Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

strike were often characterized as labor independents--not pelegos or communists. 80 The cross-union solidarity of this era went on to have a long-term impact on labor politics in Brazil. Activists from these unions, along with members of the Bankworkers' Union, went on to found the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies in 1955. This independent labor group studied working-class wages and the cost of living and helped coordinate union activities throughout the city. Its statistics became an important tool in all future wage negotiations. This group continued to play an important role as a voice for labor throughout Brazil during the military dictatorship ( 1964-85) and during the transition to civilian rule in the 1980s. 81

The strike and the ongoing labor activism it ushered in also affected national politics. Vargas replaced Segadas Vianna with João (Jango) Goulart as minister of labor in June 1953. Since Vargas created the post in 1930, the minister of labor had been either neutral or pro-industry in labor disputes. Goulart (who went on to serve as vice president, and then as president was deposed by the military in 1964) was Brazil's first openly prolabor minister of labor. Vargas further courted labor with a series of increases in the minimum wage, including a 100 percent increase in May 1954. The popular effervescence of the "Strike of the 300,000" and the labor activism that followed was, however, too much for Vargas. Brazilian workers forced him to meet the populist promises he had been making for more than a decade. Such a proworker stance alienated Vargas's elite and military backers, and when the president could no longer juggle the competing claims of his diverse constituency, he killed himself, on 24 August 1954. In a way, Vargas's suicide was a product of the populism that the "Strike of the 300,000" helped usher in. Vargas had come to power planning to be the "father of the poor," but workers were not willing to follow blindly a paternalistic figure. São Paulo's and other cities' workers looked at Vargas as just another politician who had promised more than he could deliver. 82 In the final analysis, Brazilian workers proved they would no longer be mobilized "from above." These workers instead demanded their rights within Brazilian society. 83


Notes

The author thanks Jeanne Boydston, Mike Conniff, Mike Jimenez, Florencia Mallon, Tom Skidmore, and Steve Stern for their helpful comments on the various incarnations of this chapter.

1.
See U.S. News and World Report, 10 August 1951, and Time, 21 January 1952.
2.
For a thorough account of the development of Brazil's textile industry, see StanleyJ. Stein

-209-

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