Brazil: Desperate search for a job

One of Lula’s promises in the election campaign was to deal with unemployment. But unemployment has continued to increase every month since he became president. The official unemployment level is 12.8 per cent. But the reality is much worse. A graphic example is the wild chase for jobs in Rio de Janeiro – as garbage collectors.

When the Rio council announced 1,500 vacancies as garbage collectors there was an enormous rush. The first day saw 15,000 in the queue to sign up for the competition for jobs. Chaos broke out and the military police started beating up the desperate job seekers. When the time for signing up ended an amazing 131,000 had put their names forward!

The selection is made in the form of tests, that you must pay for. To become a garbage collector you must make a practical, a physical and a test to show you are suited for the job.

Amongst the persons wanting the job as garbage collector were lawyers, engineers, teachers, loads of people with university exams. On TV I saw an interview with an IT technician, unemployed for two years, doing physical training to pass the test. He must be able to do 32 push-ups in one minute, as an example!

Being a garbage collector is hardly the job of your dreams – and the pay is very low. The basic wage is not much more than the minimum wage – 280 Reais (100 dollars). Including food stamps, bus fare and other things you get a total of 610 Reais (210 dollars). Low pay, but it is an “official” job. That means that you get social security, pensions and sick pay – things that half of all workers, working unofficially, do not receive. Then you only need a second job so you can pay all your other expenses…

Lula hasn’t only continued the former president Cardoso’s austerity policies, he has also deepened them, which makes the economic crisis deeper. The interest rates are sky high. The central bank’s rate is 26 per cent, but for companies the average rate is 78 per cent and for households 158 per cent! This is heaven for speculators and the banks but strangles the economy. The cutbacks from the federal state also worsen the situation.

Lula has gone further than the demands of the IMF. He has set a target for the primary surplus on the federal budget (not counting the interest payment on the state debts) of 4.25 percent of GDP for the coming four years. The first five months this year the surplus was 5.73 per cent! This is money that goes straight into the pockets of the banks and financial institutions in the country and abroad, money that could have been spent on schools, jobs and houses.

So instead of the “spectacle of growth” promised by Lula we have the tragedy of unemployment and poverty. The GDP fell by 0.9 percent in the second quarter this year compared with the first. In April real wages for workers fell with 2.8 percent compared with March.

The inflation seems to have cooled down a bit because of the numbing austerity, which makes it possible that the interest rates can be lowered soon. But it is very far from a “spectacle of growth” and to make it possible to achieve real improvements for the workers and poor people of the country you must break with the neoliberal IMF policies instead of implementing them.

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July 2003