26 December 2012

Coffee European Immigrant Labor

Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

After 1850, with the banning of slave importation, coffee growers experimented with alternative labor schemes. The planters paid for the transportation of European immigrants. It was illegal for the immigrants to move off the plantation until all debts were repaid – which typically took years – this amounted to debt peonage, another form of slavery. Thus it was no surprise when Swiss and German workers revolted in 1856.

Poor Italians flooded Sao Paulo plantations. Between 1884 and 1914 more than a million immigrants arrived to work on the coffee farms. Some eventually managed to secure their own land. Others earned just enough to return to their homelands, embittered and discouraged. Because of the poor working and living conditions, most plantations maintained a band of armed guards who carried out the planter’s will. One much-hated owner, Francisco Augusto Almeida Prada, was hacked to pieces by his workers when he strolled through his fields unprotected.

The Brazilian coffee farmers did not think of themselves as oppressors, however; on the contrary, they considered themselves enlightened and progressive, wishing to enter the modern world and to industrialize with the profits of coffee.

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