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About the Author
Barbara Weinstein is Silver Professor of History at New York University and the author of The Color of Modernity: São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil, also published by Duke University Press.
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Migration and the Making of Industrial São Paulo
By Paulo Fontes, Ned Sublette
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
A Cardboard Suitcase and a Backpack
Northeastern Migrations to São Paulo in the 1950s
In the interior of Bahia, in the county of Jacobina, in the town of Vilarejo de Caem, an anxious Artur Pinto de Oliveira said goodbye to his family one day in December 1947, leaving behind the home where he had lived his first seventeen years.
Hopeful for a better life, with "that dream of studying" in his head, he had caught the "fever of the time": São Paulo. "At that time, every northeasterner dreamed of going to São Paulo," he recalled more than fifty years later. "São Paulo became heaven; it was our paradise." His older brother had left for the capital city some months before and was already working at Nitro Química Brasileira. Their father had not wanted Artur to follow in his footsteps, but the older brother's insistent letters home wore his resistance down.
Artur's journey to São Paulo was exhausting. From Jacobina he took a train to Juazeiro, where he crossed the Rio São Francisco to Petrolina, in the state of Pernambuco. There he bought the cheapest ticket for the steamboat descending the river to the mining town of Pirapora. The drought in the northeastern interior required the boat to go slowly so it would not run aground on the sandbanks, and the voyage took fifteen days.
Along with hundreds of other migrants, Artur squeezed below deck into the second-class section of the boat. He compared it to "a ship for African slaves. You saw nothing. Full of people, promiscuous misbehavior, darkness, a bad smell." The trip would have been worse yet had not Artur, a good conversationalist, made friends with "a man from Goiás, an educated man, and communicative" and passed the days discussing "why the Northeast was so poor and why its people all migrated to other regions." Even so young, Artur already had some ideas about "why the case of the Northeast does not get solved"; he proposed taking advantage of the São Francisco and Amazon Rivers to make a large irrigation system in the region.
Probably charmed by the boy's curiosity, the man from Goiás took a liking to Artur and invited him regularly to have lunch in the first-class restaurant on the boat. Arriving at Pirapora, one bound for Goiás and the other for his new life farther south, they said goodbye. From Pirapora to São Paulo took three more days by train, then Artur stepped onto the platform of the Estação do Norte, in the São Paulo bairro of Brás, in early January 1948. From there, he took yet another train to his final destination: São Miguel Paulista, where "there was not one paved street." Artur worked there for more than forty years and has lived there all his life since.
That same year, 1948, Augusto Ferreira Lima decided it was time to leave the drought-plagued area of Alagoinhas, in the state of Bahia, to try his luck in the south. Augusto had worked since childhood in the family orange groves, and by the time he was sixteen he was employed by the Ferrovia Leste Brasileiro (Eastern Brazilian Railroad). For the first two years, he divided his time between planting and laying railroad ties. Then he learned surveying, and for seven more years he continued to work both in the fields and on the railroad.
Going to São Paulo was his longtime desire, periodically reinforced when friends came back to Bahia for family visits. Augusto remembers that it was an event to see "a baiano arrive ... wearing a nice suit and tie," attracting the girls' attention. "Meanwhile we, [who lived] there, had to go out in our humble clothing. That made a lot of people decide to go to São Paulo." The return visitors told seductive tales of the city's grandiosity, its abundant jobs, its leisure options. Many years later, Augusto recalled how his friend Evelino had described the beautiful train trip though the Serra do Mar and his excursions to Santos on the coast. The first time Augusto took a vacation, living in São Paulo, he took the train to Santos, repeating Evelino's journey.
With money saved from his railroad salary, Augusto bought a ticket for São Paulo. For eleven days he traveled on a truck, a pau-de-arara, so crowded that three planks were tied outside the vehicle to accommodate the overflow. Taking the Rio-São Paulo highway, the only route between the two cities at the time, the first stop the pau-da-arara made in São Paulo was at the church of São Miguel Paulista, the bairro where an old acquaintance of Augusto's lived.
