Osasco, 68 – urban guerrilla and labor movement



Calendars don't keep time the way clocks do.

The events of 1968, which took place at a vertiginous pace and surrounded by an epic atmosphere, had the curious fate of being later celebrated by the media, which evoked the past with colorful photographs of the time, and summoned the soixante-huitards to talk about ideals and hopes that not everyone still shares, and that often run counter to their current interests. The successive “anniversaries” of 1968 and their respective commemorations pose the problem of interpreting those events that are, inevitably, filtered through the perspective of the present, and thus manipulated with greater or lesser awareness.

The ten years of 1968, at least, were contemporaneous with the resumption of workers' strikes, the return of exiled militants and the crisis of the military regime. Now, 53 years later, the distance is in charge of “cooling down” the historical drama lived. In addition, the current situation marked in terms of ideas by the neoliberal offensive and by the “postmodernism” of disillusioned intellectuals is responsible for characterizing the possibility of social revolution as utopia, inscribed yesterday and today in the contradictions of capitalist society,

“Calendars don't keep time the way clocks do,” Walter Benjamin once said. In our case, the clock mechanically leaves the events of 1968 behind, and calendar time, instead of rescuing revolutionary ideals, as Benjamin wanted, serves only for colorful folklorization by the media, or as an opportunity for the protagonists. then rewrite history to justify their new options.

The most recurrent procedure to mischaracterize the past is generalization. As in 1968 important social movements took place in different countries of the world, the “Brazilian case” is diluted in this apparently homogeneous set. Or else, it is detached from it through comparative analyzes that seek to oppose disparate realities to apprehend similarities and diversities. With this procedure, one stays on the surface of phenomena: what Logic de Hegel called an “exterior and indifferent differentiability” that never reaches the essence of the studied object.

But the generalization can also render “indifferent” the specificity of the different movements that fought against the military dictatorship: the student, the worker and the guerrilla. Each of them, although having the same substrate, the same motivation, obeyed their own dynamics.

The best antidote against these temptations continues to be meticulous and patient studies that focus on grasping the particularity of an object, the successive determinations that made it concrete. Between abstract universality and empirical singularities, the study of the particularity claimed by the dialectic is imposed as a “field of mediation”. Only in this way, it becomes possible to overcome the generalizing and diluting character of many interpretations of 1968, whether those marked by the empiricist and psychologizing bias underlying the “non-institutional” analyzes (supported by the random memoirs of supporting characters), or the atomistic interpretations that they cut the historical flow into micro periods (set arbitrarily by the whim of the researcher).

In the following pages, I try to bring to discussion some traits that conform to the particularity of our 1968, having as a basic reference the workers' movement in Osasco and the process of armed struggle. Next, I will focus on some interpretations.

One problem, however, insists on reappearing. In the midst of so many facts that occurred in 1968, which ones deserve to be mentioned? What will allow us to approach the pursued particularity? What is actually of interest and topicality? And what was irretrievably left behind, like a carcass given over to the corrosive action of time, to irresistible disintegration, to inevitable oblivion?

The answer to these questions is always dictated by the present, the advanced historical moment that makes lived time intelligible. The “present as history”: the central methodological resource in the best Marxist tradition. But what gift are we talking about?? The ontological centrality of the present, claimed by the dialectic, presupposes a clear distinction between a result-present, which fulfilled the promises contained in the past, and the various existing circumstantial moments, the empirical-present.

In this year, when we celebrate 53 years of 1968, it is more than evident that the cycle was not completed: the structural reality remained unchanged, and the dream dreamed at that time – the social revolution – did not materialize. For this reason, despite the passing of several decades, the events of 1968 remain, unfortunately, current, incomplete, unresolved. Reality has undergone quantitative changes, but remains structurally the same. And this is exactly what clouds the researcher's vision and prevents a serene understanding of the facts, which only the fulfillment of a historical cycle would allow. Our time bears a resemblance to the homonymous poem by Drummond: “party time, time of broken men”, a time in which the “precarious synthesis” remains hidden, with only “minor certainties”.

The libertarian winds of 1968 blew in the oppressive context established by the 64 coup, a moment of redefinition of social life and frustration for a left that had bet on the viability of “basic reforms” and the promise of another future for our country. In 1968, frustration became active and he dared to announce that the time for reckoning with the coup leaders was at hand: “At the time, 1968 seemed to be the year of the great revenge. From the thousands of heads that set it on fire, there was the certainty that that was the year in which the popular movements' souls were washed in 1964” (Espinosa, 1987, p. 156).

The “reckoning” was carried out under unfavorable conditions. According to Jacob Gorender, the right time for confrontation had already passed: “The post-64 armed struggle (…) had the meaning of delayed violence. Not waged in March-April 1964 against the right-wing military coup, the armed struggle began to be attempted by the left in 1965 and was definitively launched from 1968, when the adversary dominated the power of the State, had full support in the ranks of the Armed Forces and shattered the main organized mass movements” (Gorender, 1987, p. 249).

