Strikers in front of Crespi, the first factory to stop in 1917 (Photo: reproduction)
Strikers in front of Crespi, the first factory to stop in 1917 (Photo: reproduction)

Athe workshops were unsanitary. The working day was around 14 hours. There was no paid rest. It was bad for everyone, but women and children suffered even more. They worked as much and were paid less than men. Add to that a war in Europe, shelf shortages and rampant famine.

The first factory to stop was Crespi, as Cotonifício Rodolfo Crespi was known, one of the largest textile industries in São Paulo. Opened in 1897, it was close to the Hospedaria dos Imigrantes, the first stop for foreigners who came to the city in search of a better life. Around 75% of Crespi's workers were of Italian origin.

In June 1917, weaving workers asked for a 20% raise and better working conditions. They didn't. It was the trigger for the first general strike in São Paulo. A few days later, Antarctica stopped. Subsequently, the strike became widespread, inspired by socialism and anarchism spread by militants such as journalist Edgard Leuenroth.

Appointed by the police as the “psycho-intellectual” author of the strike, Leuenroth recorded the moment: “The working life of São Paulo was paralyzed, which could not stop, to give way to an unprecedented popular upheaval in São Paulo life. The police took action. The clashes with the crowds began. The meetings resulted in victims on both sides”.

One of the victims was shoemaker Jose Martinez, a 21-year-old Spanish anarchist militant, killed during a demonstration in front of the Mariângela textile factory in Brás. It is estimated that more than ten thousand people followed his funeral through the streets of São Paulo, to the Araxá cemetery, where passionate orators took turns at the graveside.

For more than a month, factories and commerce remained at a standstill. Looting began to take place after a bread cart was robbed on Rua Rangel Pestana, also in Brás. It took a while, but the then newly formed Committee for Proletarian Defense, with the intermediation of a group of journalists, managed to negotiate an end to the strike.

They won a general raise of 20%, the right to association and the non-dismissal of strikers, but in practice the 1917 strike was nothing more than the beginning of broader struggles. As for child labour, the government only committed to interceding “so that measures to protect minor workers and women in night work are studied and voted on”.


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