Beginning in the 1940s, São Paulo underwent an extraordinary urban and indus-
trial expansion unlike anything else in the world at that time. The city’s rapid
economic development posed innumerable challenges to its workers, in terms
of both workplace issues and living conditions. Issues of infrastructure—
transportation, sanitation, paving, education, health facilities, and so on—
emerged as acute prob lems, as did real estate speculation, and the labor
market was transformed by accelerating industrialization and the growth
and diversification of the ser vice sector. These phenomena intruded directly
into workers’ lives, along with high prices, competition, and internal divi-
sions within the working class. Meanwhile, massive migration from rural
areas (particularly from the Nordeste [Northeast], Minas Gerais, and the
interior of the state of São Paulo) profoundly altered the social composition
of the urban working class, resulting in fundamental po litical and cultural
You leave your home / You think you’ll go to heaven
The dream comes crashing down / And you land in São Miguel.
edvaldo santana, “Streets of São Miguel,” 2000
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