It is difficult to make counterfactual history and evaluate the results of an armed uprising in response to the coup d'état in a context marked by the hardening of international relations and the American involvement in the Vietnam War. In any case, the feeling of frustration and revanchism that surrounded not only the communists, but the entire arc of alliances formed to defend the basic reforms is undeniable. And this state of mind became especially explosive when it took hold of the sector hardest hit by repression: the professionals in the arms, the lower ranks of the Army and Navy.

As for the nationalists, linked to Leonel Brizola, from the first moment they called the people to armed resistance and, later, through the constitution of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, they launched themselves in some guerrilla attempts, such as the movement led by Jefferson Cardin, in 1965 , and the implantation of a guerrilla center in Caparaó, in 1966. Finally, inside the PCB, the militants dissatisfied with the strategic line tried to win the leadership of the party and, failing that, they left it in the VI Congress (1967), with the intention of preparing the armed struggle.

As can be seen, the 1968 guerrilla warfare was a product of the 64 coup and the ideological debate experienced by a left that had been severely defeated without putting up any resistance, which remained a passive victim, bitter defeat and swallowing anger, which he suffered the persecution of the victors and humiliated himself with the unfolding of the historical drama attesting to his impotence.

It is important to highlight that guerrilla warfare was a process whose dynamics, to a large extent, did not depend on the mass movement. It was conceived, decided, prepared and triggered before that there was a popular mobilization against the dictatorship. The mass movement, therefore, was not included in the initial forecasts of those courageous militants who would take up arms. They had no definite policy for students and workers, and the most exacerbated militarism did not hide their skepticism towards legal forms of struggle.

The relationship between the armed left and the workers' movement has the Osasco strike as an exceptional and exemplary point of observation, a unique event in our history of rapprochement between the workers' vanguard and the militants of the armed groups, an unfulfilled promise of unification between the workers' struggle and urban warfare.

But, before reaching this point, it is necessary to focus on the way in which the workers' movement lived the impasses of the post-64 period.

Labor movement: history and historiography

The 64 coup quarantined a labor movement that had, until then, promoted gigantic strikes of a political nature in favor of basic reforms and against the attempts of interference by the International Monetary Fund. The workers' demobilization that followed was a fact that caused perplexity within the political leaders of the left, forcing them to come to terms with the past. This adjustment was made in a climate of indignation and revolt, having as its central ingredients the lost revolutionary opportunity, the unexpected apathy of the labor movement and the increasingly angry criticism against the PCB policy, which continued to reproduce the guidelines of the “March Declaration”. , through the attempt to build a democratic front to isolate the dictatorship.

The review of the past, carried out under the sign of passion, and in a revanchist climate, could not, evidently, provide a serene assessment of the stormy years that preceded the coup d'état. More importantly, coming to terms with the past is never a disinterested activity. What was at stake, at that moment, was the definition of a strategy to face the military dictatorship, which meant necessarily going through the ideological struggle against the PCB's policy and the defense of the armed path.

The review of recent history touched on true points: the ideological mischaracterization of the labor movement in the “nationalist front”, the “cupulism” of union action that neglected the organization of workers inside the factories, the outbreak of strikes basically in the state sector of the economy etc. But it was very unfair to disregard the real conditions of the time and the victories won by the workers' struggle,

It was in that moment of passionate reflection that an attempt was made to reconcile the defense of a revolutionary strategy that conceded (albeit only in terms of rhetoric) the leading role to the working class, with a plausible explanation for the workers' apathy. Why, unlike the students, did the workers not take the lead in the resistance to the military regime?

The explanation found pointed to a culprit, whose muteness seemed to confirm the suspicions: the union structure, the enemyinatural gag of the revolutionary spontaneity of the workers, responsible for the mistakes of the past and the evils of the present. No doubt it treatsvIt is a defendant of a past life that is not recommendable: conceived in the middle of the Estado Novo, during Vargas' courtship with Italian fascism, a vulgar imitator of Menu dEl Lavoro, owned and maintained by all subsequent governments, frequented assiduously and indistinctly by both the pelegos and the communists, and now under the guard of a military regime. The condemnatory criticism of the union structure and the consequent formation of an anti-unionist mentality would henceforth allow the rewriting of the history of the labor movement from the perspective of its alleged struggle for autonomy, always blocked by the PCB policy, responsible for maintaining the infamous structure trade union, which is for the Consolidation of Labor Laws (which Lula, in an unfortunate moment called “Act 5 of the working class).

