that inflation made it impossible for empleados to support the lifestyle demanded by their position as members of respectable society. Editorials echoed this claim, such as the following, which detailed the primordial difference between the empleado and the obrero:

The [empleados] suffer the same slavery as the day-laborer in terms of the hours of work, and in many cases earn less, despite the fact that society burdens them with steep demands. The common worker, it is true, exhausts his forces on the job; but he is satisfied with his meal from the cheap food stand, his drink with friends in the corner bar and his room in the crowded tenement. In the home of the obrero the wife sells her cooking and the child hawks newspapers on the street. Completely different is the case of the empleado, who is always obliged to maintain, even if only in appearance and at the cost of every kind of personal sacrifice, the social position he inherited and which the life of social relations, as well as his own hope of getting ahead, make indispensable.50

The climate of inflation, labor agitation, and emerging empleado organization thus gave birth to one of the classic myths of the Peruvian middle class: that they suffered more from inflation than did manual workers because their inherent social status left them no choice but to maintain a level of consumption that they could no longer afford. According to José Carlos Mariátegui, this assertion became commonplace after 1919, and it has remained a Peruvian cliché ever since.51

The brilliance of the myth was its ability to reconcile the irreconcilable. On the one hand, the idea of the suffering middle class bolstered empleado demands for better salaries, shorter hours, a Sunday holiday, and lower consumer prices—the typical labor agenda, which they shared with manual workers. On the other hand, it reinforced the insistence that empleados and obreros were different by nature, with inevitably distinct material needs. Nowhere in this framework was there room for the idea that a manual worker might need or even desire to live a “decent” lifestyle, nor for the remote possibility that an obrero might become an empleado or vice versa.

Moreover, the image of a middle class oppressed by inflation, trapped under the weight of obligatory expenses, could be used for a variety of political ends. Members of the economic elite fervently supported middle-class demands in the early months of 1919, noting that the poor empleados suffered in silence, participating in relatively little labor agitation, strikes, or violence. As conservative La Crónica editorialized: “Yes, the working class suffers from the incredible rise in the cost of living, but suffering just as much, or surely even more, is the so-called middle class, the ‘bourgeoisie’ so unjustly attacked by the agitators of today.”52

Much ink was spent sympathizing with the poor, downtrodden empleados; the not-so-hidden agenda was to praise their stoic resignation, thereby condemning the obreros’ assertiveness. This provided a way to oppose the manual workers’ demands without abandoning a humanitarian public posture and self-image.

But the elite’s eagerness to repeat employee claims that the middle class suffered the most, and suffered in silence, came to backfire against them. The young employees responsible for the September 1919 strike pointed out what should have been obvious:

In the article carried by today’s La Crónica, it is said that “the middle class suffers more than the working class from the incredible rise in prices,” and . . . it is suggested that the obreros achieve in another way (that is to say, by peaceful means) the ends that they pursue. . . . The worker has never achieved improvements of wages and other such benefits without recourse to the strike, and without exercising certain measures of pressure against the capitalists. . . .

Well then, if we of the middle class, constituted in the majority by empleados, find ourselves in worse conditions than blue-collar workers, in spite of our being the brain of all organization, it is precisely for the lack of union and virility among us, that we do not demand by force what we are not given by right. The day that the employees would rise up and strike, they would be heard and attended in their just demands.53

When carried to its logical conclusion, the idea that the empleado was more oppressed than the obrero became nothing short of revolutionary. Instead of seeing the tendency to live beyond their means as a collective middle-class character flaw, the employees of 1919 argued that a “decent” lifestyle was a “demand of their environment,” indeed, a requirement of white-collar employment. Turning the old criticism on its head, the empleados made a truly radical assertion: that as born members of the middle class, they had the intrinsic right to a respectable living standard, however that might be defined. This new middle-class consciousness was profoundly antiegalitarian, based upon belief in a natural social hierarchy; yet it provided the motive and justification for the September strike.

The Struggle for Protective Legislation

The arbitration board charged with solving the 1919 conflict ruled that employees should receive an across-the-board pay raise and a limit on their working hours. Employees did not win the eight-hour day, but stores were obliged to close at 7 p.m., a provision the SEC itself began to enforce.54 The conquests of 1919, however limited, inspired empleados to continue organizing in pursuit of pensions and other protective legislation. These campaigns demonstrated the strengths, but also the limitations, of the new middle-class movement.

In early 1921, disgruntled employees in the semipublic, semiprivate tax collection agency tried to form a union. When the company refused to recognize the organization and fired its leaders, the SEC called a general white-collar strike in defense of the principle of unionization. Few answered the call, however, and the action was a resounding failure. Empleados had mobilized in 1919 to make demands on the government, but they were not ready for a direct confrontation with employers over the abstract right to unionize. In addition to their deep sense of respectability, bonds of loyalty still tied them to their principales. The radical rhetoric of 1921 went against the grain of their identity as a suffering but distinguished class.55

Similarly, employees failed in 1922 and 1923 to win passage of legislation designed to establish a mandatory pension system and to formalize the rights of employees vis-á-vis their bosses. The chamber of commerce opposed the bill, which died a slow death in congressional debate.56 In this case, the empleados exerted little real pressure, merely filling the senate gallery and cheering on the protagonists as if the debate had been some kind of sporting event. Wrote one columnist:

In all the countries of the world, the middle class fights directly, head in the air, face-to-face with the enemy. Here it is a timid, cowed, oppressed class, with a poorly understood idea of social action. Hated by plutocrats, ridiculed by millionaires, looked on with disdain by aristocrats, held as an enemy by obreros, it finds itself alone and isolated, enclosed in the house of cards that are its prejudices and myths. They say nothing, they ask for nothing, they want nothing. They never raise their voice for fear of imposing.57

This criticism was perhaps unfair, because the failure of the 1921 strike had demonstrated the narrow line that empleados were forced to walk. Too little action slowed the pace of reform, but too much pressure threatened to undermine the foundation of empleado legitimacy: the ideology of the most oppressed class, suffering in silence. A more confrontational stance would have offended empleado sensibilities as members of the respectable half of society, and probably would have alienated elite opinion, eroding the support that the empleados’ cause continued to enjoy. In the end, the SEC leadership chose to lobby for a more moderate law, leaving intact those elements of paternalism and personal loyalty that so characterized white-collar employment. This second bill, which had the explicit support of President Leguía, succeeded in winning congressional approval and was passed as Law 4916 in February 1924.58 Commonly known as the Ley del Empleado, Law 4916 formed the basis for a substantial part of Peru’s labor jurisprudence, much of it still in force today. The law gave empleados the following benefits:

  1. Three months’ notice before firing or, in case of despido intempestivo (unannounced firing), payment of the corresponding salary.

