As a union demonstration of 80,000 government workers marched to the Congress building in Brasilia on 6 August, "Lula has betrayed us" blared out of the truck mounted PA system.
As demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and by finance capital, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) has attacked the pensions of state employees in a new ’reform’ bill – raising the retirement age and increasing the number of years’ qualifying contributions. This is expected to cut government expenditure by $18.5 billion over the next 20 years.
The recession-hit capitalists hope that this measure, along with other public sector cuts, will reduce the government’s massive $25 billion budget deficit and also its foreign debt. Along with previous privatisations, the bosses are pushing these ’neo-liberal’ policies to boost profits. In other words, the ruling class is using Lula to make the workers pay for the crisis of their system.
In response, some two-thirds of federal government workers have been on indefinite strike since 8 July and now university teachers employed by São Paulo state are striking. The trade unions have called another mass demo for 19 August.
The first round vote in the lower house of Congress on the social security reform bill was: 358 for, 125 against, with nine abstentions. Three of the deputies who voted against are part of the PT left wing and they now face expulsion from the party.
Other left deputies were less forthright in their opposition and meekly abstained. The government made some concessions but only to top civil servants and judges!
ELSEWHERE, WORKING-class people have been taking direct action to deal with the country’s widespread poverty.
On 19 July, the Movement of Roofless Workers (MTST), organised an occupation on a former Volkswagen site, (the 170,000 square metres that were abandoned by the company more than 12 years ago). With the battle cry "occupy and resist" some 7,000 people camped in São Bernardo do Campo, in São Paulo state. And on 21 July more than 4,000 homeless managed to occupy four abandoned high-rise blocks in the centre of São Paulo.
In spite of the attacks from the press and the authorities, the struggle of the roofless in São Bernardo has won the support of the communities neighbouring the occupation, unions, social movements and activists in general.
According to one of the coordinators of the encampment, the occupation gained the support from the workers of Volkswagen, who are struggling against the company’s "restructuring" plan to sack 4,000 workers.
After talks between the coordinators of the occupation and the factory committee of the Volkswagen workers, the roofless are ready to occupy the factory together with the workers if Volkswagen starts the process of dismissals.
In return, the workers express their solidarity by donating food to the occupation. The roofless families have now peacefully evacuated the site before eviction by heavily armed police.
There are approximately 6 million empty properties in the country due to high rents and the difficulty to obtain loans to buy your own house. According to the press, there are over 6 million ’roofless’ people in Brazil.
The real estate speculation in big cities, falling purchasing power and unemployment are the main reasons why families are forced to live under bridges and to the "favelization" (growing slums) in the metropolitan centres. Therefore, the struggles of the roofless is not only about housing, but also about jobs.
IN LULA’S election last October, the socialist warned that the hopes of PT supporters would be dashed if their president satisfied the financial markets and the IMF. With the adaptation of the PT leaders to capitalism and the weakness of the PT left, it means that the question of building a socialist alternative is being posed more sharply.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales.