Perón Creates a Populist Political Alliance in Argentina

Juan Perón was elected president of Argentina by a coalition of labor and nationalist military voters, ending more than a decade of conservative rule.

Summary of Event

Argentina’s last constitutionally elected president before World War II, Hipólito Irigoyen, was overthrown by a military coup in September, 1930. For the next sixteen years, a coalition of conservative political leaders would rule the country by fraud and fear. Political rights were restricted, and elections were rigged in favor of the government’s candidates. Throughout the 1930’s, which came to be known as the Decade of Infamy Decade of Infamy , labor legislation was ignored or unenforced, and many workers believed that their rights to safe working conditions and impartial arbitration were not being upheld. [kw]Perón Creates a Populist Political Alliance in Argentina (Feb. 24, 1946)
[kw]Populist Political Alliance in Argentina, Perón Creates a (Feb. 24, 1946)
[kw]Political Alliance in Argentina, Perón Creates a Populist (Feb. 24, 1946)
[kw]Alliance in Argentina, Perón Creates a Populist Political (Feb. 24, 1946)
[kw]Argentina, Perón Creates a Populist Political Alliance in (Feb. 24, 1946)
Presidential elections, Argentinian
Presidency, Argentinian
Presidential elections, Argentinian
Presidency, Argentinian
[g]Latin America;Feb. 24, 1946: Perón Creates a Populist Political Alliance in Argentina[01690]
[g]Argentina;Feb. 24, 1946: Perón Creates a Populist Political Alliance in Argentina[01690]
[c]Government and politics;Feb. 24, 1946: Perón Creates a Populist Political Alliance in Argentina[01690]
Perón, Juan
Perón, Eva
Castillo, Ramón S.
Ortiz, Roberto María

The election of Roberto María Ortiz in 1937 brought hope for better relations between labor and the government. The concordancia, as the ruling conservative coalition was called, allowed only token opposition, but President Ortiz made an effort to institute political reforms by overturning dishonest elections in Buenos Aires. Ortiz resigned because of deteriorating health, and Vice President Ramón S. Castillo took power. Castillo soon demonstrated that he had no sympathy for the right of the people freely to choose their elected officials or for the rights of labor.

Argentina’s working class had grown and changed since the early days of the century, when most workers were immigrants employed in meat-packing plants or in the ports. Local manufacturing had become more important as Argentina’s dependence on agricultural exports declined during the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930’s. The governments of the 1930’s encouraged expansion of local industry. This led to a shift in employment opportunities away from agriculture and toward industry, creating a larger urban working class.

Juan Perón and his wife, Eva Perón.

(National Archives)

When new elections were scheduled in 1943, one of the issues was Argentina’s response to the United States’ pressure to enter World War II on the side of the Allies. The biggest domestic issue, however, was the continuation of government by fraud, since Castillo had hand-picked an archconservative political boss from the interior as his successor. The lack of meaningful suffrage was a growing burden to the many Argentines who wanted their votes to count. This situation led to a political opposition that brought disparate groups together. Many Argentines were willing to support a military coup against the government of Castillo, believing that a new regime instituted by such a coup would be an improvement.

The soldiers struck on June 4, 1943. Under the leadership of a secret lodge, known as the Group of United Officers Group of United Officers (GOU), a new military government was established with General Pedro Ramírez Ramírez, Pedro as president. One of its first laws called for government control of the press and broadcast media. This control was given to Juan Perón, assistant to General Edelmiro Farrell Farrell, Edelmiro . Perón would use his position to create a power base in the new government. At a rally for earthquake victims in the provincial city of San Juan in 1944, Perón met Eva Duarte, then a young radio personality, who would become his wife.

Perón became a powerful force for change in the new military government. He took a relatively insignificant post as head of the Department of Labor and used it to address the grievances of workers and the poor. Perón’s increasing influence in the government led to the creation of an independent Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare, from which he granted benefits and rights hitherto denied the lower classes in Argentina. Labor leaders, many workers, and the masses of the poor came to see Perón as the key figure in their search for dignity and human rights. The income of workers had declined in the 1930’s and, as urban employment grew, villas miserias (miserable towns)—shantytowns of tin-roofed huts—sprang up around the city of Buenos Aires. Thanks to Perón, workers in 1943 got a 40 percent wage increase and the legal right to organize and negotiate.