As Augusto clutched his cardboard suitcase, threw down his backpack, and got off the truck, he stepped for the first time onto the ground of the neighborhood where he has lived ever since. In the distance, he saw the chimneys of the factory where he would work for the next thirty-seven years: Nitro Química.
The trajectories of Artur and Augusto were not uncommon. Indeed, they are paradigmatic accounts of one of the most striking facts of Brazilian social history in the second half of the twentieth century: the great migration of millions of workers from the rural regions to the cities.
The largest number of migrants came from the Northeast, while the principal receiver of migrants was the greater metropolitan area of the southern city of São Paulo. In some years, more migrants came to São Paulo from the geographically intermediate state of Minas Gerais than from the Northeast, and many migrants also came from the interior of the state of São Paulo; meanwhile, other places besides São Paulo received northeasterners: Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Volta Redonda, the north of Paraná, and the Amazonian basin. But as the industrial metropolis of São Paulo transformed itself into a home and a workplace for millions of migrants, it was the worker from the Northeast, coming to escape hunger, misery, and, periodically, drought, who became the grand symbol of migration in the Brazilian social imagination.
The Fever of the Time
While the internal migration of workers from other Brazilian states to São Paulo was an old phenomenon, it picked up in the 1930s, when it began to be officially encouraged. A sharp decrease in foreign immigration, aggravated by nationalist government policies that placed restrictions on foreign labor, made it hard for coffee planters to find manual laborers. The problem expanded geographically as new coffee plantations in the distant interior of São Paulo state and in the north of Paraná, along with expanded cotton acreage in the state of São Paulo, demanded a larger number of "hands for labor." In response, the old policy of subsidizing immigration was repurposed to relocate "national workers." In 1935, the governor of São Paulo, Armando Salles de Oliveira, began negotiations to contract with private companies that were starting to operate in the northern part of the state of Minas Gerais and in the Brazilian Northeast, promoting and facilitating the migration of rural workers.
In 1939, when the Inspectorate of National Workers (Inspetoria de Trabalhadores Nacionais; ITN) was created as an agency attached to the Department of Immigration and Colonization (Departamento de Imigração e Colonização; DIC), the state assumed the responsibility for hiring and transferring workers. The ITN was superseded by specialized companies that recruited manual labor in the Brazilian interior, some of which became well known, including the Companhia Itaquerê, the F. Sodré Filho, and the Compahia de Agricultura, Imigração e Colonização.
In the north of Minas Gerais, ITN offices were established in Montes Claros and Pirapora, both of which were terminal cities for the Estrada de Ferro Central railroad. In both cities, arriving migrants underwent a selection process and received tickets to go to São Paulo, where they were lodged at the Immigrant Reception Center before being sent to plantations in the interior of the state. Humberto Dantas, an employee of the Secretary of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce in São Paulo, observed in 1941, "Generally, there converge on Pirapora those who flow from the São Francisco, on boats or on foot, following the axis of the river ... with individual migrants coming [from] Piauí, Ceará, Pernambuco, Sergipe and Alagoas." In addition to "those who lived in the north of Minas," Montes Claros, the principal point of concentration of those who were looking to get to the south of the country, was already attracting "workers coming from a vast central region of Bahia."
