From Union Democracy to
Democratic Politics?
By the mid-1950s, Sao Paulo's industrial workers had managed to
establish a de facto industrial relations system that barely resembled the
complex corporatist structure of the
which remained the law of
the land. Workers' factory commissions, some of which had been
transformed into formal shop-floor councils within the unions, bar-
gained directly with employers. Indeed, unionists, employers, and
rank-and-file workers all preferred avoiding the labor bureaucracy, and
as the labor laws became increasingly irrelevant, politicians in Rio even
debated modifying the
The labor laws were still a source of
working-class empowerment, for they provided an official discourse of
rights workers could strategically call upon, but Sao Paulo's day-to-day
industrial relations system in the mid-1950s was unfettered by the
elaborate state control mechanisms of the
The roots of this open style of industrial relations lay in the inde-
pendent factory commission structure and syndicalist legacy that had
been evolving since the 1917 General Strike. By the mid-1950s, rank-
and-file workers had succeeded in translating the internal democracy of
their comiss6es into a democratic union movement. The Textile Work-
ers' and Metalworkers' unions incorporated some of the factory com-
missions into their formal institutional structures and became much
more responsive to rank-and-file demands. Labor leaders also finally
admitted that their role was to support local commissions' negotiations
and strikes, and they opened their directorates to workers of every
political persuasion from Communists to supporters of Sao Paulo's
colorful )anio Quadros.
Moreover, the same balance of power oper-
ated in other Paulistano unions in the mid-1950s.
The Communist pary also came to recognize the importance of
organizing at the grass-roots level. Since the 1920s, the national
leadership had vacillated between a putschist impulse and the desire to
make alliances with elements they saw as the "progressive national
bourgeoisie." Local communist militants in Sao Paulo, however, had
been organizing among the factory commissions since the mid-1940s.
In the mid-1950s, Luis Carlos Prestes and other members of the na-
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