  2. Compensation for years of service, paid in a lump sum when the employee left the employer, based on a sliding scale roughly equivalent to two weeks’ salary for each year of employment.

  3. A life insurance policy provided entirely by the employer for all empleados with four years of service. If an employee died within the first four years, the patrón was to pay for a funeral “in accordance with the social status [según la categoría y rango social] of the deceased.”

  4. In case of work-related illness or injury, employers were to pay 80 percent of the employee’s salary for the first two months, 60 percent the third month, 40 percent the fourth, and thereafter 20 percent, to continue for life in the event of permanent disability.59

The Ley del Empleado presupposed and sought to preserve the stable, long-term relationship between employer and employee. Those who changed jobs frequently received few benefits, but people with many years of service in a single establishment could expect a large compensation in lieu of a pension. The three months’ notice arose from the idea that an empleado, if fired, found it especially difficult to obtain a new post. While manual workers were accustomed to job instability, white-collar employees shared an almost irreplaceable bond with their employers, or so it was argued. This vision of the “faithful servant” was similarly behind the lump-sum indemnification. Though employees saw the payment as a right earned over many years of labor, business leaders thought of it as a charitable duty, to assure that their servidores did not retire to, or die in, abject poverty.60 Throughout debate on the bill, the special relation between employer and employee was repeatedly stressed. When one senator complained that the project gave the empleado benefits superior to that of the obrero, another responded, “The condition of the obrero is completely distinct from that of the empleado. The condition of the former in respect to the employer is circumstantial, not permanent like that of the empleado.”61

Though the Ley del Empleado was rooted in paternalism, its effects were still transcendental. First of all, Law 4916 only applied to the non-manual, ostensibly middle-class employee. Labor law froze the traditional categories of empleado and obrero into formal definitions, and bestowed upon one benefits that the other supposedly did not deserve or did not need. Thus, as law supplanted custom in deciding who was an empleado and who was not, law also supplanted custom in deciding who was decente and who was not. In effect, social classes became legal constructs for the first time in Peru’s post-colonial history.

Secondly, Law 4916 provided that all empleados receive the kinds of benefits that employers usually gave only to their most loyal, most senior employees. Under the new law, those benefits ceased to be rewards or charitable gifts: they were now rights that belonged to employees of all types, at all levels of hierarchy, in large firms and small. The effect was to grant empleados a degree of job security never before imagined. Even though the typical employee might have enjoyed a long-term relationship with his employer, it was another thing altogether when the owner could not fire anyone unless he was willing to pay three months’ severance plus the compensation for years of service. Employers found it increasingly difficult to use the threat of firing as a way to discipline their work force.

This aspect of the law sparked heated opposition from the business community. In a campaign launched against the measure, the chamber of commerce made it clear that employers had no problem providing benefits for their “good” employees. Unfortunately, the chamber argued, certain “inept, undisciplined, and unscrupulous” employees took unfair advantage of the law, either putting no effort whatsoever into the job or going from office to office, intentionally trying to get fired in order to receive the three months’ salary.62 Owners began to interpret the law as restrictively as possible, and frequently tried to circumvent its provisions.

Legislating Social Classes

Employer resistance took a number of forms, including a widespread effort to reclassify empleados as obreros. Not surprisingly, this sparked a series of legal conflicts over who enjoyed empleado status. The legislation had been approved with employees of the large import houses and banks in mind; it did not take into account the technicians, warehouse guards, hacienda administrators, foremen, mining work-gang leaders, and others whose work and social category fell into the gray area between empleado and obrero or between empleado and domestic servant. Arbitration tribunals had to establish, case by case, who was an empleado and who was an obrero. It became clear for the first time that customary distinctions were inadequate, because they were not based on formal, objective rules that held up legally. Moreover, the rise of new occupations, especially technical jobs in mining and construction, played havoc with a system of stratification that traced its origins to an earlier, less diversified economy.63

The judges based their decisions on various criteria, most important being the degree to which the duties performed were primarily intellectual versus manual. All claimants who could possibly demonstrate status as an empleado obviously tried to do so, often embellishing their job descriptions. A doorman emphasized the occasions on which he took money to the bank or made purchases for his boss, a mechanic called himself a “mechanical employee,” the most senior of three telephone repair workers gave herself the title “chief of repairs section,” and a live-in apartment handyman provided documentation showing that he was responsible for collecting rents and screening new tenants.64 Employers played the same game, declaring in one case that a highway construction engineer performed services “of a technical nature,” and in another that a draftsman only worked as a day laborer.65 Some employers tried to deny their workers empleado status by shifting them from the monthly salary payroll (customary for empleados) to the day-wage payroll (customary for obreros).66

Job descriptions were often not enough to settle the obrero-empleado question, so the tribunals tended, albeit against the letter of the law, to take the characteristics of claimants into account. Education was a crucial factor: few illiterates won empleado status, and technicians with formal credentials had a better chance than the self-taught. Race could not but slip into the calculus: one night watchman, a Spaniard, won empleado status while Indians doing identical work did not.67 Since European birth practically guaranteed consideration as one of the gente decente in Peru, this is perhaps not surprising.

