Exclusive: Volkswagen spied on Lula, other Brazilian workers in 1980s

Fri Sep 5, 2014 9:42am EDT
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By Brian Winter

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG spied on Brazilian union activists in the 1980s and passed sensitive information about wage demands and other private discussions to the country's military dictatorship, according to newly uncovered documents seen by Reuters.

The company covertly monitored its own workers as well as prominent union leaders of the era. One of VW's targets was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who went on to become Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010 and remains one of its most influential politicians.

The documents were recently discovered in government archives by a special "truth commission" that, at the request of Brazil's current president, Dilma Rousseff, is investigating abuses that occurred during the 1964-1985 regime.

Reuters reported last month that the commission found signs that dozens of companies, including Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) and other foreign automakers, helped the military identify union activists in the 1980s to suppress labor unrest.

Now, according to the commission's leaders, 20 pages of documents marked "confidential" that Volkswagen gave to the military in 1983 and 1984 provide the clearest proof yet that some companies went further - gathering their own intelligence on union activities and sharing it with authorities.

In the documents, Volkswagen provided extensive accounts of more than a dozen union meetings in Greater São Paulo. The company relayed workers' plans for strikes as well as their demands for better salaries and working conditions.

The company reported the names of Volkswagen workers who attended union events and, in at least two cases, noted the make and license plate numbers of vehicles present.

Volkswagen also reported the showing of a socialist-themed film at a union headquarters; the contents of flyers distributed outside its factory doors and the names of those distributing them; and an incident in which "several addicted workers were caught smoking marijuana."   Continued...

Brazil's then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (L, standing in car) rides with Sao Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin in a Volkswagen Polo inside an assembly plant, during a visit to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary of production in Brazil, in Sao Bernardo do Campo, in this March 24, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Jose Patricios/Files