"We Can't Think about Democracy the Way We Used to”: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the ABC Strikes, and the Refashioning of Elite Political Culture in São Paulo, 1978–80

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 12:00 PM
Old Town Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Bryan Pitts, Duke University
The famous suburban São Paulo metallurgical strikes of 1978-1980, led by Brazil's future President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, were a pivotal moment that brought together workers, students, leftist intellectuals and politicians, and the moderate political opposition together in protest against the Brazilian military dictatorship's labor policies and its muzzling of civil society. They generated unprecedented cooperation between the political opposition and workers, as politicians defended the right to strike, protected union leaders from arrest, appeared at their assembles, and denounced police brutality. More importantly, they allowed the São Paulo "political class" to see workers as political actors in their own right – citizens with the right to decisively participate in and actively construct democracy, not simply elect representatives to make decisions for them.

One of the most promising examples of the new cooperation between workers and politicians was the 1978 Senate candidacy of the renowned Marxist sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Cardoso, who would vigorously defend the 1979 and 1980 strikes and who was supported by students and intellectuals, was endorsed by Lula's union in 1978. Yet despite politicians' support for the strikes and Lula's support for the political opposition, the alliance suffered a setback in 1980, as Lula founded his own Workers' Party (PT), and Cardoso and other students and leftist intellectuals rejected a popularly-run party in favor of a broad opposition party dominated by traditional politicians. Nevertheless, the strikes and foundation of the PT signaled a decisive turning point in the attitudes of politicians, intellectuals, and workers alike toward both democracy and popular mobilization and marked a key step in the weakening of the dictatorship.

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