“TO SACRIFICE THE VITAL RHYTHMS OF THEIR BEING”: IMPAIRMENT, RESISTANCE, AND INDUSTRIAL CRISIS IN SÃO JERÔNIMO, RIO GRANDE DO SUL, 1944-1964
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This thesis mainly examines how Brazilian coalminers dealt with the consequences and opportunities presented them through Retirement and Pensions Institutes in a period of national and global tumult from 1942 to 1947. An Allied State of War during the Estado Novo dictatorship forced workers to produce more as supervisors questioned their aptitude for work. Physically impaired, epileptic, chronically-, and mentally-ill miners suddenly found themselves unemployed and fighting for welfare as peers fought fascism through industry. With the advent of democracy, the Brazilian Communist Party entered a brief two-year period of legality in which it supported wildcat strikes throughout Brazil. The coalminers of Rio Grande do Sul struck for thirty-five days in 1946, cutting electricity to the capital city and halting commercial transit region-wide. They called for raises, better working conditions, and improvements to medical services. Impaired workers played a key role in this struggle. Dozens of impaired workers pooled pension monies to sustain the strike, while others used their position outside the full control of the company as an advantage. Impaired retirees hosted meetings at shops bought with indemnities, intimidated work captains that no longer commanded them, and collected alms for the cause. Workers won a pay raise in 1947 and eventually entirely new leadership and regulations for the Pension Office in 1948. Insalubrity continued to plague workers, but the justice system finally forced the company to pay its mounting costs. The financial burden of industrial indifference to workers’ pains grew so large that by June 1964 a newly-installed military dictatorship forced executives to pay pension debts, resulting in the company’s bankruptcy. Workers won, in part, the bodily struggle that began two decades earlier.
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