Such historiographical strand, which was initially established in the left's clandestine documents and later conquered academic production, ran into an insurmountable difficulty in explaining the great workers' struggles of the pre-64 period, all of which were waged from union entities. Despite the hardships, the workers' militants occupied the union device, giving it life and dynamism, and, through inter-union articulations, walked towards the creation of the General Command of Workers. The great strikes of the time, with political claims, mark a relevant moment in the history of the labor movement. Just compare that moment with the CUT's desperate commitment in the 80s — when, through a general strike, it tried to influence the country's social and political order to reassess the importance of the trade union struggle during the Goulart government.

As for the identification of the union structure as the central element to control and demobilize the workers, a brief comment is in order. It is true that the union structure continued without major changes throughout the military government. However, what changed was “only” the form of the State and its entire legal framework. After the coup, the dictatorship took the following measures:

– intervened in four confederations, 45 federations and 383 unions;

– arrested and stripped of the political rights of countless trade unionists and labor activists;

– installed a climate of terror and denunciation throughout the country, aiming to quell any attempt at resistance. Thousands of militants linked to the labor movement were persecuted, exiled, arrested and judicially indicted in the notorious Police-Military Inquiries;

– created a new wage policy that transferred the setting of the wage readjustment index to the government. With it, class entities lost the legal conditions to bargain wages with businessmen, and the Labor Court lost its normative power;

– banned strikes, which were treated as a crime against national security;

– established the Severance Indemnity Fund, bringing the end of job stability, encouraging labor turnover, and therefore making union work within the factories more difficult;

– imposed a new Constitution on the country in 1967.

With these and other measures adopted – which were complemented by the edition of Institutional Act number 5, in December 1968 – the dictatorship did not need to create a new union structure to control workers. And he didn't even need to. The "blaming" of the union structure, in addition to paving the way for the distortion of the history of the labor movement, allowed the illusion that it was possible to organize workers for the revolutionary struggle without first going through the resumption of union entities and small struggles. by economic-corporate demands. The anti-union mentality, widespread at the time, led the workers' militants to an unnecessary confrontation with the union leaders who had organized the Inter-Union Movement Anti-Arrocho, and who, through assemblies and concentrations, sought to combat the government's salary policy.

“Revolutionary impatience” then intended to skip steps, refusing to participate in the official unions alongside and against the pelegos, as well as the parliamentary struggle waged by the MDB and the “Frente Ampla” formed to politically isolate the dictatorship. Outside the union structure, the call for the formation of “workers' nuclei”, “committees to fight against the arrocho” etc., never went beyond – with very few exceptions – clandestine party cells both for repression and for the masses. But, by irony of history, the main workers struggles fought during the military regime ended up going through the union, including the famous strike in Osasco.


The experience of the workers' movement in Osasco, which culminated in a strike with unique characteristics in our history, is a unique example of the confluence of movements that, in the rest of the country, developed with relative autonomy: the mass movement (workers and students) and the process that would lead to armed struggle. Scholars are well aware of the peculiarity of Osasco's political life. The struggle for the municipality's autonomy had generated a strong parochialism among the population, which was reflected in the political participation of its inhabitants.

After 1964, the mistaken campaign for the null vote, sponsored by the majority sectors of the left, gained only partial support from Osasquenses, who applied it at the state and federal level, but not at the municipal level. The election of councilors and mayors was not, therefore, an activity disconnected from popular movements, something that disinterested students and politicized workers. “Bairroism” thus brought with it an as-yet-undefined idea of local power, autonomous participation in the working-class city. The relative “isolation” of Osasco was accompanied, within the labor movement, by the almost complete absence of leftist groups. Apart from the PCB, which saw its influence decline after the 1964 defeat, and the as noisy as it was small IV International, the other groupings practically did not exist. It was only from 1967/68 onwards that they would try to establish themselves in the region, through contacts at the top with the leaders, or through the displacement of cadres (an action, therefore, from the outside in, which was not born and developed based on the dynamism of the intense local political life).

The same goes for the student movement. While in the other regions of São Paulo the student movement was divided between supporters of the AP, on the one hand, and on the other, the front that opposed it (dissidence from the PCB, Polop, etc.), in Osasco the situation was different. Alongside the PCB, a generation of fierce students had formed that remained for a long time to resist partisanship, although it participated in the student struggle against the military dictatorship.

Another peculiarity of Osasco was the interweaving that formed between the student movement and the working class. This was made possible by the fact that many workers attended schools at night. The expressive contingent of worker-students brought to the world of work a little of the revolutionary ferment that was then contagious in the student environment. Many of the workers' leaders lived this experience, such as, for example, Roque Aparecido da Silva (who was on the board of directors of Círculo Estudantil Osasquense, of the Brazilian Union of Secondary Students, and of the Cobrasma factory commission) and José Campos Barreto (one of the presidents of the “Círculo”, leadership among the workers, and who, years later, would die alongside Carlos Lamarca in the backlands of Bahia).

