In May 1956, a few days after the fi rst Labor Day of the Kubitschek Presidency, 1 A Voz do Metalúgico ( The Voice of the Metalworker ) published a cover-page article reproaching the president’s behavior during the workers’ main celebration of the year. 2 Written by Eurypedes Ayres de Castro, president of the Federation of Metalworkers of the State of Rio de Janeiro, 3 the piece stressed the disappointment metalworkers felt with JK’s cold reaction to the list of demands presented at the same event by the National Confederation of Industrial Workers’ (CNTI) president, 4 Dioclesiano de Hollanda Cavalcanti. 5 In a general sense, the article expressed some of the most important elements consistently present in labor publications of the period, particularly in periodicals published by industrial unions in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s largest industrial centers. Castro’s sharp criticism was centered on the fact that:
The president’s speech did not respond to our needs nor did it suggest a single thread of hope to us, the poor. [. . .] As producers of the wealth of our nation, we expected to hear a serious plan of governmental actions from President Kubitschek, not a candidate’s platform. [. . .] There is still time, Mr. President, to mend your deplorable Labor Day performance. Not much time, though. The sharks 6 are always ready to oppress the poor by maintaining the situation of carestia , 7 and unless your government is ready to stand by our side, they will dash our hopes, leading to uncontrollable and desperate actions on the part of the working peoples. [. . .] Mr. President, beware! 8
Carestia was a core expression displayed in most labor pronouncements of the 1950s to make reference to the rising costs of living and related decreasing living standards of workers. Examining this type of labor documentation seems, therefore, a useful approach to assessing workers’ views on national development in the period. In fact, though directly targeted by the developmentalist rhetoric and policies of the period, industrial workers
nonetheless grew increasingly disillusioned with the ways in which development promotion was being carried out. Thus, more than simply an illustration of how a specifi c labor leader perceived the Kubitschek administration, the above vignette richly describes the broader context of urban labor in the developmentalist decade. As previously demonstrated, in the 1950s Brazil experienced impressive rates of growth along a historical path that transformed the country into Latin America’s largest industrial economy by the end of the decade. And even though the economic gains of the time provided the basis for accommodating industrial working-class and business interests, considering that wages did not keep up with productivity and that the gap between industrial wages and profi ts widened, the heyday of the developmentalist experiment in the Brazil rapidly, and largely unexpectedly, witnessed a rising confrontational pattern of labor relations. 9
The present chapter examines these infl uential historical dynamics. Specifi cally, it demonstrates that throughout the 1950s Brazilian industrial workers challenged traditional structures of labor control by resorting to creative and increasingly autonomous forms of mobilization. In so doing, this progressively active social segment demanded politically responsive and economically interventionist actions from the state in lieu of the rapid, but socially excluding policies the federal administration was implementing.