The state of São Paulo is undergoing the most serious water crisis in its entire history. Millions of inhabitants of the most populous state in Brazil, particularly the poorest sectors, are already being subjected to water rationing without the state government even admitting the fact, denying the severity of the crisis.
However, the prognosis pointed out by experts is that if the level of rainfall this year is similar to last year, the scenario could be catastrophic. The Cantareira, the largest system of collection and treatment of water that supplies the metropolitan region of São Paulo, which is already working today at the level of "dead volume" (below the levels of the gates), will simply become dry.
In a seminar organized by the South East Military Command of the Brazilian Army, the issue of water in São Paulo was treated as a national security issue. The experts present pointed out the risk of a collapse in supply already in the second half of this year.
Army troops have started to make military manoeuvres in units of Sabesp, the company responsible for water supply and sanitation in most of the state of São Paulo. The goal is to prepare for the possibility of a social upheaval as a result of the crisis in water supply.
For more than 20 years in power in São Paulo, the party of Governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) preferred to adopt a policy of privatizing water and sanitation. Sabesp was transformed into a company that follows the logic of the market, with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange and aimed exclusively at bringing profits to its shareholders.
The investments needed to diversify water supply in the state, restrict the losses in the transmission system and treat the polluted water in the main rivers of the region have not been made, despite the predictability of the water crisis. A similar crisis, although less intense, happened just over ten years ago in São Paulo and nothing has been done since.
The environmental devastation in Brazil, particularly in the Amazon and the Cerrado (Brazilian savanna in the North and Midwest) today affects the entire rain system in various parts of the country, including the South East, where the state of São Paulo is. The water crisis is now threatening virtually all of the most populous regions of the country, besides the traditional problem of the semi-arid region in the North East.
This situation is a result of the priority given to agro-business and mining by the federal government, for 12 years headed by the PT (Workers’ Party), and state governments.
Sackings and political persecution
In São Paulo, in the midst of a water supply crisis, the state government and the direction of Sabesp persist in their policy of subservience to the private sector. Since the end of last year, water prices, despite the crisis, have increased by 23%. Profits and dividends continue to be distributed to shareholders and the company’s top executives received huge bonuses.
For the workers, the situation is the opposite. More than 600 employees of Sabesp were summarily dismissed since the beginning of this year. Wage increases for employees were well below expectations.
Taking advantage of the emergency situation, the government and Sabesp intend to subcontract private companies without bidding to carry out some of their work. In practice, they are replacing skilled workers of Sabesp by outsourced workers who are to perform their function under much worse conditions, which will only serve to aggravate the weaknesses of the water and sanitation system in the state.
But in addition to serving private interests, the sackings in Sabesp also reflect cases of political persecution against trade union activists that struggle in defence of the right to water for the population.
This is the case of Marzeni Pereira, fired on 16 March and who despite injunctions, has not being reinstated. Marzeni has worked in Sabesp for over 22 years. During that time he has been active in the trade union of the workers of the company, Sintaema. He has been elected shop steward and safety representative for several terms.
He helped found and lead the Fighting Alternative Opposition, a union opposition group to Sintaema’s leadership, since 1999 and has coordinated and been one the main candidates in the opposition slate on several occasions.
In addition to his union activity, Marzeni has a strong presence in the popular movement, particularly in the Jardim Pantanal region (Eastern Zone of São Paulo). Marzeni is also a founder and militant of PSOL and the of the LSR tendency (CWI in Brazil) in addition to the trade union federation CSP-Conlutas.
In the last period, Marzeni has been a key voice in the discussion and struggle over the water crisis in the state of São Paulo.
Marzeni participates in the collective "Water Yes! Profit No!" that helps to build the State Assembly for Water and was part of the commission received at the state governor’s palace as a result of the large demonstration organized by the MTST (homeless workers’ social movement) in the fight for water rights on 26 February.
The struggle for the reversal of the sacking at Sabesp and the full nationalization under workers’ control of the company is a fundamental part of the struggle for the right to water for the population of São Paulo. In this process, the defence of Marzeni Pereira’ reinstatement represents the defence of the democratic right to organize workers against any employers’ persecution.
Therefore, we call on all trade unions, social movements, environmental movements, democratic parliamentary representatives committed to the rights of workers, and all the left, to take part and support the campaign for his readmission and against the sacking at Sabesp.