In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a team of sociologists and po litical scientists
led by Francisco Wefort conducted a series of interviews with union leaders
and activists who had been active before the coup of 1964. These oral histo-
ries served as the basis for vari ous research proj ects by that group on the his-
tory of the workers’ movement between 1945
and 1964.1
In one interview, a former union leader at the Paulista Steel Com pany
(Companhia Siderúrgica Paulista; cosipa) in Santos was asked whether
there was “any observable diference” between the workers coming from
the Northeast and the Paulistas. While considering the question a “difficult
prob lem,” the former unionist gave a very long answer. He started by say-
ing, “Northeastern workers, in general, . . . had not been salaried agricultural
workers, but peasants. So there’s been a lot of argument about whether the
working class of São Paulo was somehow distorted by the large influx of
northeastern workers who came here. I’ve disagreed on some points, not
because I’m a northeasterner, but because things are often not as we imagine
them or would like them to be; nor are they often the way some sociologists
and even psychologists understand them.”
Next he explained the diferences between the northeastern construction
workers, “who had very little opportunity to better themselves” because they
became “floating workers” who were completely subject to the fluctuations
of the labor market, and the mi grants in the manufacturing industry, “which
evolves more rapidly, because it is integrated at a more intellectual level,
with more knowledge, more fighting spirit, more tradition.” He disagreed with
those who thought that “the defects of the São Paulo working class comes
from this flow of mi grants, whether northeasterners, or Mineiros, or from the
interior of the state of São Paulo.” This is “not quite true,” he continued. “I
knew companies, even the big ones, where the concentration of northeastern
workers was quite large, [and] in a short time they acquired a spirit of extraor-
Previous Page Next Page