Brazilian Labor Confederation (COB)

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Brazilian Labor Confederation (COB)

As an increasing number of artisans and tradesmen organized mutual aid societies and unions in the first years of the twentieth century, anarchist and socialist leaders in Rio and São Paulo saw the need for a central labor organization. Rio labor leaders formed a regional labor federation in 1903, and in 1906 they sponsored Brazil's first national labor congress. These labor leaders formed the Confederação Operária Brasileira (COB) in 1908 to help coordinate national labor policies.

The COB represented some fifty unions throughout Brazil, but more than half of them were located in the cities of Rio and São Paulo. The Confederação published a national labor newspaper, the pro-anarchist A Voz do Trabalhador, which sought to coordinate union and leftist politics. As an umbrella organization, the COB was only as effective as the unions it represented. COB activists sponsored the Second National Labor Congress in 1913 to establish a set of national policies for Brazilian workers. The participants protested the federal government's antilabor practices, especially its use of a 1907 deportation law to expel foreign-born anarchists.

The COB not only had to contend with government repression, it also presided over a weak and divided labor movement. Divisions by ethnicity, race, and gender plagued Brazil's nascent labor movement in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Union and leftist groups also conducted ideological debates. Many anarchists concentrated on cultural and educational programs for the working class and did little to organize among the rank and file. With the advent of World War I, many of them articulated antiwar positions while ignoring such issues as the increasing cost of living and the intensification of work regimes on the shop floor. The persistent weakness of local unions undermined the effectiveness of the COB. The Confederação faded during the 1910s, but many of its leaders went on to participate in the Third National Labor Congress in 1920 and continued to coordinate anarchist activities throughout Brazil in the 1920s and early 1930s.

See alsoLabor Movements; World War I.


One of the most complete studies of the early labor movement is John W. F. Dulles, Anarchists and Communists in Brazil, 1900–1935 (1973). The most complete single volume on workers and labor in these years is Boris Fausto, Trabalho urbano e conflito social (1976). For an analysis of the rise and fall of the anarchist movement, see Sheldon L. Maram, "Labor and the Left in Brazil, 1890–1921: A Movement Aborted," in Hispanic American Historical Review 57 (1977): 254-272. For analyses of the divisions within the labor movement in São Paulo, see George Reid Andrews, "Black and White Workers: São Paulo, Brazil, 1888–1928," in Hispanic American Historical Review 68 (1988): 491-524, and Joel Wolfe, "Anarchist Ideology, Worker Practice: The 1917 General Strike and the Formation of São Paulo's Working Class," in Hispanic American Historical Review 71 (1991): 809-846.

Additional Bibliography

Alexander, Robert Jackson, and Eldon M. Parker. A History of Organized Labor in Brazil. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Alves, Paulo. Anarquismo e anarcosindicalismo: Teoria e prática no movimento operário brasileiro, 1906–1922. Curitiba: Aos Quatro Ventos, 2002.

Aurélio Santana, Marco. Homens partidos: Comunistas e sindicatos no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Universidade do Rio de Janeiro; São Paulo: Boitempo Editorial, 2001.

Batalha, Claudio H. M. O movimento operário na Primeira República. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 2000.

Caira Gitahy, Maria Lucia. Ventos do mar: Trabalhadores do porto, movimento operário e cultura urbana em Santos, 1889–1914. São Paulo: Editora UNESP, Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da UNESP; Cidade de Santos: Prefeitura Municipal de Santos, 1992.

Wolfe, Joel. Working Women, Working Men: São Paulo and the Rise of Brazil's Industrial Working Class, 1900–1955. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

                                           Joel Wolfe

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Brazilian Labor Confederation (COB)

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