By 1944, workers were getting paid holidays, the government had negotiated more than two hundred agreements between workers and employers, and benefits were extended to two million workers. The key to getting the government to grant workers’ demands was obedience to Perón. Organized labor and Juan Perón were becoming an important political coalition. Perón’s power in the government increased. When General Farrell took over as president, Perón became vice president in addition to his duties as minister of war and secretary of labor and social welfare.

Perón had his opponents. Liberals, along with representatives of the United States, suspected him of sympathy with fascist regimes during World War II. Students were upset with the continuation of military regimes. Some in the military were offended by Perón’s alliance with Eva Duarte (known as Evita). This opposition led President Farrell to force Perón’s resignation in October, 1945, so that he could not use his influence to gain the presidency in the following year’s elections. Perón was detained and taken to an island in the Río de la Plata.

When word of his arrest reached working-class suburbs, strikes were called and a march to the center of Buenos Aires began. Hundreds of thousands of workers marched on October 17, cheering their support for Perón. Middle-class Argentines, always dressed in suit and tie, would mockingly refer to these people as the “shirtless ones” after enthusiastic followers of Perón waved their shirts as banners. The people in the street that day were giving their support to someone who had promised to uphold their right to organize. The power of their numbers overwhelmed security, and President Farrell was forced to bring Perón to address the throng. Perón happily received their cheers and would later claim the “shirtless ones” as his special people.

The political realignment of workers was nearly complete. Their leader was now Juan Perón. Perón voluntarily stepped down from his positions in the government, only to declare his candidacy for the presidency. He received the support of the newly formed Labor Party, as well as that of a splinter group from the middle-class Radical Party. Among Perón’s supporters were military colleagues from the now-disbanded GOU. In addition, the Catholic Church approved of Perón’s call for religious instruction in the schools and supported his candidacy indirectly.

On February 24, 1946, in one of the most open and honest elections ever held in Argentina, Perón received nearly 54 percent of the vote and was inaugurated as president in June of that year. The coalition that elected Perón was fragile. As president, Perón attempted to strengthen his power over these groups. Benefits for labor continued as the real wages of industrial workers increased by 20 percent between 1945 and 1948.

In 1947, the government took control of a private charity that eventually became the María Eva Duarte de Perón Social Aid Foundation María Eva Duarte de Perón Social Aid Foundation . Headed by the First Lady, this foundation constructed schools, funded hospitals, and aided the poor and the orphans. “In the New Argentina the only privileged ones are the children,” stated one of the Twenty Truths of the official Peronist doctrine.

Juan Perón and Evita came to be adored by millions of Argentines. They called him “Argentina’s first worker,” and the paid holidays he enacted were called Saint Perón days. Evita received adulation as well, especially from women, who were given the vote in 1947, Women;suffrage largely through Evita’s insistence. The capstone of Perón’s political power, arising from the alliance of labor, women, nationalist military, and even many of the middle class, came in March, 1949, when a new constitution Constitutions;Argentina was promulgated.

The constitution of 1949 guaranteed social justice for workers and stipulated that they had the right to work, fair pay, good conditions in the workplace, dignity, and health. It also permitted a sitting president to succeed himself. This last provision paved the way for Perón’s reelection in 1951.


The first presidency of Juan Perón was a turning point, because it offered new hope for human rights for the people of Argentina. The coalition of labor and the government under Perón brought improved living standards, political freedom, protection from abuse, and a sense of dignity to the working class. Conditions would soon change, however, as it became apparent that Perón saw these policies not as ends in themselves but as means to increased power for himself.

The relationship between labor and government had long been one of opposition and denial of many labor rights. Perón co-opted labor in Argentina and used it to gain power. He also gave labor a voice in government. Juan Bramuglia, a lawyer for the railroad union, was foreign minister in Perón’s administration, and Angel Borlenghi, from the Confederation of Commercial Employees, became minister of the interior. Even after Perón’s downfall, organized labor remained an arbiter in national politics. Many workers still consider Perón’s administration as the most sympathetic to their problems and the most helpful in bringing improvements to their lives.