Some defenses were ingenious. All workers in the Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation, for example, carried identification cards in Spanish that designated each as “empleado no. N” of the company. The word empleado was clearly a literal translation from the English, used by that U.S.-owned and -operated mining concern with its generic meaning, covering both manual and nonmanual workers. Even so, one lawyer successfully used the I.D. card as material evidence to prove that a miner, by the company’s own admission, was indeed an empleado and not an obrero.68

The most common court declarations combined aspects of the job description with characteristics of the worker, providing a kind of argumentative overkill, as in the following:

José León was neither an obrero nor a foreman but rather a “checker,” whose occupation consists of ordering the transfer of cargoes from the warehouse to the convoy in order to send them on to their destination, recording each package on an ad hoc list. He was the one man responsible in case of the loss or misdirection of cargo; he earned a monthly salary of 85 soles, paid fortnightly, as were the other empleados. . . . Unlike foremen, a “checker” works at night and even on holidays without receiving overtime, and in past strikes the “checkers” have never intervened on the side of the workers nor have they taken the obreros’ side in their negotiations with the Company.69

José León’s attorney mounted a defense based on the job’s intellectual nature, the level of responsibility, the mode of payment, and, significantly, workplace politics. Though it was uncommon for claimants to refer to their political or strike behavior in order to argue empleado status, his case underscored how the law rewarded those employees who insisted that they were distinct from obreros.

Empleados responded in contradictory ways to their new legal rights. On the one hand, disputes over interpretation of the law drove a wedge between the business community and the white-collar organizations, pushing empleados toward a more radical line and undermining the harmony that they had once claimed to seek with employers. Tensions were felt not only during peak moments of confrontation, as when the chamber of commerce tried to repeal or circumvent major portions of the legislation, but also in daily interaction on the job. Employers complained about the erosion of discipline, while empleados countered that their bosses would falsely accuse them of theft or some other offense in order to avoid paying indemnifications. Differences that might have been solved amicably, it was charged, now went to court.70 Some arbitration cases generated heated rhetoric, such as that of a department store employee who complained about the “abuse of the capitalist against the little empleado.”71

On the other hand, the actual content of the legislation had an opposite effect. With compensation claims based on the time of service to a single employer, the law perpetuated the ideal of mutual loyalty and defended a way of life that could not easily be reconciled with strikes or trade unionism. Indeed, many of the law’s most fervent supporters considered it little more than a guarantee that employers would treat their empleados with the kindness that tradition dictated, and that “good” employers willingly gave. The conflicts that arose were rationalized as the machinations of a few “bad” employers, even when the chamber of commerce led the siege.

An excellent example is the case of Antonio Fontana, the man who had worked for 38 years in Juan Nosiglia’s family business with permission to take whatever he needed from the warehouse. Sometime after his employer’s death, Fontana notified the new boss, Juan Nosiglia, Jr., that he wished to retire and receive his indemnification for 38 years of service. The younger Nosiglia fired him, refusing to pay compensation because Fontana had allegedly stolen a pair of shoes. Fontana claimed he had taken them on account, as always. Significantly, the article in Fontana’s defense spoke not of the employee’s legal rights, but of the hard-heartedness of Nosiglia, Jr., who had shamelessly reneged on a moral obligation to his father’s trusted servant.

. . . [T]he situation of Fontana should be defended not only by the law, but also by the recognition of his bosses. But—and this is the tragedy—the poor, elderly man has been deprived of . . . this recognition, and so his only hope is that justice be done by those who enforce the law.72

More important, the Ley del Empleado gave permanence to a division of society based on the distinction between manual and nonmanual labor. This could not help but erode any grounds for a broad labor alliance, especially if an empleado like José León could use a demonstrated lack of solidarity with obreros as evidence to prove his status and claim his benefits. In fact, some empleados cited the new legislation expressly to discredit and demean those “below them” in the hierarchy, as in this letter from a timekeeper to the company director:

I can only protest, Mr. Superintendent, that in order to fire me from my position you have invoked the affirmations of a drunken watchman, whose word could never prevail, given his sad condition of domestic (in accordance with paragraph A of Article 2 of the reglamentation of Law 4916), over the affirmations of a man of honor and a conscientious employee, who in his 13 years of service to the company has never given his superiors any reason for complaint.73

The law justified traditional prejudice, reiterating the idea that obreros and empleados were two different kinds of people, and that only empleados were gente decente, members of the middle class. In the end, supposedly “progressive” labor legislation crystallized and preserved a castelike conception of society, with roots deep in Latin America’s colonial heritage.74

Empleados and the Nature of the Middle Class

The historical role of the middle class in Peru, as in the rest of Latin America, has typically been described in one of two ways. The progressive theory has seen the middle class as a force for change, fully conscious of its interests, willing to ally itself with the working class in order to combat oligarchic domination. The dependent theory has seen the middle class as a loyal appendage of the upper class, on which it relied for jobs and favors. The dependent middle class emulated the elite and shared its view of the world, including disdain for (and fear of) the masses. Most alternative theories have combined the two visions, painting a middle class that wavered between progressive and dependent as it adapted to circumstances. In every case, however, progressive and dependent attitudes were thought of as diametrical opposites, an assumption that is logical but wrong.

The experience of the Peruvian empleados illustrates the complexity of a middle class that was simultaneously progressive and dependent. On the one hand, because their society generally considered them part of the gente decente, empleados lived in a cultural milieu suffused with elite values and ideals. In such matters as housing, dress, food, and leisure, the upper class was their reference point; they had no other. Paternalism and the ideal of loyal service bound employees to their bosses, while the tradition of internal promotion (and hence the chance of upward mobility) legitimized their aspirations and their identification with those above them. On the other hand, the economic demands of membership in respectable society were often well beyond an employee’s modest means. Those culturally defined “necessities” brought a heavy financial burden, especially in times of inflation. Because employees could not rely upon their bosses’ generosity alone to provide for a lifestyle befitting their perceived social station, they were left with little choice but to join together and take action on behalf of concrete material demands.

Lima’s employees gradually, perhaps reluctantly, adopted working-class methods of organization and struggle, including the union and the strike. In some cases they joined forces with blue-collar workers. At no time, however, did their actions signify a true identification with the proletariat. Employees consistently claimed that they, the middle class, were the ones who suffered most from the rising cost of living. They were naturally distinct from the working class, so the argument went, and their basic necessities were, by definition, greater. The ideology of the most oppressed middle class took firm root in Peruvian political culture, enabling empleados to continue seeing themselves as part of society’s respectable half, even while they joined blue-collar workers in the streets. This vision strongly influenced Peru’s early labor law, cementing the obrero-empleado division as a permanent facet of that nation’s social organization. In sum, the empleados successfully defended their interests while they preserved a basic identification with the elite. From their point of view, this was anything but dependence: it was a hard-fought and well-deserved victory.

