Archaic Brazil means a social structure shaped by the agrarian tradition which has become synonymous with Latin America of yesterday. Fortunately this little book is not one of the many rhetorical exercises in generalities with political overtones, but an empirical study of two communities in Minas Gerais, one of the most conservative regions of Brazil. It introduces the reader to one of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary Brazil, the spontaneous industrialization of small towns far from the coast and the major urban centers.
Sobrado and Nôvo Mundo, the two towns under scrutiny, are both located in an area whose development was originally caused by the expansion of coffee agriculture. In Nôvo Mundo the first textile mill was established in 1905 by a wealthy merchant family. Since 1936 three more textile plants, a paper factory and a sugar mill were founded, all except the last owned by the same family. In 1958, 2200 out of the 12,000 inhabitants of Novo Mundo were industrial workers. Sobrado, with a population of 10,000 in 1950, has only one textile mill (since 1925) employing 900 and is owned by one of the old land-owning families of the region. In both towns the labor force has been recruited among the migrants from surrounding rural areas.
The author endeavors to answer two questions. What factors determine management-labor relationships, paternalistic traditions or rational-impersonal principles deriving from the technological and economic requirements of modern capitalism? Are these relationships influenced by such factors as political institutions, labor legislation, and the domestic and international market?
As might be expected so far as the first question is concerned, Lopes found that relationships between factory owners and workers were predominantly based on principles usually identified as “paternalism,” “feudalism,” “patrón-peón relationships” or, as he prefers, “patrimonialism” in the sense used by Max Weber. Employment largely depended on preexisting conditions of dependency or on whether the applicant had relatives working in the plant who were willing to support his application. Employment implied loyalty relationships transcending the privileges and obligations inherent in the job proper. The employee’s political support, for example, was expected as a matter of course. On the other hand, loyal workers and employees were almost never fired for inefficiency, and if they happened to belong to the higher echelons, a surprising amount of power was often delegated to them.
It seems important to note that the changes affecting this traditional structure were completely beyond the possibilities of local control. Beginning in 1929, the Brazilian textile market entered a recession interrupted by World War II, but resumed in 1947. More attention had to be paid to technical and labor efficiency. Furthermore, an increasingly complex labor legislation established, among other things, minimum wages and made it difficult and costly to dismiss workers and employees. Finally unionization of industrial labor by government decree began to influence labor relations on the local level. Under the concerted impact of these innovations industry was forced to modernize and to inject an increasing dose of “rationality” and “impersonality” in its relationships with labor. And the workers reacted by discarding loyalties and by developing “class-consciousness.”
Lopes’ book is a well-designed and invaluable piece of empirical research. Statistical tables alternate with abundant individual information collected from a large variety of informants. This combination may not entirely satisfy methodological purists, but it certainly makes interesting reading.