No great movements took place since the last World Congress in 1998, although the number of workers who went on strike and the amount of striking days multiplied by 5 between 2000 and 2001. But still working class action is at a minimal level. The main reason for that is an absolute lack of alternative posed by the leadership of the trade unions. The bankruptcy of Sabena, the airline, was another blow for the confidence of workers to fight against closure and serious job losses. In the Flemish area unemployment went up by 15% between summer 2001 and summer 2002.
Eighth CWI World Congress
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Belgium and Brazil
Reports from CWI sections in Belgium and Brazil on their party campaigns and activities over the last twelve months. These are edited versions of reports presented to the Eighth World Congress of the CWI held in Belgium from 23-30 November. Over the next week CWI Online will publish many more party building reports from all areas of the world. We urge all readers that agree with the ideas of the CWI to help us in the struggle for a socialist world. Join the CWI today!
CWI Online, 13 December 2002
That is only one side of the picture though. Politically a lot has changed. The main boss’s party, the Christian Democrats, was thrown out of power in 1999 after the crisis resulting from the discovery of dioxin in food. Since then they have not really recovered. The new purple green coalition government (made up of the Social Democracy, Liberals and Greens from both the Flemish and French speaking areas) got a prolonged honeymoon period because of the more favourable economic situation in the first part of their rule. This has come to an end now. To hold on until the next elections (June 2003) will be their first real test. Anyway, although a stabilisation of the vote for the Greens is entirely possible, illusions are gone amongst the most conscious workers and youth that the Greens’ politics are more progressive. That does not mean an automatic movement of working class people to the Left; a further turning away from politics is highly possible amongst a layer of disillusioned youth especially.
Effect of French Presidential elections
In order to gain influence a combination of tactics is necessary for a socialist organisation like LSP/MAS (Left Socialist Party/Movement for a Socialist Alternative – CWI section in Belgium). First of all, because of quick developments in consciousness (both ups and downs), it is absolutely necessary to react quickly to events. After the French presidential elections, for example, a quick radicalisation, but also politicisation took place amongst a layer of youth and workers. In France this led to large numbers joining political parties. In Belgium, especially on the French-speaking side (where political events in France are closely followed) but also in Flanders (because of the existence of the populist right/nationalist Vlaams Blok) these effects were felt as well, although in a much more minor way. We organised meetings and small-scale actions to come into contact with some of the best youth. In Liege it meant that we came into contact with new youth and it activated youth who were already on our periphery. Recruitment amongst those youth transformed the branch in Liege. Perspectives for the work in the Walloon area are now much more favourable.
We launched International Resistence/Résistance Internationale. Crucial in the building of IV/RI as well was the balance between "action" and "theory" in this campaign: 50% action – 50% theory. We needed more space to discuss ideas. Pamphlets and papers were more easily sold then stickers, which was completely different in the anti-racist movement in the beginning of the nineties.
The Gothenburg and Genoa anti-capitalist protests were extremely important! All eyes looked to these developments. By being there and also reacting effectively with reports to press and local meetings, we launched IV/RI on a broad scale. If journalists wanted to know something about the anti-globalisation movement, they phoned to us. The discussion on the question of ‘violence’ was very important in these events. We were the first ones who brought to the forefront the use of police provocation, the role of it, and how to react to it.
December 2001 EU summit in Belgium we built IV/RI through action against local meetings of the EU. The combination of activity and discussion was important in reaching and keeping youth on our periphery. We explained that we wanted to discuss socialist ideas inside the anti-globalisation movement, because anti-capitalist action would not be enough to change the system. We went with those youth into the working class communities in Gent to explain the importance of a protest against the anti-social policies of the EU.
Ups and downs of the movement
11 September meant a break into the movement, although not immediately. We had the successful school student strike of 2500 youth in Gent on the 19 October against the EU summits, but after a while capitalist propaganda had an effect. The quick "victory" over the Taliban created more or less a stand still of the movement and also of IV/RI. The demos in December against the largest EU summits were an expression of that. There were mainly people from the organised Left and other activists at the demos.
The international conference of ISR on the 14 December, which saw 500 attend, made a huge impact though.
Barcelona and Seville
The big movements in Argentine over the deep economic crisis and later the big mobilisations in Spain led to a further radicalisation. Especially important in Seville was the mobilisation of the working class and the massive general strike. We went over to the Spanish protests. Again local public meetings followed these interventions. Both in Barcelona and in Seville very good youth joined the CWI.
This annual (small) protest of the peace movement against the (secretly) kept nuclear warheads at a NATO base in Kleine Brogel, was transformed into a more wide scale protest. As the organisers were pleading for individual sabotage action on the base in the future, we started discussion on the need for mass action as the most effective way to close the base.
