A tale of two cities: the tenants’ strikes of 1907-1908 in Buenos Aires and New York

Exploring the global historical roots of tenants’ organization

Keywords: tenants, strikes, Buenos Aires, New York, labor history

Labor and social historiography paid attention to tenants’ strikes throughout history, but comparative studies remain scarce. Case studies are important to help us understand the peculiarities of past struggles, but broader assessments are also critical to evaluate the general trends that shaped working-class resistance in different times and places. Drawing upon a variety of secondary and primary sources, this article examines the 1907-1908 tenants’ strikes in Buenos Aires and New York. Although most of the participants were unaware of the events taking place more than 8,500 km away, both strikes shared many commonalities. Thousands of tenants, many of them migrants, with a strong prominence of women, acted together in order to put an end to the voracious and predatory rule of landlords. Facing attacks from the media and the state, they were forced to build on their experiences of resistance in order to develop the necessary organizational resources to accomplish their goals. The article focuses on the peculiarities of urban development and working-class formation in both cities, on the motley population that filled its tenement houses and conventillos, on the role played by socialist and anarchist organizers, on the reaction of the state and the ruling class towards the tenants’ struggles, and on the prominent role played, in both cases, by migrant workers and women. Its goal is to highlight similarities and differences of these two cases of tenants’ strikes, in order to enrich our understanding of the global historical roots of the ongoing struggle against landlords and capitalist market forces.

Lucas Poy (Buenos Aires, 1981) is a social and labor historian specialized in the history of the labor movement in Argentina and Latin America. He is researcher at the National Research Council of Argentina and lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires. He is also coordinator of the International Association of Labour History Institutions, headquartered at the International Institute of Social History.

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