[Excerpt] How do military regimes seek support or legitimacy from society? What strategies, besides violent repression, do military leaders use to remain in power? In other words, how do military leaders try to achieve hegemony? El Salvador’s long period of military rule (1931-1979) gives researchers ample opportunity to investigate the mechanisms whereby military regimes try to gain societal support. Erik Ching’s chapter shows that General Martinez’s regime sought support through locally based patron-client relationships. Some analysts of El Salvador’s subsequent military regimes find that these regimes pursued a political alliance with urban industrial workers in order to gain support. Nevertheless, the alliance between the state and urban industrial workers during the 1950s and 1960s remains overgeneralized in the literature. Even those who specify Salvadoran governmental policy during this period as “repression with reforms” do not fully elaborate the mechanisms whereby military leaders formed an alliance with urban industrial workers. Moreover, research on these later military regimes has not explored the role that gendered labor reforms played in solidifying the alliance. As a result of this oversight, researchers may have underestimated the reformist tendency of Salvadoran military regimes from 1944 to 1972. Drawing on newspaper accounts and government publications, we show that adopting labor legislation designed to protect women workers was an element of a broader government strategy to ally with urban industrial workers.
Examining how military regimes seek societal support is important because each strategy to secure regime legitimacy may have different social implications. For example, gendered labor legislation can have important social implications for industrial women workers. Research on other countries suggests that labor laws giving women special protections tend to make employers less willing to hire them and that special legal protections for women workers can depress women’s participation in the industrial labor force. Therefore, by illuminating the gendered nature of the reforms pursued by the Salvadoran military regimes, we hope to contribute to future research on the potential relationship between labor reforms and women’s industrial labor force participation in El Salvador.