MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Fidel Velazquez, the iron-handed labor patriarch who dominated Mexico's union movement since the late 1930s, died Saturday, his doctor said. He was 97.

Often criticized for his authoritarian grip on a labor movement he steered largely along pro-government lines, ``Don Fidel'' typified a style of politics that may not outlive him.

Velazquez began failing late Friday and died the following morning, his doctor, Salomon Jasqui Romano, told Mexico City radio stations. Velazquez had been hospitalized for severe gastrointestinal infections.

Despite his failing health and advanced age, Velazquez continued to hold sway over the Confederation of Mexican Workers, the country's largest union.

Often using a wheelchair or cane and slurring his words, Velazquez still held regular news conferences and and represented Mexico's workers at ceremonies where wage and price agreements were signed.

Those agreements, which set limits on wage increases, are largely viewed as responsible for a precipitous drop in average Mexican wages since the 1980s.

Detractors called Velazquez a racketeer, a traitor of the working class, a lackey of the capitalists and the ruling party's favorite bludgeon for repressing the working classes.

Supporters and friends claimed he was a patriot, an honest man, a pillar of the ruling system, a democrat and a realist.

Velazquez is likely to be succeeded in the top post at the union confederation by acting general secretary Leonardo Rodriguez Alcaine, a leader of Mexico's Electrical Workers' Union.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Nora Quintana, and three children.