We started the new school year with meetings on Che Guevara (9 October) and on September 11.
Aktief Linkse Studenten, the students’ rights campaigns we established, now has a bigger base and means were able to start student work not only in Gent and Leuven, but also in Antwerp, and the French speaking and Flemish speaking universities in Brussels.
From Militant Links/Militant to LSP/MAS
Winning radicalised youth to the party is one thing. Orientating this youth to the working class in another. The new name of the party, which meant we tried to make a link with the consciousness and traditions of broader layers of the working class, helped us in doing this.
The Brugse Poort campaign
This is a protest against the attempt of the local government to change the social composition in this area in Gent from mainly poor people (students, asylum seekers, pensioners) to the better off two income families. This will be done through the forced demolition of houses. 89 families would lose their homes. We have a branch in this area and started up a local action committee and we won authority in this community.
Moving of the national offices from Gent to Brussels
Re-locating our national offices from Gent to Brussels meant a break through in the French speaking areas. The growth of the organisation made the moving from Gent to Brussels possible. It meant we could involve more our French-speaking members and pay more attention to the building of a ‘national’ party.
Biggest Congress ever!
Our November national congress was not only the biggest – 103 participants over the whole weekend – it was also the Congress which saw the re-emergence of longer standing comrades in the active building of the party. This is largely due to the changed objective situation, and the development of a more radical consciousness in society. At the same time, this was the Congress of a new generation of youth. A magnificent financial appeal raised 7200 euro.
Youth work was key in the building and must stay key. One third of the membership is new. The Congress decided that our first priority needs to be to consolidate these new comrades and to increase socialist education.
Our main youth work concerns the Movement of those excluded from Education (MSE). MSE basically works in three ways: as a movement for the democratisation of access to public university and for the end of the university entrance exam; as a student and young people’s movement that organises immediate and specific struggles in schools or neighbourhoods and, finally, as a movement of an anti-capitalist character affiliated to International Socialist Resistance.
The intervention in the second World Social Forum (WSF) in January this year in Porto Alegre was a new stage in the work of MSE (and ISR, to which it is affiliated). We made contacts throughout the country and MSE became nationally known. The WSF intervention also enabled us to build the 15 March international day of action on education called by ISR.
In São Paulo, we held a public rally and an occupation with about a hundred young people in the most traditional and elitist law school in the country, which is part of the University of São Paulo (USP). In Campinas there was a rally/debate with more than 200 people at UNICAMP, the second largest university of the state and one of the most important in Brazil. In São Luis, capital of the state of Maranhão, in the extreme north of the country, MSE youths joined a trade union march.
During the year, MSE organised innumerable debates, talks and meetings on the subject of access to public university for young blacks and poor youths. This issue is now very much debated throughout the country and MSE is now recognised both by the social organisations and movements and by the press and government and academic authorities.
MSE also organised a campaign for exemption from college entrance exam fees for the public universities. Besides a petition and negotiation with the main authorities of USP on the issue, in August we held a demo with more than 200 young people from different areas.
As MSE or as SR (Socialist Revolutionaries – CWI section in Brazil), we took part in many activities related to the campaign against the FTAA: debates in schools, meetings with groups of students, organisation of the a people’s plebiscite that collected more than 11 million votes against FTAA, etc.
In November, MSE and SR took part in the São Paulo State Meeting of Urban and Rural Youth with some 1,500 young people attending, which was organised for the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST). Our intervention was excellent and those present enthusiastically voted MSE’s proposal for an occupation of public universities at the beginning of 2003. Our position of calling on young people to struggle and not just wait for the new Lula government to promote change was very well received. Also our defence of a socialist programme got an echo. We made many contacts, some from outside São Paulo, and very good ones too. MSE held an excellent plenary with about 120 people during the meeting.
Our main university work is at USP, but we began working at UNICAMP too.
In USP, we took part in the 100 days plus strike of the students of the Philosophy Letters and Humanities School (FFLCH), which demanded the recruiting of more professors and reductions in class sizes. The university’s initial proposal was to hire 12 professors but the strike succeeded in having 82 hired.
During the strike SR and MSE emphasised the need to join the struggles of the students of USP with those of young people excluded from public university. We rejected the dilemma of choosing between having more places or the ’choice’ of ensuring quality education with less places. We demanded both through greater investment in public education, using funds from the non-payment of foreign and national debt to speculators and bankers.
We made excellent contacts in USP and there are good prospects for growth. At UNICAMP we recruited one of the most respected activists in the student movement there. There are prospects of growth in Campinas too.
In the USP campus at São Carlos (about 4 hours from São Paulo), one of our members co-led a left opposition slate against the current committee of the local students’ body. We lost the election, but the made progress and now have new people interested in joining us.
