Abstract The state in Brazil not only built industrial plants in the mid twentieth century, but also established patterns of control and domination over the workers of these companies. State-management purposes were to ‘mould’ a ‘Brazilian worker’‘for the nation’ and to extend control beyond the point of production. Evidence is presented to explain these strategies of domination and to show how the workers built their resistance, both at work or through trade union participation. This is developed into a discussion of the process of politicisation through trade union action in the state companies and the disagreements that arose between militant workers and workers with ‘factory consciousness’.