Indians and Leftists
This is an Electronic Appendix of documents to accompany my book Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements (Duke University Press, 2008).
Universal struggles: the left, the indegenous and the working class in the Americas
Journal of Third World Studies, 29, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 363+
Becker, Marc. Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador's Modern Indigenous Movements. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. 303 pp.
Chomsky, Aviva. Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. 397 pp.
"Economic integration is not simply a geographical process that connects different regions, it is a method that capital has used to create and control cheap sources of labor" (Chomsky, p. 304)
The relationship between politics, capital gain and social injustice is a familiar historical theme and an ever present issue of contention. Overlapping the wrenching struggle of working against exploitation, and violence toward labor and political organizing is the subtle manipulation of the labor force through logic, reason, and language--a double speak--fomenting rank and file strife, encouraging racism and discouraging opposition while increasing profits.
Considering these universal issues, here are two books that address labor issues albeit in different scenarios. Mare Becket recounts the indigenous Ecuadorean political and labor struggle and their parallel fight to preserve individual and indigenous rights. He describes the development of their particular style of cultural politics in the face of pressure from a nonindigenous Left, national and international political entities, and challenges by the established church which historically has supported the status quo. Aviva Chomsky's book describes the link between the quest for cheap domestic and international labor and decades of labor struggle, binding transnational workers, management, and governments of Spanish speaking America and the United States in tangled relationships. Included here are obstacles created by management to deter solidarity and united labor fronts among American workers, the fomenting of racism through the use of pro-patriotic language and anti-immigrant sentiment. The object was to control the markets and yield profits.
Both Becket and Chomsky provide conceptually challenging documentaries that give the reader an understanding of the universal and complex relationship between the worker and the owners of the means of production. Both authors reflect on the links between a myriad of factors -historical circumstances, exploitation, continuing labor struggles, self-determination, culture and racial issues, human rights abuses, displacement, migration, the role of government, the military, religious institutions, and the elite classes.
At junctures in both books, the reader is motivated to make connections with parallel issues within their own world, unresolved American dilemmas that are part of the people's history still being discussed by academics and activists today. Here, our historical relationship with indigenous and native peoples during the European settlement of America, issues of genocide, displacement, the illegal taking of land, marginalization, exploitation, manipulation and its impact on everyday life comes to the foreground. Current negative, nativist attitudes toward Spanish speaking immigrants, and America's neo liberalist ideas of economic globalization that include the removal of barriers to commerce and the privatization of resources and services, become extensions of the events that Becket and Chomsky present. Stellar is the selling of the globalization concept to the public disguised in the interest of the common good.
Becker's Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador's Modern Indigenous Movements presents a historical outline of the evolving relationship between indigenous grassroots struggles and a relatively mestizo urban Left. It also describes the long, difficult, political road traveled by the indigenous populations, in particular, the navigation of the waters of double consciousness or an identity divided into several facets, common among populations having experienced colonialism. A glaring characteristic of this phenomenon, aptly noted by Fanon in his writings on colonized Algeria, is the imposition of the dominant culture by the colonizer and the insidious destruction of the indigenous.
After decades of meandering the ethnic and political Ecuadorian maze, indigenous political struggles evolved into the Pachakutik, or turning point movement in 2000, marking the development of a universal consciousness. Here, the indigenous populations moved from "struggling for higher salaries and working conditions to presenting demands for land reform and finally to championing political claims of territoriality and issuing calls to reform the constitution to reflect the country's plurinational and multicultural reality" (Becker, p. 188).
The development of Pachakutik is recounted through a narrative on history, national politics, American intervention, ethnic and cultural identity, gender issues, a changing relationship with the Left, experimentation with communist and socialist ideologies, courtship by Russia, and interaction with the church and landowners. Through this complexity, indigenous groups carved a place of dignity and respect in Ecuadorian society while keeping their individual and ethnic cultures.
Chomsky's Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class succinctly describes the complex myriad of factors that form the historical relationship of laborer and master--the purpose and role of the worker, cheap labor, immigration, the concept of alien, outsourcing, capital flight, union organizing, the control of the means of production, capital infusions for industry both at home and abroad, government intervention across borders, the use of military force, fear tactics, human rights violations--all properties of the universal insatiable quest for profits, with American labor at its center.
The relationship of the mining and textile worker populations of both New England workers and those of Colombia from the 19th to the 21 st century draws the reader easily into their intertwining history and its manipulation by industry. As an introduction, Chomsky provides a description of the early labor organizing of textile workers in New England, the radicalism present at that time, and the use of red baiting and severe repression that industry and government resort to when threatened. This documentary is enhanced with short biographies that give the reader a colorful sense of the early progressive scene in New England--the activities of Nicola Sacco, Anne Burlak the "Red Flame", Robert Bakeman, socialist supporter of striking workers, and mayor of Peabody, Massachusetts, and the "progressive theologian" James Luther of the Second Unitarian Church in Salem--personalities that formed the backbone of a rising White American radicalism between World War I and II.
