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The Cuban Labor Movement of the 1860s and Spain's Search for a New Colonial Policy

JOAN CASANOVAS
Cuban Studies
Vol. 25 (1995), pp. 83-99
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24486083
Page Count: 17
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Cuban Labor Movement of the 1860s and Spain's Search for a New Colonial Policy
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Abstract

The Cuban labor movement that evolved in the 1860s was marked by divisions of race, status, and ethnicity. Yet it introduced patterns of struggle and cultural institutions that increased the power of the popular sector to transform society. As Spain's colonial policy began to totter in the early 1860s, the creole bourgeoisie created the Reformist party and invited the white artisanal elite to join. Participation brought white artisans an awareness of political strength, which they used to advance their class interests. Whereas only elite white artisans formally joined the party, their struggle to improve working conditions and to spread popular education led the nascent labor movement to oppose the racial and ethnic barriers that had kept the popular sector divided. Strikes and cultural activities such as the lectura in the tobacco factories brought nonwhites and unfree artisans, even slaves and indentured Asians, into the labor movement. Although Spain's increasingly reactionary colonial policy after 1866 and the economic crisis of 1867 fostered divisions between creole and peninsular artisans, the labor movement's early struggles initiated changes that would transform colonial society. El movimiento obrero cubano que se desarolló en los años 1860 estuvo marcado por divisiones de raza, status y origen étnico; sin embargo, introdujo formas de lucha e instituciones culturales que aumentaron la fuerza del sector popular para transformar la sociedad. A inicios de los años 1860, al entrar en crisis la política colonial que España había desarrollado en el primer tercio del siglo, la burguesía criolla fundó el partido Reformista para modificiar esta política e invitó a la élite del artesanado blanco a que se le uniera. Esta participación ayudó al artesanado blanco a descubrir su propia fuerza política y a utilizarla para defender sus intereses de clase. Aunque sólo la élite del artesanado blanco se vinculó formalmenta al partido Reformista, su lucha por mejorar las condiciones de trabajo y por difundir la educación popular llevó al naciente movimiento obrero a oponerse a las barreras raciales y étnicas que dividían al sector popular. Las huelgas de este período y actividades culturales como la lectura en las tabaquerías, incorporaron a artesanos no blancos, e incluso a esclavos y asiáticos contratados, al movimiento obrero. A pesar de que el viraje metropolitano hacia una política colonial reaccionaria y la crisis económica de 1867 incentivaron la división entre los artesanos criollos y los peninsulares, las luchas del incipiente movimiento obrero cubano introdujeron cambios que transformarían la sociedad colonial.

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