Brazil: Civil servants’ strike grows

The civil servants strike against the Lula governments pension ‘reform’, that began on the 8 July, is growing.

According to the unions, 60-65% (out of a total of 878,500 civil servants) are on strike now. The government want push through the ‘reform’ as soon as possible to avoid the growing protests. The vote may come as soon as 4 August, which has compelled the 11 union national joint strike committee to bring forward the planned march in the capital Brasília from 15 to 6 August.

The resistance to the reform made the government wobble at the beginning of the strike. Some concessions were announced but then there was a “retreat from the retreat”, when Lula announced that there would be no alterations to the proposal without the approval of the state governors.

“I don’t like the new proposal. There is nothing in it for us and some things are even worse”, said one of the 500 civil servants at a strike meeting on 18 July in São Paulo.

The two main concessions were the key issue of “entirity” (allows a civil servant to get a pension equivalent of 100% of wages) and “parity” (pensions increase as much as the wages of the “actives” – those still working). But the concessions were small, insecure and will be paid for with more attacks!

The “entirity” will only be for those currently working, not the new ones, and the threshold to get it is increased – you have to work for 35/30 years (man/woman), be a civil servant for 20 years and have the same post for 10. The “parity” will only be for the currently working and how it will be implemented is not defined (a new law will come later) and unions think it will only be partial.

A big new attack is that for the new workers the minimum age will be 65/60 years (man/woman), compared with 53/48 today and 60/55 in the proposal for the currently working. That means that the future civil servants will have to work 12 years longer to get a smaller (no entirity) pension!

The concessions were more designed to appease the judges than the less well paid civil servants. But the judges are still not happy with the proposal that will lower their pensions as well and have announced that they will go on strike on the 5-12 August, their first strike ever!

Other groups are preparing to join the strike. In São Paulo the state universities will join the strike on 11 August and the state hospitals on 22 August.

The mood is very angry and radical amongst the civil servants. The mood ranges from a feeling of betrayal by the PT (Workers Party) government and even hatred against the ministers responsible. Civil servants are protesting where ever ministers like Berzoini (responsible for the pension “reform”) or Palocci (finance minister) turn up. And they also suffer from repression. On 23 July the Speaker of the lower house, João Paulo Cunha (PT), sent the Military Police to prevent hundred of civil servents from entering the parliament building (called “the peoples house”) and follow the debate and vote of the commission that is preparing the proposal for the vote in the parliament. On the morning of the 24 July, civil servants tried to occupy Berzoinis office, in protest that the government haven´t had any negotiations with the striking unions.

But there is a gap between the radicalised civil servants and the workers in the private sector. The civil servants are clearly showing how the “reform” is an attack that will have a devastating effect for all workers which will open up new attacks on the pensions in the private sector as well. Former president Cardoso attacked the pensions of private sector workers with his “reform” in his “Amendment 20” in 1998 but did not succed to extending his attack to the public sector because of the resistance from PT and CUT. Now the PT government is completing the Cardosos plan. But many workers see the reform as an unavoidable thing and swallow the propaganda that the civil servants too “generous” pensions is not sustainable. Many think only of the well paid judges, not of the very low paid civil servants. This is because Lula uses his support to divide the workers (today again calling the civil servants “privileged workers”) and he gets away with it because the CUT (Brazilian trade union congress) do not molibilise workers in the private sector, even if the CUT leadership pays lip service to the strike.

How far this has gone is shown by the example in São Bernardo do Campo, birth place of the PT. The metal workers’ union had invited Palocci (finance minister) to speak on 24 July and civil servants gathered outside. Members of the right wing leadership went out and phyisically attacked the civil servants!

Socialismo Revolucionário, CWI in Brazil, calls for a united struggle agaist the “reform” and and is now mobilizing for the march in Brasília on 6 August.

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