Sixteen-year-old Geraldo Rodrigues de Freitas set out for Montes Claros in February 1939. Several of his cousins had left the small village of Salinas in Minas Gerais, almost on the border with Bahia, to work on plantations in São Paulo state. On visits back home, they impressed the young Geraldo. "When they came back," he recalls, they had "their mouths all full of gold. They laughed, and you saw the gold flashing." For him, that was the proof that São Paulo was a "wonder" that left him "eager to go." Freitas persuaded his parents, and aided and accompanied by his cousins, "who had already been in the interior [of São Paulo], in Pompéia," he left on a truck for Montes Claros, where he
slept outside the station, because we had no money to pay [for a room]. ... When it was morning, we went to give our names and catch the migração [subsidized train to São Paulo], but they said that we couldn't go on the migração because Minas still wasn't allowed, only Bahians. ... Since my cousin had already made this trip to São Paulo, he was no fool. [He decided they should leave and return later.] Since no one knew us, when we returned, they asked us, "Where are you from?" and my cousin said, "We're from Caculé, in Bahia.' ... That's how we got them to give us a pass. ... Early the next day we caught the train and arrived in Brás, here [in São Paulo].
That Geraldo Freitas's cousin gave the name of the Bahian city of Caculé when he lied to the ITN officials was no accident. According to data from the Immigrant Reception Center in São Paulo, 12,774 residents of that locality went to the capital city between 1936 and 1939, which represents a staggering 53 percent of the local population. In 1952, the county of Caculé would continue to be one of the principal regions of origin for Bahian migrants; that year alone, 8,096 people left the city.
The Bahian Jorge Gonçalves Lula had already "caught the migração" in Pirapora, having made the trip in January 1937, at thirteen, along with his father, mother, and six siblings. His father, along with some uncles, had already gone to São Paulo for work five times and decided that it was time to transfer the whole family. Jorge Lula remembers that all of the family's belongings were sold very cheap, that the debilitating trip to Pirapora took ten days on the steamboat São Francisco. When the family arrived, they received "a little sack of flour and some pieces of brown sugar" and embarked for the interior of the state of São Paulo, where Jorge would work on a cotton plantation for almost twenty years. Jorge and his family were sent, as Geraldo and his cousin would later be, to the Immigrant Reception Center in the São Paulo neighborhood of Brás. Formerly a reception center for foreign immigrants, the hostel was now given over principally to domestic migrants, who were moving in large numbers toward the plantations in the interior of São Paulo state. Between 1935 and 1939, 96.3 percent of the 285,304 workers entering the hostel were Brazilians, and only 3.7 percent were foreigners. Of those 274,579 migrants, 130,063 (47.4 percent) came from Bahia, and 68,131 (24.8 percent) came from Minas Gerais.
The Second World War unleashed a new boom in Amazonian rubber production that channeled migration to the north of Brazil, especially from the Northeast; almost 100,000 northeasterners migrated to the north in the first half of the 1940s, which was a little less than the total number of migrants from other states to São Paulo. But despite that, the migratory flow to the south generally remained high and swelled enormously after 1946.
Migration into the expanding agricultural regions of western São Paulo state and the north of Paraná continued at an elevated level during the whole period. The majority of the nearly 1.6 million workers who passed through the Immigrant Reception Center in Brás between 1946 and 1960 were headed for these rural zones as a destination, at least initially. "In 1950, for example," notes the researcher José Francisco de Camargo, "of the 100,123 national workers arriving to São Paulo, 97,757 were en route [via the Immigrant Reception Center] for the plantation, with the others remaining in the capital." Even so, the Immigrant Reception Center registers do not measure the total flow of migrants to São Paulo, since the growing number whose trips were taken "on their own account" through personal contacts were not registered by the official structures of the Immigration Service.
Nevertheless, despite the heavy flow of migrants to rural areas, the mass-migration to urban areas was one of the great social and demographic phenomena of postwar Brazil. Between 1950 and 1980, an estimated 38 million people left the countryside, profoundly altering the nation's socioeconomic profile.
The speed of the process was striking. While the city of São Paulo tripled in size from 1950 to 1970, its population of northeastern origin grew by a factor of ten. The 1970 census showed that of the country's nine major metropolitan regions, greater São Paulo had the greatest concentration of migrants, and reported that almost 70 percent of the city's economically active population had gone through some kind of migratory experience.