Perón’s concept of social justice Social justice , or justicialismo, brought benefits to Argentina’s working class. New schools, hospitals, and hundreds of thousands of low-cost apartments were built. The National Mortgage Bank was funded to increase home construction, and by 1951 more than 200,000 houses were built. Women in Argentina also benefited from the policies of the Perón administration. Evita established a women’s branch of the Peronist Party and pushed successfully for voting rights for women. Hostels were built for women who needed shelter. At the end of Perón’s first administration, there was talk of making Evita his running mate, but political opposition and her illness led her to withdraw.

Perón also provided Argentina’s working class with a sense of pride. Model vacation resorts were constructed, and workers, many for the first time, could afford to take family vacations to the mountains or the beach. Perón preached about the dignity of work and pushed for a transformation of Argentina from an economy dominated by wealthy landowners to an industrializing society. Perón’s administration became increasingly authoritarian by the early 1950’s. There were accusations that opponents were arrested arbitrarily and even tortured. Opposition newspapers were harrassed and, for a time, the prestigious newspaper La Prensa was closed by the government.

Perón’s legacy is difficult to evaluate. He was an authoritarian leader who controlled the labor movement for his own purposes, but he made organized labor a political power. He ignored the human and political rights of his opponents, shutting down newspapers, closing unions, and arresting politicians, but he extended voting rights to women and was elected in honest and open elections. There is agreement among his supporters and enemies, however, that Juan Perón’s election to the presidency in February of 1946 changed Argentina forever. Presidential elections, Argentinian
Presidency, Argentinian

Further Reading

  • Alexander, Robert J. Juan Domingo Perón: A History. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979. Alexander provides an excellent short account of Perón’s career. His interpretation reflects extensive travel to the region and interviews with many of the participants, including Perón.
  • Barager, Joseph R., ed. Why Perón Came to Power: The Background to Peronism in Argentina. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. The essays in this book trace the background of Perón and his rise to power. Part 2 of the book focuses on the years 1945 and 1946, with essays specifically on Perón and the labor movement, the events of October 17, 1945, and the election of February, 1946.
  • Crowley, Eduardo. Argentina: A Nation Divided, 1890-1980. London: C. Hurst, 1984. Eduardo Crowley is an Argentine writer who brings a native perspective to the story of Perón. He quotes from many pamphlets of the era. Anecdotes help bring the people alive.
  • Foss, Clive. Juan and Eva Perón. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 1999. Study of the Peróns separately and together and the contribution of Evita to Perón’s presidency and legacy. Bibliographic references.
  • Fraser, Nicholas, and Marysa Navarro. Eva Perón. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980. Biographies about Eva Perón often have been biased and polemical. This study goes beyond the myths and looks at the woman who was both loved and hated. The authors make extensive use of interviews and bring out the complex personalities of both Evita and Juan Perón.
  • Hodges, Donald C. Argentina, 1943-1976: The National Revolution and Resistance. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976. Hodges updates the history of Perón’s early years in power by continuing the story after his downfall. Some of the unusual sources used by Hodges include interviews with Peronist leaders in exile. The strength of this book is its ability to describe the variations within the Peronist movement that began to tear it apart when Perón returned to power in the 1970’s.
  • Page, Joseph A. Perón, A Biography. New York: Random House, 1983. An easily readable book. Page uses many sources but has focused on the many diplomatic sources available to him in Washington. This book emphasizes Perón’s foreign policy and the view of United States administrations.
  • Plotkin, Mariano Ben. Mañana Es San Perón: A Cultural History of Peron’s Argentina. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2002. History of Argentinian culture and Perón’s effects upon it and place within it. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Rock, David. Argentina, 1516-1982. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. A comprehensive history of Argentina from its founding as a Spanish colony. Attempts to give the reader the broad scope of history. Chapters 7 and 8 deal specifically with the period of Perón, although Rock’s perspective is political and economic.

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