The rapprochement between workers and students produced the emergence of a local vanguard, established from “informal relations”, according to AR Espinosa's intelligent analysis: “The expression 'group from Osasco' was just a form later created to designate the set of workers, worker-students and students who lived in Osasco and were active in local movements. The relationships that united the group were informal, that is, it had no partisan character. A set of vague conceptions, however, gave it a certain unity: defense of socialism, rejection of conciliatory class practices and privileging grassroots participation and action. Even with visions liSlightly different, all members of the group defended the creation of company committees (legal or not) and participation in all legal instruments of organization (such as the Union). In addition, there was also an evident sympathy for the Cuban Revolution and the armed struggle in the group (…). The informality of the Osasco group stemmed from its own origin (more or less spontaneously, from groups of friends) and denoted an almost provincial character that narrowed its horizons. The absence of more general definitions confined the group to Osasco (…). But, on the other hand, the group had extreme agility and notorious sensitivity to respond to the problems most 'intensely felt by workers and students in the region'. (Espinosa, 1987, p. 173).

The driving force of the labor movement was the factory commission of the most important industry in the region: Cobrasma. Interestingly, this commission had its origins in the pre-64 period, having been created by the National Labor Front, which at the time was guided by an anti-communist perspective, criticizing the politicization of the labor movement, refusing to participate in union life (preferring to create organizations parallel), and in defense of class collaboration.

Also in the pre-64 period, the Osasco PCB launched itself to form factory commissions, but, unlike the Catholics, to strengthen union work within the companies.

Summarizing the origin of the “Osasco group”, José Ibrahim recalls: “We emerged from this general crisis of the left. Some comrades and I were 'near area' of the Party. we had lications with comrades linked to workers' work who had organized, in the years 1962-1963, a company committee at Braseixos, and who, since before the coup, had been diverging within the Party. From the Sino-Soviet polemic, they began to criticize reformism, to raise the issue of armed struggle, regardless of the direct influence of any leftist organization. They were not of student or intellectual origin, all were directly linked to factory work. They belonged to the Municipal Party Committee and criticized “cupulism” and the lack of concern for grassroots organization. For this reason, the pioneering experience of the company committee began at Braseixos (…). We met these fellows in the union and followed their work at Braseixos. Under his influence, a little before the coup, we formed a small group of 4 or 5 colleagues in Cobrasma (…) It was small work, whose center was union activity, even though since before the coup we had a critical attitude towards the union. We thought it was an important instrument, that we had to work within it, without ignoring its limitations. That's how we started to defend the need for independent organization, without denying the union. Already at that time we thought that the union had to be denied from within and that it was silly to say “down with the union, long live the works council”, if the first existed and the second did not” (Ibrahim, 1987a, pp. 195-6) .

The action of these activists in Cobrasma soon brought them closer to the militants of the National Labor Front: together they managed to legalize a factory commission in 1965. Aparecido da Silva. From then on, the “Osasco group” began to exert influence in the other factories, preparing the ground to conquer, in 1967, the leadership of the union. The winning ticket, headed by José Ibrahim, was made up of three elements from the “Osasco group” (among them a PCB militant), three from the National Labor Front, and one independent.

From this brief itinerary, one can infer the markedly union orientation of the “Osasco group”, which always had as a reference the combination of clandestine and legal work. This characteristic would be even more reinforced with the conquest of the union that came to sponsor the formation of new factory commissions.

The centralization of the movement around the class entity facilitated the struggle that was then waged against the government's wage policy. Osasco's presence in the Movimento Intersindical Antiarrocho, however, was done in a very special way: through the denunciation of the excessively moderate methods of action of the leadersiunion people, and, on the other hand, through the alliance with the union oppositions and the student movement, which sought to give a revolutionary tone to the fight against the arrocho. For them, the tightening was seen as the very reason for the existence of the military regime. The argument used can be summarized in a phrase that was very common at the time: “it's no use fighting for the repeal of the arrocho law, they put another one in its place”. In this perspective, the economic struggle and the political struggle were mixed, allowing an automatic transition from one to the other. And political struggle, in this context, meant confrontation with the dictatorship and preparation for armed struggle.

Identifying with this vision, the Osasco union isolated itself from the union movement as a whole (which proposed holding a general strike in November, the time of the collective bargaining agreement), but saw its influence grow with union opposition and students, who , in turn, began to see Osasco as their main reference in the mass movement. On the other hand, Osaka union activists themselves were, once again, involved by the contagious revolutionary climate of a left that was preparing for armed struggle, and of a student movement that faced the dictatorship in increasingly radicalized demonstrations.