The strength of Chomsky's book lies in the ability to show clear linkages between the evolution of political consciousness of New England textile and mining workers, and their coming to term with the realities of a domestic economic downturn and political change that evolved after World War II, becoming evident toward the turn of the 20th century. Reality included mill owner sponsorship of cheap immigrant labor and outsourcing, both bids for the survival of industry and assurance of profit during difficult economic times. Job flight during the '80s and '90s shocked American unions into debating whether to continue focusing on issues of wages, benefits and safety in the workplace or find their place within the context of the international worker, whose experiences regarding the same labor issues that Americans faced included severe repression and human rights violations. Here were obvious parallels between the American union organizing of the early 20th century that included red baiting, repression and executions, and the contemporary, repressive Colombian labor scene.
Students and scholars of the Americans may unknowingly draw a line between the northern and southern entities of the Americas based on the artificial demarcations of dominant culture and language, values, and geographical position. In the same manner aficionados of popular movements, including labor in the Americas, may separate events based on these same factors. Judging by the manner in which disciplines of study are often polarized this is understandable; however, the books by Becker and Chomsky beg us to appreciate how parallel events and contexts intertwine, overlap, connect, and blur the struggle for justice in both American entities, despite the boundaries.
As a Chicana, I start my history from the conquest of Mexico, the suppression of the indigenous and the destruction of the culture. The process of liberation is present when one reads the history of that time, yet it did not stop in Mexico but continued across centuries and generations. It made its way to the mid 1800s to regain the Mexican lands of the southwest, usurped by the sweep of Western Expansion, continued into California as the Farm Workers Union, led by icons such as Chavez and Dolores Huerta, protested the exploitation of migrant workers, and into northern New Mexico when, during the dawn of the Chicano Movimiento, late 1960s, Reies Lopez Tijerina, spearheaded the movement to regain Hispano rights to the land grants usurped by the Forest Service.
As an American, my history is born into the labor organizing of the 1950s at the plants and factories in New York and New Jersey, with family discussion of union cards, strikes and contracts between union and management. The legacy that these unions inherited was the early, progressive era of American labor radicalism, one that saw the rise of the International Workers of the World, the Molly Maguires and Big Bill Haywood, founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.
This was the same legacy left to the Puerto Rican and Dominican working classes that labored during the 60s and 70s in the sweat shops and plants once occupied by Italians, and gentile and Jewish Russians and Eastern European workers. Included in this history was the tinge of racism that excluded non-white workers from the Seamstresses 'Local 22, a symptom of labors' underdeveloped universal consciousness at that time, or a subtle hint of the machinations of divide and conquer, notoriously used by management.
Labor organizing in the 50s, protests by farm workers for humane treatment, the struggle for the retention of ancestral lands by Chicanos and the persecution of the progressive labor factions during the 30s all reverberate the issues faced by Rigoberta Menchu and her father Vicente Menchu in Guatemala during the '60s and '70s. Past activism is echoed in the struggles by the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Ecuadorean indigenous in their quest for cultural and political rights, and the fight by the Guajira peoples of Colombia to stop their displacement from traditionally held lands by coal mining interests.
In a nutshell, universal popular struggle is connected. When one isolates issues and events, and when disciplines and topics are polarized, the opportunity to appreciate our interrelatedness in the universal quest for justice is lost. But upon reading books such as those by Becker and Chomsky, the parallels and connections made by the authors or the reader contributes to the understanding of what relevant scholarship should represent. Scholarship must match the conceptual realities of our complex and intertwined world by promoting social change and social justice.
Pick up a book review jam-packed with new works that are being reviewed, old works that are being revived, some based on academic research and others on experience. Here one asks how relevant are these volumes, how do they create a platform for social change and justice? Becker and Chomsky, in particular the latter, make connections and encourage the reader, the shopper, the citizen-scholar, to reflect on the relevance of the universal human and labor struggle to our own lives. We are connected--through the products we buy and the information we weigh intellectually--to the murder of union organizers in Colombia, and the displacement of indigenous persons from their land. The products we hold in our hands or intend to buy most likely embody invisible stories of politics and labor, tying together our home front and the worlds beyond our borders. We are all connected in our oppression, in our struggle and in our freedom, a sobering thought.
Yoly Zentella Dr. Zentella is an independent scholar, writer, licensed psychotherapist and psychology faculty at Walden University.