I Sweat the Flavor of Tin

Labor Activism in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia

This is an excellent work that will become required reading in graduate seminars and is a valuable addition to labor studies in general. Smale provides fresh information on the emergence of the labor movement in Bolivia in the first study of its kind in many years. He has documented his case in innovative ways, using previously unknown sources from Oruro, the region where the Bolivian labor movement began. A must-read for all those interested in labor history and the relationship between the peasantry and the working class in Latin America.
Erick D. Langer, Georgetown University

On June 4, 1923, the Bolivian military turned a machine gun on striking miners in the northern Potosí town of Uncía. The incident is remembered as BoliviaÆs first massacre of industrial workers. The violence in Uncía highlights a formative period in the development of a working class who would eventually challenge the oligarchic control of the nation.Robert L. Smale begins his study as BoliviaÆs mining industry transitioned from silver to tin; specifically focusing on the region of Oruro and northern Potosí. The miners were part of a heterogeneous urban class alongside artisans, small merchants, and other laborers. Artisan mutual aid societies provided miners their first organizational models and the guidance to emancipate themselves from the mine ownersÆ political tutelage. During the 1910s both the WorkersÆ Labor Federation and the Socialist Party appeared in Oruro to spur more aggressive political action. In 1920 miners won a comprehensive contract that exceeded labor legislation debated in Congress in the years that followed. Relations between the working class and the government deteriorated soon after, leading to the 1923 massacre in Uncía. Smale ends his study with the onset of the Great Depression and premonitions of war with Paraguay—twin cataclysms that would discredit the old oligarchic order and open new horizons to the labor movement.This periodÆs developments marked the entry of workers and other marginalized groups into Bolivian politics and the acquisition of new freedoms and basic rights. These events prefigure the rise of Evo Morales—a union activist born in Oruro—in the early twenty-first century.

248 Pages, 5.5 x 8.5 in.

September, 2010

isbn : 9780822961178

about the author

Robert L. Smale

Robert L. Smale is assistant professor of history at the University of MissouriÐColumbia.

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Robert L. Smale