Research for this article was made possible by fellowships from the Fulbright Commission, the Inter-American Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies.


See Peter Blanchard, The Origins of the Peruvian Labor Movement, 1883-1919 (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1982), 148—59; Denis Sulmont, El movimiento obrero en el Perú, 1900-1956 (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Fondo Editorial, -975)> 80-94; Peter F. Klarén, “The Origins of Modern Peru, 1880—1930,” in The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 5, c. 1870 to 1930, ed. Leslie Bethell (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 624-31; Jesús Chavarría, José Carlos Mariátegui and the Rise of Modern Peru, 1890-1930 (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1979), 21-24; Piedad Pareja Pflucker, Anarquismo y syndicalisme en el Perú (1904-1929) (Lima: Ediciones Rikchay Perú, 1978), 41-61; Manuel Burga and Alberto Flores Galindo, Apogeo y crisis de la República Aristocrática (Lima: Ediciones Rikchay Perú, 1980), 150-54.


These events are described in Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú: 1822-1933, 5th ed., 11 vols. (Lima: Ediciones “Historia,” 1961), IX, 4179-80; and Ricardo Temoche Benites, Cofradías, gremios, mutuales y sindicatos en el Perú (Lima: Editorial Escuela Nueva, 1987), 214-15. Lima actually experienced two strikes, each a day long. The first was on September 20, 1919, the second on December 18 after arbitration talks broke down. The Callao strike lasted more than a week. No estimate was made of the number of employees who stayed off the job, but the figure of 700 demonstrators in Lima and 800 in Callao comes from El Tiempo (Lima), Sept. 20, 1919, pp. 2, 7.


The progressive theory was best stated in John J. Johnson, Political Change in Latin America: The Emergence of the Middle Sectors (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1958). Johnson’s popularizers included Victor Alba, “Latin America: The Middle Class Revolution, New Politics 1:2 (Winter 1962), 66-73; and Charles O. Porter and Robert Alexander, The Struggle for Democracy in Latin America (New York: Macmillan, 1961). The dependent theory appeared in Bert F. Hoselitz, “Economic Growth in Latin America,” paper presented at the first International Conference of Economic History, Stockholm, 1960; Frederick B. Pike, “Aspects of Class Relations in Chile, 1850-1960,” HAHR 43:1 (Feb. 1963), 14-33; and Charles Wagley, An Introduction to Brazil (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1963), 126.


I am indebted to the Asociación de Empleados del Perú, formerly the Sociedad Empleados de Comercio, for access to its extensive private archive.


Rosemary Thorp and Geoffrey Bertram, Peru 1890-1977.· Growth and Policy in an Open Economy (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1978), 167-212; Ernesto Yepes del Castillo, Perú 1820-1920: un siglo de desarollo capitalista (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1972), 146. On the importance of commerce: Alexander Garland, Peru in 1906, With a Brief Historical and Geographical Sketch, trans. George R. Gepp (Lima: “La Industria” Printing Office, 1907), 211, 230-31; Francisco García Calderón, Le Pérou contemporain (Paris: Dujarric et Cie., 1907), 147-52. On the rage for European products and styles, see Chavarría, José Carlos Mariátegui, 15—21; Aurelio Miró Quesada Sosa, Lima: ciudad de los reyes (Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1946), 89-91; Fernando Romero, Evolución industrial y educación técnica (Lima: Ediciones Hora del Hombre, 1951), 30-35. The elite so desired imported goods that one government official advised Peruvian factories to place counterfeit foreign labels on their products to boost domestic sales. Carl Frederick Herbold, Jr., Developments in the Peruvian Administrative System, 1919—1930: Modern and Traditional Qualities of Government Under Authoritarian Regimes” (Ph. D. diss., Yale Univ., 1973), 117.


The 15 percent figure is based on census data. Peru, Ministerio de Fomento, Dirección de Salud Pública, Censo de la provincia de Lima (26 de junio de 1908) (Lima: Imprenta de “La Opinión Nacional,” 1915), 914-25; Peru, Ministerio de Hacienda, Dirección de Estadística, Resumen del censo de las provincias de Lima y Callao levantado el 17 de diciembre de 1920 (Lima: Imprenta Americana, 1927), 174-82; Carlos P. Jiménez Correa, Censo de las provincias de Lima y Callao levantado el 13 de noviemhre de 1931 (Lima: Imprenta Torres Aguirre, 1932), 196. Figures for women workers are more elusive. In 1908, a total of 415 women were listed as commercial employees, accountants, or stenographers, compared to 6,574 men. The 1920 census classified large numbers of both sexes simply as empleados or empleadas, not specifying what kind of work they did. But a large proportion of the 2,815 women listed as empleadas were domestic servants—the word empleada also means “maid.” The census categories are explained in David S. Parker, “The Rise of the Peruvian Middle Class: A Social and Political History of White-Collar Employees in Lima, 1900—1950” (Ph. D. diss., Stanford Univ., 1990), chap. 1.


