The focus of this study is the relationship between workers—both unionized and nonunionized—and the Mexican government. The amorphous “social pact” that provides close and mutually beneficial ties between union leaders and government officials originated in the violent first decade of the revolution, but this venerable collaboration has deteriorated since 1982. Kevin Middlebrook’s volume explores worker disaffection and unrest in recent years in which the frustrations of unemployed, underemployed, and unorganized workers have begun to spill over into the ranks of the favored “official” union, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). The collection’s eight contributors leave the impression that the era of harmony between the government and the working class is over and that the future of relations between workers, unions, and the state is much in doubt.

The quality of these essays is quite good, although conservative readers may be disturbed by the authors’ tendency to view their subjects more from the perspective of the workers—especially nonunion and disaffected union types—and less from that of old-line union members, the political elite, and corporate directors. Although controversial for some, this approach bears considerable significance not only for Mexican but also for foreign readers. The rapid intermeshing of the Mexican economy with the international system gives the plight and the perspective of the Mexican worker paramount importance for a wide range of readers outside Mexico, from bankers, industrial managers, union officials, and politicians to the usual group of journalists and academics.

While the factual and analytical depth of these essays cannot be summarized in a brief review, certain points can be cited. The impact of the inflation, severe real-wage declines, and unemployment of the 1980s is explained in Alejandro Alvarez Béjar’s “Economic Crisis and the Labor Movement in Mexico.” Victor Manuel Durand Ponte’s essay indicates that both members of the “social pact” foundered in the 1980s due to workers’ widespread sense of alienation from both the CTM and the government. Adriana López Monjardín’s discussion of the five million nonunionized agricultural workers adds to the gloomy picture.

If there are rays of hope, they come from outside the traditional government-labor axis. Barry Carr and Enrique de la Garza Toledo point to new, grassroots union movements that promise a more dynamic assertion of workers’ autonomy. And Jorge Carrillo V. discusses the expansion of higher-technology, higher-paying jobs in the maquiladora sector. He describes an exceptionally active CTM branch in Tamaulipas, where local union leaders have won higher wages in the new electronics and automotive plants. Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, however, the gloom overshadows the few rays of hope in this well-done volume.