The impact of internal migration was most sharply felt in the 1950s, when the number of migrants to the city of São Paulo from other Brazilian states surpassed the number of migrants from the interior of the state of São Paulo. By the end of the decade, seven out of every ten people who arrived in the capital were from outside the state of São Paulo. The city received almost a million new inhabitants during the 1950s, representing approximately 60 percent of the county's growth. The great majority of these migrants were from the northeastern states, who were massively employed in the booming metropolitan region.
Indeed, greater São Paulo in the 1950s was the setting for an accelerated, diversified process of industrialization and urbanization. The region was principally responsible for Brazil's elevated rate of growth in industrial production. Between 1945 and 1960, in one of the fastest processes of industrialization anywhere in the world at that time, the country's secondary sector grew an average of 9.5 percent a year. By 1959, almost 50 percent of all Brazilian factory employment was concentrated in the state of São Paulo. Additionally, this industrial growth stimulated a great expansion of the region's service sector, increasing even more the availability of jobs and possible opportunities.
With those incentives on offer, São Paulo and the other factory cities attracted millions of northeastern workers. As described earlier by the Bahian laborer Artur Pinto de Oliveira, São Paulo became the "fever of the time," a "Mecca par excellence for migrants." This prestige was strongly associated with the relative ease of finding work there, as well as with the significant difference in pay between the northeastern countryside and the great southwestern industrial cities. The asymmetry was described by Luís Fernando Maria Teixeira of the National Immigration Department in a study for the Worker Mobilization Service in Rio de Janeiro in 1949: "In the Northeast, J.B.S., in agricultural activity as a rural journeyman, receives 10 cruzeiros for a day, sunup to sundown, in the open air. From Rio, a letter arrives from a bachelor friend, revealing the following: a mason's assistant ... earns 43 cruzeiros, working from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M., with an hour for lunch."
In addition to better wages, migrants expected to enjoy rights as workers that they did not have as rural laborers. A Bahian worker interviewed in the early 1950s summed up the differences between work in his birthplace and in São Paulo: "Working for others [in Bahia] is no good, because we have no guarantee like we do [in São Paulo]. Here the pay is better, and the employer complies with his obligations."
For many migrants on their way to the big industrial cities of south-central Brazil, the prospect of acquiring workers' rights meant escaping the relations of domination and exploitation to which they had been subjected in the countryside. In this sense, migration had the clear role of "eroding the powers of the great rural proprietors" of the Northeast.
Finally, migrants associated the city with a range of urban benefits, particularly in the areas of education and health. "In Bahia," remembered a mother interviewed in the early 1950s, "you can't give your children a good education. The school is a long way away. Here [in São Paulo] there are more facilities." Statistics confirm this aspect of workers' experience. In 1950, when there were only 1,790 hospital beds in the entire interior of Bahia, the city of São Paulo had more than 12,300.
Excerpted from Migration and the Making of Industrial São Paulo by Paulo Fontes, Ned Sublette. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsForeword / Barbara Weinstein vii
1. A Cardboard Suitcase and a Backpack: Northeastern Migration to São Paulo in the 1950s 15
2. Land of the Northeasterners: Migration, Urbanization, and Factory Work in São Miguel Paulista 48
3. Worker Community and Everyday Life: "Becoming Northeastern" in São Paulo 79
4. The Right to Practice Politics: Parties and Political Leadership in São Miguel Paulista 131
5. Workers and the Neighborhood: Social Movements and the Struggle for Autonomy 178
What People are Saying About This
"Paulo Fontes's work stands out as the best book in the current surge in research about the Brazilian working class. Fontes challenges the received wisdom of previous generations of scholars and presents an integrated study of the complex interactions of race, gender, social origins, and political processes among those who migrated to São Paulo. Migration and the Making of Industrial São Paulo makes for an enjoyable and accessible read for students and scholars of Brazilian history, modern Latin America, and labor history alike."
"Paulo Fontes's excellent scholarship and strong narrative sense make Migration and the Making of Industrial São Paulo a book that should be widely read."