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Velázquez Sánchez, Fidel (1900–1997)

Velázquez Sánchez, Fidel (1900–1997)

Fidel Velázquez Sánchez (b. April 14, 1900; d. June 21, 1997), Mexican labor leader. Velázquez Sánchez is probably the longest-lived top labor union official in Latin America, having served continuously as secretary general of the Mexican Federation of Labor (CTM) from 1950 to the 1990s. His notoriety came from his long continuity rather than from any dramatic ideological or structural contributions to the Mexican or Latin American labor movement. Velázquez Sánchez's influence stemmed from his reputation for being indispensable to the control of numerous affiliated unions and to their acceptance of their status as a co-opted member of the dominant political coalition in Mexico. Because he had been so successful at this task, no president either wanted to remove him, or had the political courage to do so. This perception of his power gained him a measure of autonomy from Mexico's president, making him the only Mexican official to have enjoyed this advantage for so long. Since the 1970s, it led Velázquez, on occasion, to take stronger, more independent positions for labor vis-à-vis the executive branch, sometimes bringing his vision of politics into conflict with that of the incumbent president. However, because of Mexico's declining economic fortunes during most of the 1970s and 1980s, and the consequent high levels of unemployment, Velázquez was not able to translate his potential power into much political influence. Although the PRI's perpetuation of electoral fraud in the 1990s had made it more dependent on the support of the CTM as the major member of the labor sector, the number of PRI candidates from that sector continues to decline. Velázquez is considered to be representative of the old-style politicians or "dinosaur" faction in contemporary political life.

Velázquez was born in Villa Nicolás, state of México, the son of poor farmers. He completed primary school while working in the fields. It is likely that Velázquez entered the union movement because his father, Gregorio Velázquez Reyna, was killed defending his farm, and Fidel was wounded in the shoulder during the incident. Velázquez began work as a dairyman in the 1920s, and became a labor activist at that time. He assumed his first union post in 1921 and became secretary general of the Milk Industry Workers Union in 1929. Originally a member of the executive committee of the CTM (1936–1940), he became secretary general of the major federation from 1940 to 1946. He, in collaboration with other labor union leaders, succeeded in wresting control away from Vicente Lombardo Toledano. That success eventually led to his domination of the union after 1950. In his capacity as secretary general of the CTM, and dean of Mexico's union leaders, Velázquez served as senator from the Federal District (1946–1952 and 1958–1964) and represented the labor sector on the National Executive Committee of the PRI on several occasions. In 1968 he spoke out against leftist student activists who demonstrated throughout Mexico City in support of communist Cuba and bringing democratic government to Mexico. When many students were wounded or killed by government troops in the infamous Tlatelolco massacre of October 2, 1968, he stood by the government's actions. When Cuauhtemóc Cárdenas founded the Partido de la Revolución Democratico (PRD; Democratic Revolutionary Party) in 1989, Velázquez labeled him a communist and called for his membership in the mainstream PRI party to be revoked. When the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN; Zapatista Army of National Liberation) staged an uprising in the heavily indigenous mountain region of Chiapas, he condemned the rebellion. Although he initially decried NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, he eventually supported its passage. In the 1990s, as his health declined, Velazquez's power within the PRI lessened. He died on June 21, 1997.

See alsoMexico, Organizations: Federation of Mexican Labor (CTM) .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kevin J. Middlebrook, "The Political Economy of Mexican Organized Labor, 1940–1978" (diss., University of Michigan, 1982).

Virginia López Villegas-Manjárrez, La CTM vs. las organizaciones obreras (1983).

Ian Roxborough, Unions and Politics in Mexico: The Case of the Automobile Industry (1984).

George Grayson, The Mexican Labor Machine: Power, Politics, and Patronage (1989).

Additional Bibliography

González Guerra, José Merced, and Antonio Gutiérrez Castro. El sindicalismo en México: Historia, crisis, y perspectivas. México: Plaza y Valdés, 2006.

Rendón Corona, Armando. Sindicalismo corporativo: La crisis terminal. México, DF: UNAM, 2005.

Sánchez González, Agustín. Fidel: Una historia de poder. México, D.F.: Planeta, 1991.

Sánchez González, Agustín. Los primeros cien años de Fidel Velázquez. México, D.F.: Nueva Imagen, 1997.

                                          Roderic Ai Camp

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