But the influence that guided the behavior of the Osasco leaders came from outside the mass movement. It took place through contacts with militants from the petty bourgeoisie, who, shortly afterwards, would found the VPR. This contact, which began in 1967, made it possible to recruit the main leaders of the labor movement during 1968. With this, the VPR was filling the party vacuum that characterized the mass movement in Osasco. In addition to the fascination that the prospect of an imminent armed struggle had on the workers' leaders, the VPR had a characteristic that, paradoxically, facilitated rapprochement: unlike other political organizations that always wanted to teach workers how to act, it, being essentially militarist, did not have any concrete proposal for the labor movement: “There were two reasons for the “Osasquenses” to be integrated into a certain militarist current: first, this current did not have any definition about the labor movement, and, therefore, 'it did not got in the way'; second, it seemed serious to them for the simple fact that it was already practicing armed actions, which would exempt it from a petty-bourgeois character!” (Espinosa, 1987, p. 174).

“The political conception of the left wing group in Osasco has to be analyzed in the context of the 1968 conjuncture. The left group, at that stage, had its own dynamics and unrelated to the mass movement. So much so that the strike in Osasco surprised everyone. No one believed he could leave, not even the people from the future VPR, who were closer to us (…). They didn't offer us any definite perspective for our concrete action with the class, because they didn't have it. But they thought it was good what we were doing and had an attitude as if to say: “you understand this work, if you want to do it that way, you have our support” (Ibrahim, 1987a, pp. 234-5).

The commitment of the workers' leadership to the guerrillas created a unique situation in which the roles they represented were confused and mixed up. The desire to unleash urban guerrilla warfare and move on to rural guerrilla warfare spoke louder and overrode the patient work of organization inside the factories. Radicalization and confrontation, the desire to skip steps, became the order of the day, precipitating events. The commemoration of the 1st of May at Praça da Sé is part of this flow: for the first time in Brazilian political history, workers and students went public, in broad daylight, alongside the armed commands of the VPR and ALN to expel the governor from the platform.

On the other hand, in Osasco, after so many months of radical preaching against the arrocho and agitation in the factories, the strike “spontaneously” entered the order of the day. The workers were willing to stop work, and the union, under pressure from all sides, saw itself obliged to take the lead in the movement so as not to become demoralized. The proposal for a general strike, which the union movement as a whole said it wanted for November, was shelved by the precipitation of the strikers in Osasco and by the subsequent repression. As a result, the “isolation” of Osasco was once again confirmed in a localized strike, of an insurrectionary nature, with the occupation of factories and the imprisonment of managers and engineers.

How did the decision to occupy the factories come about? There are those who maintain that the decision was directly influenced by the students who had occupied the Faculty of Philosophy and remained camped there. This thesis was widely publicized by the Trotskyists of the Fourth International, old defenders of the “revolution on an international scale”, who saw a direct link between the French May and our student movement, and, from the latter, with the workers of Osasco. In addition, they defended the “worker-student alliance”, a proposal that canceled the specificities of the two movements (one of the positive points of the strike would have been the participation of students in the pickets), and that, at the same time, reinforced the thesis of the influence example of the student movement. Others saw the occupation of the factories as a transplant, for the labor movement, of the theory of the guerrilla focus. Finally, the most plausible explanation points to the precedent of factory occupation by Contagem workers. In any case, it is very likely that the three explanations complement each other.

The quick police siege and the intervention in the union left the movement ahead and without possibilities of survival. It was an unexpected error of judgment: it was expected that the government would repeat in Osasco the same behavior that it had in the Contagem strike, when the Minister of Labor, Jarbas Passarinho, was sent to negotiate with the strikers, present counterproposals, etc. In the new situation, marked by growing radicalization, the government acted quickly and immobilized the workers.

“One soldier for every three strikers”: that was the name of the story in the Working Voice about the strike. The ostensible presence of repression would also serve to catch armed groups by surprise and immobilize them. This is a subject that, for obvious reasons, has not been talked about much. But it is known that the VPR's "logistical support" group, together with the ALN militants, personally led by Joaquim Câmara Ferreira, had carried out a survey of electrical installations (high voltage wires, etc.) for possible acts of sabotage . It is also known that, during the strike, the militants of these groups walked around the factories with weapons, ready for any emergency.

The government's quick action dismantled all the schemes and cornered the strikers who, evicted from the factories, had nowhere else to go. The union had been occupied by repression, and the strike leadership, astonished, realized, belatedly, that it had been carried away by spontaneity and found itself entangled in an overlapping of instances, with union work getting mixed up with the factory commissions, with the existence within the same company of a legal commission alongside another clandestine one, with the presence of students and guerrillas surrounding the leaders, etc.

The outcome of the strike was melancholy. The city was occupied, the workers went back to work and the leadership was forced to go into hiding and remain underground. There was no solidarity strike in support of metallurgists in Osasco.