On the importance of the empleado-obrero distinction, see Stanley M. Davis, “Empleados and Obreros,” in Workers and Managers in Latin America, ed. Stanley M. Davis and Louis Wolf Goodman (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1972), 31-34. For Peru: David Chaplin, The Peruvian Industrial Labor Force (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1967), 83-87; James Payne, Labor and Politics in Peru: The System of Political Bargaining (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1965), 163-65; David G. Becker, The New Bourgeoisie and the Limits of Dependency: Mining, Class and Power in “Revolutionary" Peru (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), 282-83, 298-99· For Chile: Alan Angell, Politics and the Labour Movement in Chile (London: Oxford Univ. Press for Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1972), 66-69. Biographies of successful high-level employees appear in Artemio Pacheco B., Cabezas dirigentes del alto comercio del Perú (Lima: Cámara de Comercio, 1923); José Reaño García, Historia del leguíismo: sus hombres y sus obras (Lima: E. Balarezo, 1928); Diccionario biográfico del Perú, 1st ed. (Lima: Escuelas Americanas, n.d. [1943 or 1944]); Oscar F. Arrús, “El movimiento financiero del Perú,” in El Perú en el primer centenario de su independencia (Buenos Aires: Sociedad de Publicidad Sudamericana, 1922); and the periodicals La Mesocracia, El Empleado, llustración Obrera, and Mundial. Low-level employees are described in llustración Obrera 60 (Apr. 1917), 5-6. Many of the details of white-collar contracts and work regimes were found in the records of labor disputes involving empleados. For example: Daniel Flores vs. Luis Gotuzzo y Cía, 1925, no. 579, and Carlos Carrasco vs. Jacobo Cassis, 1924, no. 349, Archivo General de la Nación, Lima (hereafter cited as AGN), Sección Poderes Publicos, Ministerio del Trabajo, Expedientes Laborales Varios (hereafter cited as ELV).


The public employee’s dependence upon the personal contact was a notorious cliché; the literature here is virtually endless. Víctor Andrés Belaúnde, “La crisis presente” (1914), in Meditaciones peruanas, 2d ed. (Lima: P. L. Villanueva, 1963), 97; Abelardo Gamarra (“El Tunante”), “Pepito de las cunas,” in Lima: unos cuantos barrios y unos cuantos tipos (al comenzar el siglo XX) (Lima: P. Berrio, 1907), 34-40; Idem., “Los Felicianos,” “Una de tantas familias,” “No hay en qué trabajar,” and “Juan Pichón,” in Cien años de vida perdularia (Lima: Casa de la Cultura del Perú, 1963); Joaquín Capelo, Sociología de Lima, 4 vols. (Lima: Imprenta Masías, 1895), II, 120; and Oscar Caballero Fischer, “S. M. La tarjeta de recomendación,” El Empleado 113 (Jan.-Feb. 1948), 23. The critique is discussed in Herbold, “Peruvian Administrative System,” 65, 77, 84-85. Getting a white-collar job in the private sector followed most of the same rules.


On recruitment, see El Tiempo (Lima), Mar. 30, 1922, p. 3; Mar. 31, 1922, p. 3. José M. Harrisson, “Refutando un cargo contra la clase media,” El Empleado 15 (May 1937), 8. The fianza de empleados was offered by several insurance companies; see the ad placed by the Compañía de Seguros “Rímac” in the magazine Ciudad y Campo y Caminos (Nov. 1927). For sample letters of recommendation, J. L. Zuzunaga vs. Patricio Zembrano, 1927, no. 1699, AGN, ELV. On the role of nationality in job recruitment, La Defensa (Lima), Oct. 16, 1927, p. 1. On solidarities among immigrants from the same region of Peru, Eudocio Ravines, La gran estafa (Santiago: Editorial del Pacífico, 1954), 84. A model letter from someone seeking work as a meritorio in a bank appears in La Defensa, Apr. 16, 1927, p. 2.


J. L. Zuzunaga vs. Patricio Zembrano, 1927, no. 1699: Juan Sarria vs. E. & W. Hart 1926, no. 1407; AGN, ELV. The argument also appeared in debate over empleado legislation. Peru, Cámara de Diputados, Diario de los debates, Congreso Ordinario 1922 949-53·


Daniel Flores vs. Gotuzzo y Cía, 1925, no. 579; Teodora Vega vs. Sociedad Anómma de Productos Nacionales “La Corona,” 1929, no. 1588; Juan Marticorena vs. Juan A. Cavarelli, 1926, no. 993; AGN, ELV.


On company pensions, see for example La Mesocracia 1 (Oct. 20, 1923), 21; 3 (Jan. 5, 1924). 17· On funerals, see Sociedad Empleados de Comercio (hereafter cited as SEC), Actas Generales II (1915-1920), Oct. 25, 1915, p. 29: Nov. 18, 1915, p. 39. Evidence of compadrazgo between employers and empleados can be found, among other places, in Juan Marticorena vs. Juan A. Cavarelli, 1926, no. 993, AGN, ELV.


Clipping from La Sanción (n.d.) submitted as evidence in Antonio Fontana vs. Juan Nosiglia, 1927, no. 554, AGN, ELV.


“De empleado a patrono,” La Mesocracia 2 (Dec. 1, 1923), 21.


Joaquín Capelo noted in 1895 that unlike public employees, skilled commercial employees often rose to become important functionaries. Capelo, Sociología de Lima II, 119. That young empleados could realistically aspire to executive positions is noted in a speech by the president of the SEC in La Mesocracia 5 (Mar. 1924), 9–10. See also the biographies cited in Pacheco, Cabezas dirigentes, as well as those of Nicanor Salazar Castillo in El Empleado 4 (June 1936), 13; and J. Abadia in Mundial (Dec. 1, 1922). For the case of one commercial house owner distributing Lp. 2,500 out of company profits as an employee bonus, SEC to Vda. de Piedra e Hijos, Lima, Aug. 9, 1918, SEC, Correspondencia Varios (1915–1920), 209. In another example, the widow of the former owner of the Bazar Cisne turned the shop over to two empleados of long standing. El Empleado 72–73 (Mar.-Apr. 1942). 3·


Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1950), 159.


On the importance of caste in Peruvian social structure, Fernando Fuenzalida Vollma, “Poder, etnía y estratificación social en el Perú rural,” in José Matos Mar, et al., Perú: hoy, 3d. ed. (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1975), 75–85: José Mejia Valera, “La estratificación social en el Perú, Cuadernos Americanos 23:2 (1964), 107—17; Carlos Delgado, Problemas sociales en el Perú contemporáneo (Lima: Campodónico Ediciones, 1971), 48; José Sabogal Wiese, “Las clases medias en el Perú,” Economía y Agricultura (Lima) 2:8 (Oct. 1966), 343–44; Roberto MacLean y Estenos, Genesis y telesis social en el Perú (Lima: Libreria y Imprenta Gil, 1942), 117-21; José Luis Bustamante y Rivero, “Las clases sociales en el Peru,” Revista (Arequipa) 49 (1961), 31–32, 36–39.


