During World War II the railroad bracero program generated a series of transnational legal debates centered on the regulation of guest worker health rights. Between 1943 and 1945, an estimated 135,000 Mexican men were recruited to participate in the railroad bracero program, a guest worker program co-sponsored by the U.S. and Mexican governments, as temporary track maintenance workers to assuage the labor shortage and support war transportation. These Mexican guest workers, known as braceros, moved back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border and labored on an expansive network of tracks across the United States. When railroad braceros experienced injury, illness or unsafe working conditions, they engaged in a process of claim-making in which they requested railroad employers cover medical costs and/or rectify workplace safety and health issues. This study examines how four sets of historical actors--the U.S. state, the Mexican state, U.S. railroad employers, and railroad braceros--relied on the relationship between work, health and citizenship to define, negotiate and contest guest worker health. In doing so, it seeks to understand the forces that culminated in the railroad bracero program to cause workplace health discrimination against guest workers. I argue that the legal framework regulating bracero health preserved the functionality of the program as a cost-effective labor recruitment program by simultaneously guaranteeing health rights and creating a loophole to deny them. The U.S. state's capacity to extend health rights to guest workers allowed the program to fulfill in its primary goal--to secure Mexican guest workers through diplomatic agreements with Mexico. While the U.S. state had the capacity to extend health rights, it was the railroad employer that retained the power to distribute guest worker health benefits. The railroad industry's well-developed legal system for minimizing costs paid in injury compensation (injury culture) and protecting corporate autonomy made it difficult for guest workers and the Mexican state to navigate the bracero contracts and succeed in the process of claiming health rights. Railroad braceros were vulnerable in the American workplace not only because of their deportability, but also because they were unfamiliar with railroad injury culture.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2013. Major: History. Advisors: Erika Lee, Barbara Y. Welke. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 369 pages.
Rodríguez, Chantel Renee.
Health on the Line: The Politics of Citizenship and the Railroad Bracero Program of World War II.
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