These two books, despite their different subject matter and methodologies, share a preoccupation with past social unrest in Brazil and its implications for current efforts to create a more democratic and equitable society.
Salvador Sandoval’s study of labor unrest in Brazil from 1946 to 1989 is the first thorough statistical account of postwar strike activity. Because no Brazilian institution collected systematic strike statistics until the 1980s, Sandoval compiled his data on earlier strikes from newspaper accounts. He also went beyond merely counting strikes to include average duration, number of strikers, and overall strike rate.
Sandoval adopts the approach to strike waves developed by Charles Tilly, arguing that “political organizational processes play a predominant role in shaping Brazilian strike patterns” (p. 4). Overall, Sandoval makes a compelling case for emphasizing the political over the economic when considering Brazilian strike activity. Sometimes the relationship is straightforward, as in periods of massive government intervention. At other times, it is more subtle; Sandoval argues that the relative infrequency of “single-category” strikes during the Getúlio Vargas presidency (1950-54) reflects the successful co-optation of labor leaders and explains their preferences for politically motivated mass protests.
There are moments when the author’s argument frays a bit. Eurico Dutra’s suppression of labor activism from 1946 to 1948 was surely facilitated in part by the downturn in industrial production caused by Dutra’s brief flirtation with free-market policies. Sandoval’s argument about Vargas’ “clientelistic populism,” meanwhile, helps little in understanding the 1953 “Strike of the Three Hundred Thousand” in São Paulo. These criticisms aside, historians of Latin American labor are deeply indebted to Sandoval for his painstaking research and thoughtful analysis.
Sandoval repeatedly refers to the authoritarian disposition of Brazilian industrialists and their role in prolonging strikes or inciting repression. Leigh Payne, in her study of Brazilian industrialists from the 1960s through the 1980s, explores the political attitudes that underlay their actions. Based on more than 150 interviews with leading industrialists in São Paulo, Payne’s monograph takes to task the widespread assumption that Brazilian (and Latin American) industrialists are inherently authoritarian. It argues instead that the majority of them have no commitment to a particular type of regime and will embrace almost any political system that ensures a stable investment climate.
Of particular interest to historians is Payne’s discussion of industrialists’ motives for supporting (and even promoting) the 1964 military coup. Challenging bureaucratic-authoritarian state theory, Payne claims that, according to her interview data, industrialists “rebelled” against the João Goulart presidency, not to ensure continued economic expansion but from fear of social disorder. Although her analysis is more sophisticated and empirically grounded than earlier structuralist interpretations, it raises some serious questions about rhetorical strategies, not to mention the problems posed by industrialists’ accounts of their own motivations 20 years after the fact.
The analysis of recent industrialist activity is far more persuasive. It should be emphasized that Payne is careful to demonstrate both the extent and the limits of industrialists’ political flexibility, including the persistence of extremely authoritarian views among a vocal minority. For scholars interested in recent Latin American history, this book is an important step away from the orthodoxies of structural analysis and toward rethinking the political role of a crucial social class.