An excellent treatment of the division of society between gente decente and gente del pueblo, based on Buenos Aires of the late nineteenth century, is James R. Scobie, Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 18701910 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1974), chap. 6. Similar arguments are presented for Mexico in William H. Beezley, Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes ofPorfirian Mexico (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1987), 5–6; and for Peru in Magali Sarfatti Larson and Arlene Eisen Bergman, Social Stratification in Peru (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, Univ. of California, 1969), 113.


Manuel Antonio Carreño, Manual de urbanidad y buenas maneras (1899; reprint, Lima, n.p., 1966), 39. Cited in Steve Stein, “Popular Culture and Politics in Early Twentieth-Century Lima,” New World 1:2 (1986), 75.


On artisans’ ability to gain their independence and enter respectable society, see Santiago Basurco and Leonidas Avendaño, “Informe emitido por la comisión encargada de estudiar las condiciones sanitarias de las casas de vecindad en Lima, primera parte,” Peru, Ministerio de Fomento, Dirección de Salubridad, Boletín 3:4 (Apr. 30, 1907), 32. Also Steve Stein, Lima obrera 1900–1930, 3 vols. (Lima: Ediciones El Virrey, 1986), I, 35.


Empleados were categorized by race in the 1908 census: White, 3,354; Mestizo, L599; Indian, 594; Black, 41; Asian, 982. Peru, Censo de 1908, 914-25. In Lima as a whole, nonwhites outnumbered whites by almost two to one, making the proportion of white commercial employees substantially larger than the average.


Reports of these banquets (known as agasajos) appeared regularly in La Mesocracia, El Empleado, and La Defensa.


Alberto Alexander Rosenthal, Estudio sobre la crisis de la habitación en Lima (Lima: Imprenta Torres Aguirre, 1922), 18.


Duels are discussed in SEC, Actas Directivas II (1919–1924), Dec. 22, 1921, p. 165; Mar. 16, 1922, p. 185; Apr. 4, 1922, pp. 192-93; El Tiempo (Lima), Mar. 25, 1922, p. 5. When the SEC was donated a vacant lot, members voted to erect a tennis court. La Mesocracia 2 (Dec. 1, 1923), 15. Tennis was certainly a sport of the elite in Peru, as noted in Cipriano A. Laos, Lima: ciudad de los virreyes (el libro peruano) 1928–1929 (Lima: Editorial Peru, 1927). 199. 212, 379. On the popularity of billiards and its presence in the aristocratic National and Phoenix clubs, see Laos, p. 371. The billiard table in the SEC meeting hall was by some accounts the organization's greatest asset. SEC, Actas Directivas II, Feb. 26, 1920 PP· 45. 47


See the advertisements in various issues of the empleados’ regular publication, La Mesocracia (1924).


Joaquín Capelo, cited in Richard Morse, Lima en 1900; estudio crítico y antología (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1973), 81. A typical empleado s budget, reproduced in ¡Ya! 16 (July 1949), 18—19, provides evidence that such customs survived well into the 1940s.


Not atypical were the cases of two charter members of the SEC, who at an advanced age were taken ill and left so poor that they could no longer pay their dues. SEC, Actas Directivas I (1903–1918), Sept. 3, 1916, pp. 253–54; III (1924–1932), Feb. 26, 1924, p. 5; SEC, Memoria Anual 1916, 5–6.


SEC de Lima, Discurso pronunciado por el socio honorario de la institución, D. Daniel C. Urrea, en la conferencia ofrecida en honor de los empleados de comercio de la república el 8 de mayo de 1915 (Lima: Librería e Imprenta Gil, 1915), 15–16.


Basurco and Avendaño, “Informe, primera parte,” 6.


Jorge Basadre, “La aristocracia y las clases medias civiles en el Perú republicano,” Mercurio Peruano 44 (1963), 466–67.


Capelo, Sociología de Lima II, 184-92; III, 261, 278-79; Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias, Las cojinovas: costumbres limeñas . . . cursis (Lima: Badiola y Berrio, 1905), esp. 24-25; Abelardo Gamarra (“El Tunante”), “El museo de las desdichas, o las casas de préstamo,” in Rasgos de pluma (Lima: Torres, 1889), 108-10; Manuel Beingolea, “Mi corbata,” in Bajo las lilas, cuentos pretéritos, selección (Lima: Editorial Jurídica, 1967), 93–102; Basadre, “Aristocracia y clases medias,” 467.


Basurco and Avendaño, “Informe, primera parte,” 6-7; Idem., “Informe emitido por la comisión . . . segunda parte,” Perú, Ministerio de Fomento, Dirección de Salubridad, Boletín 3:5 (May 31, 1907), 65-66. Many elite families rented decent rooms to boarders; thus it was often difficult from the outside to tell an overcrowded casa de vecindad from a still-respectable home. This enforced the pretension of the casas even though the callejones often provided better space, light, and sanitary conditions.


Huachafo and huachafería described the poor taste of the social climber, the unsuccessful attempt to don the trappings of elegance or culture. Unlike the Spanish cursi, huachafo more typically referred to an economically struggling middle class than to a wealthy but uneducated nouveau riche. See Willy F. Pinto Gamboa, Lo huachafo: trama y perfil (Jorge Miota, vida y obra) (Lima: Editorial Cibeles, 1981); Sebastián Salazar Bondy, Lima la horrible (Lima: Ediciones Peisa, 1974), 117-18; Federico Schwab, “Lo huachafo como fenómeno social,” Peruanidad 2:5 (Mar. 1942), 401-03.


The concern with descanso dominical, or the Sunday holiday, was present from the organization’s inception. SEC, Actas Directivas I, Dec. 17, 1903, p. 2; SEC, Reglamento (Lima, 1913), art. 3; Memoria Anual 1913, 3-4; Memoria Anual 1914, 5-6; Memoria Anual 1915, 9–10; Memoria Anual 1916, 10.


SEC, Memoria Anual 1913, 2.


La Prensa (Lima), Jan. 22, 1915, p. 2. SEC, Memoria Anual 1915, 5–6. Basadre, Historia de la República IX, 84.