Throughout the USP campus we took part in a unified opposition slate of the left in the elections for the DCE (the central students’ body for all the university). The other slate was led by a tendency of the moderate PT left (PT – the Workers’ Party, led by Lula). We also lost, but we grew in the process.
Union work – São Paulo State Teachers (APEOESP)
Despite the priority being youth work, it was in the union work that we most made progress in this period. In the first half of the year we took part in elections for the state committee, regional committees and state-wide Council of School Representatives in the public school teachers union (APEOESP), which is the largest union in the CUT union confederation.
We got an excellent result in the Taboão/Embu local where we got rid of the regional committee run by the Articulation tendency (the right wing which is the current majority of the union leadership).
In Cotia, we achieved a historic victory over an ultra-left sector that had controlled the local committee for several years.
One of the most important achievements was the election of an SR comrade, Miguel Leme, as member of the APEOESP state wide Executive Committee. Thanks to the gains made by the union opposition bloc in succeeding to change the statutes, there is now proportional composition of the union committee, and this is the first time that a union opposition sector has reached this position. Besides Miguel on the Executive Committee, we have comrade Solange on the state wide committee.
We plan to launch a teachers’ union left tendency. We are already at an advanced stage in discussions with other left collectives.
Also as part of the work in APEOESP we led an important strike of municipal teachers in the Cotia area in October. They were on strike for 20 days. It involved just over a thousand teachers and they had had much experience of union struggle. The strike had a big impact outside Cotia too. The movement got broad popular support. Three activists, one a SR member, were arrested and several activists and comrades were injured in confrontations with the police. The strike was called off even though the wage demands were not met. But the process has not yet ended. There is a chance of reviving the strike again by uniting with the rest of the municipal employees.
In this strike the authority of our members in Cotia grew a great deal and there are many sympathisers and contacts.
Union work – Post Office and São Paulo city employees
One of our young comrades in the post office will run for union shop steward in the beginning of next year.
In São Paulo we took part in several specific struggles for the workers’ rights amongst city employees. We have two SR members and several sympathisers in the largest hospital run by the city (some 3,000 workers) and we ran in the election for union leadership as part of the Opposition slate. Our comrade was the slate’s candidate for vice-president of the union in the slate with the PSTU, PT left and people close to other parties. We ended up denouncing the elections on account of fraud promoted by the current right wing leadership.
We also did some work in the residents’ association of an area of occupied land in the periphery of São Paulo. Against the line of the moderate sections of the PT left, we posed a demo to put pressure on the PT city administration to meet the neighbourhood’s demands and the march was held resulting in a victory for the residents.
In the presidential elections we called for a vote for Lula and the PT since we saw that this was the option of the great majority of the most active and conscious sectors of the youth and workers, despite the turn to the right by the party leadership and the right line of the campaign. The vote for Lula also meant a defeat for the candidates of Cardoso and the IMF. At state and congress level, we called for a vote for PT left candidates for federal deputy and an SR candidate for state deputy, comrade Miguel Leme.
With our own candidate standing we were able to campaign for Lula on our own policies and programme, and reach sections of the PT left and increase our visibility, besides strengthening our intervention in the area where Miguel is most active (Taboão/Embu).
The number of votes we won was below expected, but does not reflect what we got out of the campaign in terms of strengthening the political profile of SR. In Miguel’s campaign we moved to closer relations with a group of teachers who are set to join a new union tendency with us and we made contact with PT groups from outside São Paulo.
Youth work in the election campaign mainly concentrated on emphasising the campaigns of MSE and the struggle against the FTAA.
We distributed some 50,000 pamphlets, sold about 400 papers and involved about 60 people in the electoral campaign. We launched a specific financial campaign for the elections. We were able to pay for the pamphlets and acquire a sound system, besides travel expenses (travel in São Paulo state is very expensive due to highway tolls and gasoline prices).
We insist on a policy of maintaining members with talent or potential and investing effort in new members.
This year we invested more in political education. We held a ‘Socialist Weekend’ in the countryside that involved about 80 people. We took the initiative of organising Socialist Studies Groups (GES) to educate our members, but also to attract new people (mainly young people).
We have a member in the state of Rio Grande do Norte (in the extreme north of Brazil) who is active in the education workers’ union. We plan to organise a trip there with the aim of helping her to build.
We have also made trips to Argentina, which is suffering economic collapse and social turmoil. A comrade went there twice and was involved in the social movements and workers’ protests.
We are in touch with a number of groups of PT youth from different cities ((Campo Limpo Paulista, Mogi Mirim and Franca). We will hold the next SR congress in February 2003.
As Lula comes under pressure from the masses to deliver real changes and also from the IMF and imperialism to attack living standards we can expect big events and even social explosions. This will increase the general radicalisation we have begun to see, and will mean our socialist ideas become more and more attractive.