And there's no way to sugarcoat the pill: the strike was an exemplary defeat that dismantled the workers' organization achieved after so many years of work in an unfavorable situation. The demobilization would last ten long years, in an unprecedented ebb in the entire history of the metallurgical category.

After the strike, the paths of the armed struggle and the labor movement parted forever. And the dynamics of militarism dragged with it the workers' leadership of Osasco, which at that time was no longer able to stay in the city and reorganize the workers.

Past and present

The most detailed analyzes of the strike experience in Osasco were carried out at a time of ebb and dismay caused by the repression that followed Institutional Act number 5, and resumed after 1978, in a context marked by the enthusiasm provoked by the ABC strikes and the return of the exiles. Academics, the protagonists of the events and survivors of armed groups participated in this reflection exercise.

Consequently, the assessment of the strike and the “lessons” learned from it were directly influenced by the new situation experienced by its analysts. It is the commitments with the present that will mark the type of evaluation made, which will serve as a filter for the interpretation of events. This is what literary criticism calls point of view: the narrator's position as a determinant of the articulation and meaning of the narrated facts, as the element that filters, selects, orders, evaluates and measures the episodes, establishing what is relevant and what is accessory.

Below are some of these interpretations.

(1) The work of Professor Francisco Weffort, written in 1971 and published the following year, expresses what can be called an external point of view: done from the outside, by someone who knows the facts but has not experienced them. In his work, Weffort continues the broad review that he proposed to make of the history of the labor movement after 1945. From this perspective, the strike in Osasco appears as yet another episode in this history.

The constant concern of the Weffortian review is the criticism of the union structure and the PCB's performance. This, incidentally, is seen as the number one culprit of all the failures of the working class, the recurrent villain who has always insisted on tying the labor movement to the meshes of the union structure and the populist pact.

Updating this concern to 1968, Weffort observes in Osasco elements of workers' autonomy (the Cobrasma factory commission) born outside the union structure. With the election of José Ibrahim, the union began to centralize workers' struggles and stimulate the proliferation of new company commissions. As a result, autonomy would disappear: “…these new commissions, unlike the first, would already be born within the union, and therefore subordinated to it”, observes Weffort with disgust (Weffort, 1972, p. 63).

Following this reasoning, the author speculates about the possibility of having created, at the time, an independent union, parallel to the official one, based on the factory commissions. This alternative did not materialize due to “the influence of the populist ideology prevailing in Brazilian unionism before 64” (Weffort, 1972, p. 64). Although there were innovative elements in Osasco compared to the past, “the influential presence of some old ideological and organizational habits of populist unionism” continued to prevail (Weffort, 1972, p. 91).

Approached from the exclusive perspective of relations between the union and factory commissions, the Osasco movement is undergoing a process of sanitation in which any memory of the participation of leftist groups disappears. In Weffort's aseptic narrative, the left is forgotten, which produces a false impression of the depoliticization of social movements. Thus, the analysis is content with a formal treatment of working-class practice, which praises its alleged spontaneity and condemns the link with the union structure. The form – the union manifestation of the events – obscures and flattens the content (the political tendencies and ideas that gave life and direction to the union body).

Evidently, the author cannot be asked to study the political backstage of the movement (not even a madman would dare to write about the VPR in 1971!), but it is always possible, even under censorship, to use expedients, language resources, to take the reader to tune in to the lofts of the narrative. to the newspaper The State of S. Paul used allegory, metaphor, and ellipsis as weapons to denounce censorship and leave the reader on their toes. Hence the understandable irritation that Weffort's text provoked among left-wing militants.

(2) Another interpretation is provided by the main leader of the strike: José Ibrahim. This is an internal point of view, formulated by those who experienced the events and then tried to narrate them in texts and interviews made at different times. Undoubtedly, this is rich and vibrant informational material about the backstage of the strike and the underground history of the workers' organization.

When one reads Ibrahim's recollections, one realizes that they express the ambivalent position experienced by the author: at the same time that of a worker who left the grassroots to lead the union, and that of a political leadership co-opted by the VPR. Exile, passing through various left-wing organizations, and returning to Brazil ten years later are ingredients that directly interfere with his different interpretations made over time. As always, the present makes and remakes the memory of facts and the meaning conferred to them.

The narrator's ambivalent position is already expressed in the first assessment of the strike, made in the heat of the moment, in October 1968, in partnership with José Campos Barreto (Ibrahim and Barreto, 1987b). The virtual reader of this balance sheet (the public to whom it is aimed) is, in the first place, the working class of Osasco, dispersed by the repression, and to whom it is intended to propose the work of reorganization with a view to triggering new strikes in November. But in addition to the workers, the authors intended to “provide analysis data to the entire Brazilian vanguard in the struggle for social transformation, for socialism”, which at the timeibasically the armed groups.

