Factory Commissions, Brazil

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Factory Commissions, Brazil

Brazil Factory Commissions, unofficial shopfloor committees of rank-and-file workers formed to bargain directly with employers. As early as the 1910s, industrial workers in São Paulo organized informal shop-floor committees, known as comissões de fábrica. Women textile workers pioneered this form of organizing in response to their exclusion from the male-dominated anarchist unions of their day. When the women's independent factory commissions initiated successful strike movements (e.g., São Paulo's General Strike of 1917), anarchist activists moved to incorporate the comissões in their union structures.

Male and female Brazilian workers were drawn to these shop-floor commissions because unions were often quite weak in the first half of the twentieth century. The local comissões offered workers not only an ongoing organization that they controlled, but also a form of local microunionization that survived government and industrialist repression of labor and leftist leadership cadres.

The factory commissions initially served as a tool that groups without access to power in anarchist and socialist unions (e.g., women) used to bargain with their employers. With the establishment of a corporatist industrial-relations system in the 1930s and early 1940s, male and female workers throughout Brazil were forced to rely on their own factory-level organizations because the state-sponsored sindicatos did not effectively support workers' demands.

Factory commissions took on the leadership of Brazil's labor movement at various times. In 1945–1947, workers who were organized in such commissions launched widespread strike movements throughout the country. In the early and mid-1950s, men and women who were organized in separate commissions took control of government-sponsored sindicatos. The commission structure became increasingly important during the 1964–1985 military dictatorship. Once again, by relying on nominally democratic, local organizations such as the comissões, industrial workers could maintain a de facto union structure even during a period of intense government repression.

The founders of the Brazilian Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores—PT) relied on the factory-commission experience in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Metalworkers in São Paulo's industrial suburbs organized comissões within their factories as the bases for direct negotiations with their employers and eventually for establishing new, highly representative unions.

See alsoBrazil, Political Parties: Workers Party (PT); Labor Movements.


For an analysis of the development of factory commissions in the 1910s and their continued importance to workers throughout the 1950s, see Joel Wolfe, Working Women, Working Men: São Paulo and the Rise of Brazil's Industrial Working Class (1993). On commissions in the 1945–1950 period, see Ricardo Maranhão, Sindicato e democratização: Brasil, 1945–1950 (1979). A detailed study of the commission structure in the founding and ongoing operation of the Workers Party is presented in Margaret E. Keck, The Workers Party and Democratization in Brazil (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Renner, Cecília Ornellas. Duas estratégias sindicais: O sindicato metalúrgico de S. Paulo e o de S. Bernardo do Campo, 1978–1988. São Paulo: Letras à Margem, 2002.

Weinstein, Barbara. For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in São Paulo, 1920–1964. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

                                              Joel Wolfe