Workers Party (PT)

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Workers Party (PT)

During the late 1970s, while Brazil was still under military rule, workers in the metallurgical industries (especially in automobile factories) located in São Paulo's industrial suburb of São Bernardo do Campo organized through factory commissions to push for increased wages and improved working conditions. The strike waves that these workers launched in 1978 and 1979 (in 1979 alone, more than 3 million workers were involved in 113 strikes in fifteen states) ushered in a form of organizing known as the new unionism and eventually led to the founding of the Brazilian Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores—PT) in 1979 and 1980.

These workers founded their own party—under new political guidelines set out in 1979 by the dictatorship—because they saw the main opposition party (the Brazilian Democratic Movement [MDB], later the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party [PMDB]), the reconstituted Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), and the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) as too alienated from the concerns of rank-and-file workers. Thus, on May Day 1979, a group of labor leaders from the metalworkers' unions (who referred to themselves as labor's "authentic" leaders) issued a set of goals. They sought: (1) direct negotiations between workers and employers and, therefore, an end to the state-run industrial-relations system; (2) the formal acceptance by employers and the state of factory commissions and the recognition of union delegates on the shop floors as the primary bargaining agents for workers; (3) complete autonomy from the federal government's Ministry of Labor; and (4) the unrestricted right to strike.

The "authentics," led by Luís Inácio da Silva (popularly known as Lula), formed the Central Workers' Union (CUT) in 1983 to coordinate national labor practices for the unions associated with the PT. The CUT opposed the more conservative unions associated with the PMDB and PCB that organized into the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), which modeled itself on the AFL-CIO of the United States.

The PT is really Brazil's first national political party. It is not simply a vehicle for a single politician, and it has a well-defined structure that is rooted not only in the factory commissions, but also in Christian Base Communities and rural workers' movements. Indeed, the PT has organized throughout Brazil to push for improved conditions not only for industrial workers, but also for rural proletarians and the poor, who do not have access to steady employment. The PT has been successful in electing big-city mayors, state governors, and state and federal representatives and senators. The party's leader, Lula, finished second in the 1989 presidential election.

Lula again competed in the 1994 presidential election. While he initially led in the polls, moderate and right parties worked together to help elect Fernando Henrique Cardoso. However, Lula won the 2002 presidential race. Businessmen and foreign investors feared that Lula was planning to implement detrimental economic policies, but in general he has maintained the policies of his conserative predecessor, Cardoso. These conservative economic policies caused some more radical party members to leave the PT. In 2005, the PT was also accused of paying members of congress to vote with it. This crisis, known as the Mensalão scandal, forced several of Lula's key advisors to resign. Despite the notoriety of this corruption, Lula was re-elected president in 2006.

See alsoBrazil, Political Parties: Brazilian Communist Party (PCB); Labor Movements; Liberation Theology; Silva, Luis Inácio Lula da.


The single best study of the PT is Margaret E. Keck, The Workers Party and Democratization in Brazil (1992). A good work on the party's origins is Isabel Ribeiro De Oliveira Gómez De Souza, Trabalho e política: As origens do Partido dos Trabalhadores (1988). An informative study that provides a good analysis of the PT's organizing in the rural sector as well as a detailed description of the 1989 presidential campaign is Emir Sader and Ken Silverstein, Without Fear of Being Happy: Lula, the Workers Party, and Brazil (1991). For an analysis of the relationship of the PT to Brazil's increasingly important feminist groups, see Sonia E. álvarez, Engendering Democracy in Brazil: Women's Movements in Transition Politics (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Borba, Angela, Nalu Faria, and Tatau Godinho, eds. Mulher e política: Gênero e feminismo no Partido dos Trabalhadores. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 1998.

Demier, Felipe, ed. As transformações do PT e os rumos da esquerda no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Bom Texto, 2003.

Luna, Francisco Vidal and Herbert S Klein. Brazil since 1980. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Munakata, Kazumi, Maria Alice Vieira, and Alexandre Fortes. Partido dos Trabalhadores: Trajetórias. 2nd ed. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2003.

                                         Joel Wolfe