With this objective, they speak critically of the Brazilian trade union movement and propose the organization of “clandestine strike commands” and the formation of “general commands in order to coordinate the struggle at the national level”. Turning their backs on the trade union orientation that accompanied the trajectory of the “Osasco group”, they suggest a redefinition of the workers' struggle, now seen as a subordinate element of the revolutionary process.

The July strike is interpreted as “only part of the long struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of the bosses” (Ibrahim and Barreto, 1987b, p. 187), and, in this struggle, the working class “will only be free of the constraints when it overthrows this power in a prolonged struggle, under a revolutionary socialist liberation program” (Ibrahim and Barreto, 1987b, p. 190). The authors recognize that “everyone embarked on the organization of the strike empirically”, and that the factory occupations “exceed the limits of normal demands within capitalism” (Ibrahim and Barreto, 1987b, p. 188), and that such a procedure “ gave the strike an insurrectionary character, when it was localized and made based on class demands and not based on impositions that put it in a definitive confrontation with the bourgeoisie” (Ibrahim and Barreto, 1987b, p. 188).

However, in the lessons learned from the strike experience, the militarist perspective prevailed: “The brutality of the repression was harmful for the movement itself, but beneficial in the long term (sic), given the political advance of the mass, with the unmasking of the dictatorship leaving of course it will violently repress any fair struggle of the working class” (Ibrahim and Barreto, 1987b, p. 189)

The strongest moment of the militarist bias in Ibrahim's recollection is found in the book A Armed Left on Brasil winner, in 1973, of the Casa de Las Américas de Cuba Testimony Prize.

In addition to the presentation to the Portuguese edition, of February 1976, in which he states that “the option of breaking with reformism, with pacifism and all its consequences was fair, politically and ideologically”, lamenting the many participants in the guerrilla that “ they return to their mother's womb and fall again into the arms of reformism”, José Ibrahim wrote a long essay on the strike. In his final assessment, he observes that the strike “emerged precisely at the moment when some sectors of the left maintained the impossibility of using (sic) the labor movement as an instrument of political action against the military dictatorship that had seized power” (Ibrahim, 1976). , p. 79).

A positive balance of the strike movement would have remained the “need to organize a revolutionary armed force to face the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship. In other words, the need for armed struggle for the liberation of Brazil” (Ibrahim, 1976, p. 80). And he concluded by talking about his association with the VPR: “I was part of a cell of five workers who collected funds and carried out other clandestine tasks in setting up the infrastructure of the guerrilla organization. We had rifle practice, albeit superficial and sporadic. Finally, all of our work was directed towards preparing for the armed struggle because we knew that, sooner or later, we would have to join (…). I remember that, in the final phase of preparations for the Osasco strike, we discussed with Carlos Marighella, the highest leader of the ALN, about the perspectives of the Brazilian labor movement.

And the concrete fact is that many workers left Osasco to join armed revolutionary organizations” (Ibrahim, 1976, p. 80).

This overlapping of armed struggle with mass work with workers is summarized in a significant phrase: “our trade union activity was also oriented towards armed struggle (…)” (Ibrahim, 1976, p. 59).

The years, however, passed and the “guerrilla” point of view was diluted and adapted to new times and new interlocutors. Thus, when discussing with trade unionists close to the PCB, in 1980, he returned to speaking as a worker and recalling the importance of the trade union struggle; in interviews given to Trotskyist newspapers (O Twork e In time), Ibrahim praised the action of the factory commissions and defended the need for them to remain outside the union structure.

(3) A strategic point of view for understanding the encounters and disagreements between the Osasco labor movement and the armed left can be found in a text by Jacques Dias, written between July and December 1972, when the author was in exile (Dias , 1972).

Jacques Dias is the pseudonym of the first director of the “urban sector” of VPR. Since 1967, he maintained contact with workers in Osasco and personally guided the work of the organization. It is, therefore, a point of view that mediates between a political vanguard and the leading group of the labor movement. His privileged position and his knowledge behind the scenes of the left provide revealing information about the connection between the mass movement and the armed struggle. Precisely because he was a critic of extreme militarism, he seems to have chosen the Osasco movement as an object of reflection, “a kind of missing link in the revolutionary struggle of this period” (Dias, 1972, p. 22).

The text by Jacques Dias, dense 41 pages, begins with considerations on the labor movement in pre-64. His interpretation in no way differs from many others made in the emotional climate and revolt that enveloped the left after the coup. The author goes so far as to state that “the CGT emerged as a product of certain interests of the bourgeoisie” (Dias, 1972, p. 3). Going forward in time, he seeks to follow the trajectory of the labor movement and the armed left, showing how they, from a certain point onwards, converged to later separate.