On honorary members, for example, SEC to Germán Loredo, Dec. 26, 1904, SEC, Correspondencia Institucional (1904-1916), 70-71. Passing the hat among employers was discussed in the very first session of the directorate. SEC, Actas Directivas I, Dec. 17, 1903, p. 1. Also SEC, Discurso pronunciado por . . . Urrea, 18; Memoria Anual 1913, 7; Memoria Anual 1914, 6. The quotation comes from an SEC flyer dated Oct. 15, 1916. Biblioteca Nacional, Sala de Investigaciones, Colección de volantes y hojas sueltas [hereafter cited as CVHS].


The World War I economic crisis is analyzed in Bill Albert, South America and the First World War: The Impact of the War on Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988). For primary materials: Exposición del gerente de la Compañía Recaudadora de Impuestos, Sr. D. José Carlos Bernales (Lima: Imprenta “Artística,” 1917), 10; and Almanaque deEl Comercio”, 1915, 86-93. On empleado efforts to limit the impact of unemployment and pay cuts: SEC, Actas Directivas I, Sept. 28, 1914, p. 208; SEC, Memoria Anual 1915, 4-6.


Oscar Arrús, “El costo de la vida en Lima,” in El costo de la vida en Lima y causas de su carestía (Lima: n.p., 1927), also reprinted in Wilma Derpich, José Luis Huiza, and Cecilia Israel, Lima años 30: salarios y costo de vida de la clase trabajadora (Lima: Fundación Friedrich Ebert, 1985), 111-36, esp. 134-35.


Guillermo Rochabrún, “Las ideas socialistas en el Perú,” Los Caminos del Laberinto 4 (Dec. 1986), 3-7; Herbold, “Peruvian Administrative System,” 69–87; Luis Miró Quesada, Albores de la reforma social en el Perú (Lima, 1966), esp. 138; José Carlos Mariátegui, “Bolshevikis, aquí” and “Los delegados del pueblo,” in El pensamiento comunista, 1917-1945, ed. Alberto Flores Galindo (San Isidro: Mosca Azul Editores, 1982), 50-56. On the Palacios visit: Juan Gargurevich, La razón del joven Mariátegui: crónica del primer diario de izquierda en el Perú (Lima: Editorial Horizonte, 1978), 103; SEC, Actas Generales II, Dec. 19, 1918; El Tiempo, Apr. 30, 1919, p. 2; May 13, 1919.


When the eight-hour movement erupted, the SEC was busy discussing the unrelated issue of alleged Chilean aggression against Peruvian employees in the disputed territories of Tacna, Arica, and Tarapacá. SEC, Actas Generales II, Dec. 19, 1918. The store owners’ fear of violence is noted in Variedades (Lima) 14:568 (Jan. 18, 1919), 39–46.


Asociación General de Empleados (Callao), Memoria Anual, Año II (Callao: Imprenta “El Progresso,” 1919), 18-24, esp. 22;· La Prensa, Jan. 16, 1919, p. 4; Jan. 17, 1919, p. 3; Jan. 19, 1919, p. 3; Jan. 24, 1919, p. 3; Jan. 25, 1919, p. 2.


The young radicals’ most active spokesman was Eudocio Ravines, an accountant in a hardware store, who a decade later would found the Peruvian Communist party. Their struggle for control of the SEC is followed in La Razón (Lima), June 18–July 22, 1919. See also Ravines, La gran estafa, 87-88; Ricardo Martínez de la Torre, “El movimiento obrero en 1919,” part 3, Amanta 19 (Nov.-Dec. 1928), 64-65.


SEC, Actas Generales II, Sept. 18, 1919, pp. 273-75; Sept. 19, 1919, pp. 276–81. SEC Archive, Libro de Actas de la Asociación General de Empleados (Callao), Jan. 22, 1919. El Tiempo, Sept. 13-Oct. 1, 1919; Dec. 4, 1919, p. 5; Dec. 18, 1919, p. 4; Dec. 19, 1919, pp. 2-3.


SEC, Reglamento (Lima: Imprenta F. García Grilló, 1913), art. 3.


La Prensa, Jan. 24, 1919, p. 3.


La Prensa, Jan. 25, 1919, p. 2.


La Crónica (Lima), Jan. 17, 1919, p. 3.


El Tiempo, Sept. 27, 1919, p. 3. Minor liberties have been taken in translation for the sake of clarity. Note the use of the word obligated. The Spanish obligado could easily have been translated as “compelled” or “forced.” The idea that a person could be forced to enjoy a particular level and type of consumption may be difficult to swallow, but this was central to the employees’ argument.


La Prensa, Jan. 17, 1919, p. 3.


José Carlos Mariátegui (1894-1930) wrote about the empleados in Mundial, Oct. 21, 1927. The column has since been reprinted as “La organización de los empleados” in Mariátegui, Ideología y política (Lima: Librería Editorial “Amauta,” 1969), 189-92. See also Burga and Flores Galindo, Apogeo y crisis, 182.


La Crónica, May 30, 1919, p. 2.


Quoted from a letter empleados reportedly sent to the Lima newspapers in 1919, cited by Martínez de la Torre, “El movimiento obrero,” 64-65. A somewhat similar letter, probably written by Ravines, was signed pseudonym “Boris” and published in La Crónica, Jan. 21, 1919, p. 11.


The arbitration agreement was published in El Tiempo, Dec. 28, 1919. SEC participation in its enforcement is recorded in SEC, Memoria Bienal 1921-22, 11-12.


Accounts of the 1921 strike are taken from the following sources: SEC, Actas Generales III (1920-1925), Jan. 18, 1921, pp. 28-34; Actas Directivas II, Jan. 5, 1921, pp. 82-83; Jan. 12, 1921, pp. 84-86; Jan. 24, 1921, pp. 87-88; Mar. 2, 1921, p. 93; La Prensa, Jan. 18, 1921, p. 5; Jan. 20, 1921, p. 8; Feb. 4, 1921, p. 3; Feb. 15, 1921, pp. 5-6; Feb. 16, 1921, p. 4; Feb. 17, 1921, p. 2; Feb. 21, 1921, p. 5; Feb. 23, 1921, p. 7; Feb. 24, 1921, p. 7. Conservative criticism of the SEC leadership’s handling of the strike can be found in “Manifiesto a los Empleados de Comercio,” February 1921, CVHS. The directorate, including Vice President Eudocio Ravines, was forced to resign. SEC, Actas Generales III, Mar. 5, 1921, pp. 38-40.


