Development and the Working Class in Latin America

Adam Fishwick // International Relations // 20th March //  1-2pm // Arts C 133 


Development is widely understood as a political process that entails, or enforces, a thorough transformation of all aspects of social life. It is a process of change in which social agents seek to transform various economic, political, social and cultural aspects to achieve particular ends, and, as with any process of transformation or change, it is contested. To this end, it will be argued that the implications of this contested process of change require an incorporation of those actors that directly experience its effects. In the context of the research being presented, that of industrial development, it is the workers that directly face these changes as they occur in practices of work, and it is the workers that contest them. Workers contribution to, and influence over, development as an ostensibly macro process can only be adequately understood at this micro level. The challenges that occur at the point of production are what give meaning to the broader political protests against policy measures and firm strategies, and which not only place limits on particular policies and practices, but also provide opportunities for new directions and contested outcomes both within and against the prevailing modes of accumulation.

Starting from these theoretical foundations, a case study of the Chilean textile industry will be explored as it went through an intensive period of development from a small and mostly artisan sector in the 1930s to one dominated by a few large industrial firms in the 1960s. It will be shown that during this period workers experienced a wide range of changes in the workplace. Through the limited representative structures of the Chilean unions and relative importance of the radical left, the grievances arising around these changes provided the raw material for their politicisation and mobilisation in support of the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1970. More importantly, however, it will be shown that this nexus of historical experience, political ideology, and workplace socialisation provides the starting point for understanding the significance of these workers to the contested trajectory of industrial development. Not only were their struggles, successful and unsuccessful, important in placing limits on capital and the state in its pursuit of expanded accumulation and exploitation, they also offered nascent opportunities for an alternative future. Workers in this sector not only became vital to the new socialist government through political mobilisation and factory occupation, but they also came to play an integral role in the construction of socialism ‘from below’. The emergence of the cordones industriales after 1972 provides a clear example of a political working class movement aimed not only at defending their interests within capitalism but also of constructing a revolutionary trajectory of development against it.

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One Response to Development and the Working Class in Latin America

  1. you did great justice to development in latin america.

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