The starting point of the Osasco labor movement would be the formation of the Cobrasma works commission. From the beginning, this mass organism embryo would be characterized by doing a work of front open to all individuals and groups willing to fight for specific demands. It is the permanence of this characteristic of the front that differentiates the nucleus of Osasco from the other union oppositions of the period: “The front of Osasco was relatively organically integrated and endowed with a central direction, perhaps because the movement there was not formed from isolated nuclei that later they merged into one front, but because it developed from an initial frentist nucleus that gradually expanded. Indeed, this is a specific feature of the Osasco labor movement. The other opposing fronts with a classist tendency were constituted precisely, in different proportions, from the common action of relatively isolated nuclei and often organized by a party organization” (Dias, 1972, p. 19).

The open character of front politics (contrasting with the para-partisan nature of other union oppositions) was accompanied by another peculiarity: the systematic use of legal forms of struggle that culminated in the conquest of the union. Another particular feature was the ideological composition: “In the beginning, the gas station nucleus of Cobrasma was composed essentially of PCB militants and independent workers, the latter in the majority. At the time, the main influence among the independent workers was the brizolista – its newspaper O Pafleto had a lot of diffusion in Osasco -, this ideologically was very important because this tendency advocated the armed struggle. The alliance was possible because the PCB, despite its opposition to the method of struggle, gave a lot of importance to brizolismo, a nationalist tendency with wide prestige among the working class and the middle strata, in almost the entire country, despite not having an organic structure. very wide. Thus, the frontist core of Cobrasma was permeable to the penetration of a revolutionary ideology that allowed it to go against an eventual negative influence of the PCB” (Dias, 1972, pp. 17-8).

With the “negative influence of the PCB” neutralized by the nationalism, then revolutionary, of Brizola's followers, the ground was prepared for the future preaching of the VPR. How was that possible? What allowed for the encounter between two distinct processes (labor movement and preparation for armed struggle), which had their own dynamics?

To answer the question, Jacques Dias recalls that in Osasco two armed groups, the ALN and the VPR, maintained links with the workers' vanguard. The first of them, due to its own strategy and organizational structure, would remain on the margins of the labor movement. With VPR, however, things were different. Through its nationalist militants, from the Army and Navy, who enjoyed respectability among the workers, some workers' leaders were recruited who continued to carry out front-line work, carrying out their policies, respecting their specificity, submitting to the internal democracy of the mass organisms. With this, the VPR did not “disrupt” the actions of its workers' militants, who quickly grew in influence with the mass movement.

Meanwhile, the “urban sector” of the VPR edited a newspaper aimed at the labor movement (Class struggle) and sought, within his insurrectionary vision, “to assume responsibility for the eventual material needs of the working groups while they could not be self-sufficient” (Dias, 1972, p. 26).

It was precisely the creation of a clandestine network (press, false documents, meeting places, “apparatuses”, etc.) that gave the VPR conditions to recruit another wave of workers’ leadership in Osasco right after the strike, when the city was occupied by the Army. , and repression hunted the militants, pushing them underground (according to the author, it was at that moment that Ibrahim formally joined the VPR).

The significant presence of the VPR alongside the leadership of the labor movement reinforced Jacques Dias' hopes for the resumption of mass work. But now, the facts were working against it: “Although the organization that held the political hegemony of the movement, the VPR, proposed reorganization through company committees of a gas station nature supported by clandestine committees that served as front nuclei, so-called clandestine committees ( front nuclei, according to the VPR) were in reality para-partisan organizations. Perhaps by reconquering the metallurgists union in the elections that would have been organized in 1969, if it had reconstituted the Osasco mass front. But the VPR would be hard hit by repression in the first months of 1969, repression that compromised its very survival and, as a consequence, the political work that the organization carried out in the mass movement was almost completely dismantled. Thus, the Osasco movement was once again repressed and disorganized and was no longer able to participate in the 1969 union elections. The cycle started in 1965 through the Cobrasma Commission was definitively over. The trade union opposition in Osasco was now constituted by classist nuclei of a para-partisan character and in this new situation the constitution of mass organizations would present the same characteristics and problems of the other existing union oppositions” (Dias, 1972, p. 37).

On the other hand, within the VPR, the ultramilitarist tendency would win the internal struggle. From then on, workers' militants would be absorbed in the internal work of the organization and in the preparation of armed actions. To do so, evidently, they distanced themselves completely from mass work and ended up being swallowed up by the dynamics of urban guerrilla warfare. The Osasco experience, therefore, effectively became “a missing link in the revolutionary struggle”: the labor movement and the guerrillas would definitively separate.

*Celso Frederico is a retired senior professor at ECA-USP. Author, among other books, of Crisis of socialism and labor movement (Cortez).


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