The text of the proposal is reproduced in Peru, Cámara de Diputados, Diario de los debates, Congreso Ordinario 1922, 894-98. For debate: Ibid., 45-46, 440, 907-15, 935-40, 948-54, 974-78, 987-91, 999-1007, 1014-20. Favorable editorials appeared in El Tiempo, Feb. 5, 1922, p. 2; Feb. 6, 1922, pp. 1-2; Feb. 16, 1922, p. 2; Mar. 17, 1922, p. 3; Oct. 23, 1922, p. 4. On the role of the chamber of commerce, see Jorge Basadre and Rómulo Ferrero, Historia de la cámara de comercio de Lima (Lima: Santiago Velarde, 1963), 137-38. Its counterproposal was published in El Comercio (Lima), Oct. 3, 1922. Also El Tiempo, Feb. 5, 1922, p. 2; Oct. 4, 1922, p. 1; Oct. 15, 1922, p. 10; La Prensa, Oct. 6, 1922. SEC criticism of the chamber of commerce can be found in El Tiempo, Oct. 22, 1922, p. 6.


El Tiempo, Nov. 23, 1922, p. 4.


José M. Ramírez Gastón, Mi lucha por un ideal social: la ley 4916, básica de la legislación del empleado del Perú, primera en América, y la seguridad social (Lima: Editorial “La Confianza,” 1966); Abel Ulloa Cisneros, Leguía: apuntes de cartera 1919–1924 (Lima: n.p., 1933). Law 4916 and subsequent amendments are compiled in several places. See Peru, Ministerio de Fomento, Ley del empleado no. 4916 y sus ampliatorias no. 5066 y 5119, reglamento de las precedentes leyes (Lima: Imprenta “El Tiempo,” n.d. [1928 or 1929]); S. Martínez G., Ley del empleado particular, 2d. ed. (Lima: Imprenta “El Carmen,” n.d. [after 1983]). Also Napoleon Valdez Tudela, Comentarios a la legislación social peruana (Lima: Imprenta D. Miranda, 1958), 211-14.


Martínez, Ley del empleado, 7-10.


Congress passed the law without settling this most important question. Peru, Senado, Diario de los debates, Congreso Extraordinario 1923, 599–605. The ambiguity spawned a number of subsequent conflicts, the most important being whether or not employees who resigned voluntarily received compensation. These issues are covered in Parker, “Peruvian Middle Class,” chap. 3.


Peru, Senado, Diario de los debates, Congreso Extraordinario 1923, 608.


Henry Grandjean vs. Gran Hotel Bolívar, 1927, no. 641, AGN, ELV. See also Basadre and Ferrero, Cámara de Comercio, 138.


The problem was quickly perceived by the officials involved in enforcing the new law, increasing pressure for reglamentation of the statute. Inspección Fiscal de Bancos, “Informes” 1926, AGN, OL ser., OL 845-1527; also Manuel M. Chávez Fernández, Jurisprudencia de la ley del empleado: leyes, decretos y fallos arbitrales concernientes a la ley 4916 (Lima: Imprenta Americana, 1925).


In order: Victoriano Gallués vs. Compañía Peruana de Vidrio, 1927, no. 624; Tomás Viacava vs. Empresas Eléctricas Asociadas, 1925, no. 1633: Otila Casagrandi vs. Compañía Peruana de Teléfonos, 1926, no. 343; Emilio Cisneros vs. Geo. L. Sellé, 1927, no. 308; AGN, ELV.


Miguel Acosta Cárdenas vs. Empresa Agrícola Chicama, 1926, no. 47; S. E. Deza vs. Cerro de Pasco Copper Corp., 1926, no. 500; AGN, ELV.


Walter Simm vs. The Foundation Co., 1928, no. 1398, AGN, ELV. A number of empleados considered transfer to the day payroll grounds for quitting, not only for the loss of benefits, but just as important for its symbolic meaning. Many viewed demotion to obrero as an affront to their decency. La Defensa, Apr. 16, 1927, p. 1.


On illiterates: Eulalio Podestá vs. la Casa Sanmartí, 1927, no. 1162; Cirilo Vásquez vs. Empresas Eléctricas Asociadas, 1927, no. 1614; Valerio Camargo vs. Cerro de Pasco Copper Corp., 1928, no. 384; AGN, ELV. On technicians: Hermanos Castañeda vs. Hacienda Pomalca, 1927, no. 1723; Saul Bonilla Collazos vs. Compañía Minera Santa Inés, 1928, no. 159; AGN, ELV. On the Spaniard: Victoriano Gallués vs. Compañía Manufacturera de Vidrio del Perú, 1927, no. 624, AGN, ELV.


César Castillo vs. Cerro de Pasco Copper Corp., 1927, no. 282; Carlos Coni vs. Cerro de Pasco Copper Corp., 1927, no. 346; AGN, ELV.


José E. León vs. Empresa del Ferrocarril Central del Perú, 1924, no. 851, AGN, ELV.


Proyecto del Presidente de la Cámara de Comercio del Callao, Sr. Manuel Diez Canseco, sobre la reforma de la legislación relativa a los goces de los empleados de comercio (Callao: Tipografía “Lux,” 1927), 7-8.


Eduardo Craff vs. A. F. Oechsle, 1925, no. 368, AGN, ELV.


Antonio Fontana vs. Juan Nosiglia, 1927, no. 554, AGN, ELV. Fontana won his case, and was awarded an indemnification of Lp. 276 (2,760 soles).


César Augusto Zevallos vs. Cerro de Pasco Copper Corp., 1929, no. 1691, AGN, ELV.


These legal definitions survived well into the 1960s, influencing Peruvian social policy to this day. See Parker, “Peruvian Middle Class,” chap. 5, epilogue, and conclusion.