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Enslaved and Free Workers and the Growth of the Working Class in Brazil  

Henrique Espada Lima

Since the early successful colonial enterprises in Brazil’s territory, men and women forcibly transferred from Africa were used as enslaved workers not only on plantations and other agricultural settings, but also in protoindustrial contexts, such as in the sugar mills and the mining trade and metallurgy. Enslaved people were also a fundamental part of the labor force in the urban artisanry, manufacturing, and the early industrial ventures in the 18th century and after Independence in 1822. In the second half of the 19th century, the first drive of industrialization, in places like Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and São Paulo, was driven by British investments led by slave-owning entrepreneurs and powered by the intensive use of enslaved labor. Foreign workers brought to the country, Brazilian free manual laborers and other poor immigrants, freed, and enslaved people often worked side by side in shipyards, gunpowder factories, mining endeavors, railways constructions, and many other activities. In Brazil, especially in urban contexts, many enslaved men and women would rent themselves out, or they would be leased out by their masters, to perform a variety of urban activities, including working in the country’s many artisan shops and industries. In doing so, not only were they able to get financial compensation for their work by becoming ganhadores (enslaved wage earners), but, in that capacity, they also experienced situations usually associated with “free” laborers, such as wage negotiation, bargaining, and even strikes. Some of the enslaved ganhadores were able to buy their own freedom and carried their experiences into their lives as free workers. Therefore, both free and unfree laborers of African descent were present in a variety of trades and enterprises, and the multiplicity of their experiences shaped the dynamics of labor relations, identity building, political and labor cultures, and individual and collective action and organization in the long history of the making of Brazilian working classes. The heterogeneity that defined the Brazilian laboring classes, composed of people of African descent as well as poor White Portuguese settlers and other immigrants, united and divided by race, gender, nationality, legal status, histories, and cultural backgrounds cannot be stressed enough. It is crucial to understand how the institution of slavery impacted the social and economic relations of all workers, free and unfree, in Brazil even after slavery was abolished in 1888: its legacy of oppression, but also diversity, is expressed in the conflicts and collaborations that marked workers’ collective experience and impacted the transformations that the working classes underwent in post-emancipation Brazil.

Article

The Labor Movement and Sugar Industry in Tucumán in the 1960s and 1970s  

Silvia Nassif

The province of Tucumán, Argentina, has been used as a test case for the fallacious “theory of the two demons” because it is both where a guerrilla movement formed in 1974 and where the country’s first clandestine detention center was established in the “escuelita” of Famaillá during “Operativo Independencia” in 1975. This “theory” reduces the conflict in the province to a confrontation in the Tucumán hills between no more than 150 combatants of the People’s Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, ERP) and 5,000 soldiers of the Argentine Army. This, however, largely conceals the social catastrophe suffered by Tucumán and the high levels of conflict that had already been taking place for more than a decade. Previously, in August 1966, the provincial territory had been militarized by the new dictatorial government led by Juan Carlos Onganía. On that occasion, militarization sought to guarantee the closure of sugar mills. This generated an unprecedented economic and social crisis. Between 1966 and 1968, eleven mills were closed out of a total of twenty-seven, more than 50,000 jobs were eliminated in the sugar agro-industry alone, medium and small sugarcane producers were severely affected, and more than a quarter of the total population of the province was forced to emigrate in search of new sources of work. Such were the root causes of social conflict, led mainly by the sugar working class assembled in the Tucumán Workers Federation of the Sugar Industry (Federación Obrera Tucumana de la Industria Azucarera, FOTIA), which the 1976 dictatorship was intent on reining in.