The Deepest Wounds: A Labor and Environmental History of Sugar in Northeast Brazil
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Sugarcane industry -- Environmental aspects -- Brazil -- Pernambuco -- History. Sugarcane industry -- Social aspects -- Brazil -- Pernambuco -- History.
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Notes on Thomas Rogers’ Deepest Wounds – Christy Hyman
Alternative crops or land uses could conceivably have displaced sugar's dominance, but sugar was remarkably adept at "adapting" to changing human requirements. The military regime repurposed sucrose from exportable sweetener to gasoline substitute. As a result, expanding cane plantings not only displaced food production in Brazil's hungriest region but also converted cheap calories, which for centuries had helped to fuel the bodies of the poor, into ethanol, which now fuels the cars of the rich.
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Rogers is persuasive that the industrialization of sugar production in much of Pernambuco proletarianized the rural workers. Land, and hence land reform, lost much of its attraction, much to the chagrin of many elder labor leaders. Militant workers went on strike because of low wages and excessive daily tasks rather than the loss and obvious degradation of the lands on which they gardened, hunted, and fished.
Notes on Thomas Rogers’ Deepest Wounds
Labor made modest gains. With federal support that reclassified plantation laborers as industrial workers and through effective use of the legal system, wages rose, as did bargaining power. But the laborers' own work, the functional nexus between humans and their landscapes, contributed to sugar's growing presence on the landscape, increasing deforestation, flooding, and water pollution and eliminating habitat.
The Deepest Wounds is an important contribution deserving a wide [End Page ] readership.
But it may not be completely satisfying from an interdisciplinary point of view: Yet rationalization was patchy in these decades and worker-patron relations still functioned as patronage. By paying close attention to agricultural processes, Rogers shows that modernization altered systems of work without eliminating oppression.
Agrarian reform laws, for example, required bosses to pay workers by the task instead of by the day. Patrons manipulated this system so that it did not result in higher wages: Many laborers resisted abuse and exploitation, and their struggles evoked solidarity from union organizers, communists, and Church groups.
The deepest wounds : a labor and environmental history of sugar in Northeast Brazil /
Overt politicization of the sugar fields began in the s, and the first rural union emerged in Communist leaders organized a conference of rural workers in Governor Sampaio selectively acquiesced to union demands, eventually distributing land to members of the peasant league. Not surprisingly, some mill-owners resented the mobilizations and retaliated by shooting and killing union delegates.
By focusing on environmental history, Rogers shows that the s was an important decade for additional reasons.