Trade unionists must stand with Brazilian workers against the ‘right wing coup’

The achievements of the Workers Party are under threat

Brasília - Presidenta Dilma Rousseff durante cerimônia de posse dos novos ministros da Casa Civil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; da Justiça, Eugênio Aragão; da Secretaria de Aviação Civil, Mauro Lopes e do Chefe de Gabinete Pessoal da Presidenta da República, Jaques Wagner


I recently visited Rio De Janerio as a member of the Unite–United Steelworkers (Workers Uniting) delegation to the IndustriALL Global Congress. IndustriALL is the global federation covering manufacturing and energy trade unions worldwide.

The Congress was fortunate to be addressed by former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, who made a powerful and emotional speech setting out his government’s significant achievements and the crisis now facing working people following the coup against democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff.

Despite the coup, Lula is still eligible to stand for office — hence the crackdown he faces from the right-wing government. Lula is still the most popular politician in Brazil, but could face arrest and detention by his opponents at any time, in an effort to silence him.

The Lula and Dilma administrations and the Workers Party made significant changes to help working people between 2003–2011 (Lula) and 2011 – 2016 (Dilma).

These included reducing poverty by 63 per cent through social schemes such as the ‘Bolsa Familia’ social programme; lifting 22 million people from extreme poverty through the ‘Brazil without misery’ programme; implementing the ‘Mais Medicos’ programme which saw 18,000 foreign doctors working in Brazil’s poorest regions.

They also introduced the ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ scheme, which has provided affordable homes to 1.7 million Brazilians, as well as tripling spending on education and on health care.

The right wing coup in Brazil is a result of well organised and well financed right-wing neoliberal forces — assisted by the USA externally, and internally by the mainstream Brazilian media and traditional economic elites which have had some successes in undermining progressive governments across Latin America.

In both Brazil and Argentina, right wing governments’ neoliberal counter reforms have dismantled, abolished and drastically reduced social programmes. These measures have already hit millions of working people.

To implement these policies in the face of mass resistance from trade unions, social movements and others, Brazil and Argentina’s right wing governments have also developed repressive and undemocratic political environments. 54 million Brazilians voted to re-elect Dilma Rousseff as president in 2014 – but it only took the votes of 62 senators to remove her.

President Dilma was impeached and removed from office for carrying out ‘budgetary manoeuvres’, which have previously been used by many previous governments. The budgetary practice Dilma was impeached for was legalised two days after her impeachment by the same Congress that voted for her removal.

The impeachment saw the Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT) removed from office for the first time in thirteen years, despite not being beaten at the ballot box, and 76-year-old Michel Temer was appointed President until 2018, despite being barred from holding office due to previous electoral fraud convictions.

In response hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and workers have taken to the streets demanding Temer step down and calling for fresh elections to take place. These demonstrations have faced suppression.

Support for Dilma and Lula has come from the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), IndustriALL and other global union federations; the UK TUC, Workers Uniting and Brazil’s trade unions. Neighbouring governments Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela withdrew their ambassadors after Temer’s appointment whilst Uruguay and Cuba also criticised the coup.

Temer has implemented a range of neoliberal policies without any mandate. He is also extremely unpopular with the Brazilian people. Some polls show an approval rate as low as two per cent.

He initially appointed an all-male, all-white cabinet, in one of the most diverse countries in the world. In addition, his administration has laid off of 4000 public workers; reduced the size of Brazil’s public healthcare programme (despite access to health care being constitutionally guaranteed); abolished of the Ministries of Culture, Agrarian Development, Science and Technology (merged into another ministry), Women and Human Rights. He has also set out plans to sell off 32 major infrastructure projects and natural resources.

In a nutshell the right wing coup leaders have set out to reverse thirteen years of progressive reforms carried out by the Workers Party without seeking approval at the ballot box. Trade unionists and the Labour Party members must support the Brazilian trade unions and working people against this onslaught.

As we have seen before in Chile and Nicaragua the right wing and neoliberals will stop at nothing to bring down progressive governments in Latin America, which the USA still regards as its backyard.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing. You can follow developments by following @nocoupinBrazil on Twitter and on Facebook.

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