Building the cwi in Brazil in 2003
cwi international conference.
Niall Mulholland gives highlights of the campaigns of cwi sections during 2003. The report is taken from written contributions from cwi sections that were presented to the 21-26 November meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium.
Anti-war and anti-capitalism
The first months of 2003 were marked by illusions and expectations in relation to the new PT (Workers’ Party) government of Lula. The second period – starting from the federal civil servants’ strike and from when congress voted for pensions reforms – marked the end of the illusions in the PT by a large section of working people and the growth of the idea of the need for a new left party.
The process of breaking away from the PT is still in the beginning and most workers still have hopes or illusions in Lula. But there has been a qualitative change in the relationship between the working class and the PT
The CWI in Brazil is part of the movement for a new party; we argue for it to class-based, anti-imperialist, socialist, broad democratic party that seeks to become a mass party.
The expulsion of the radical PT members of congress [several were expelled in December – Editor] will mean that the movement for the new party will become something more concrete.
Our position is for a broad and inclusive party, with standing internal tendency rights and with aiming to be a mass party. This, however, does not mean that we abandon the need for a Marxist party. We will build our organisation and at the same time help to build a new mass working class party.
The beginning of next year should feature movements in the streets, workplaces, schools and universities for the construction of the new party. We want to lead that process, especially in São Paulo, where we have most influence.
World Social Forum
In the beginning of this year we participated in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and in the campaign against the war in Iraq.
The presence of comrades from Chile, from Germany and from Sweden was very important for our work in Porto Alegre. We made our mark at the event.
Mobilizations against the war were not so strong in Brazil as in other countries. Nevertheless, there were demonstrations of 15,000 and one of 30,000. We sold 150 – 200 papers on average at each demo.
The mood was much politicised among the youth. We organized debates and talks on the war. All together about 800 people attended these activities.
This helped raise the profile of the CWI.
Our main union role is in APEOESP, the teachers’ union for public schools in the state of São Paulo. This is the largest union in CUT, historically most combative confederation, which was founded in 1983 by the same people who founded the PT.
We have a comrade on the union executive committee and a comrade in the state committee. We led two regional branches of the union in Metro São Paulo ( Cotia/Vargem Grande and Taboão/Embu).
In October 2002 we initiated and led a historic strike of municipal teachers in Cotia. This was one of the first and most important strikes of municipal teachers in the state of São Paulo. The comrades were attacked by the police, received death threats, were pursued or harassed in the work place. In the area where they live, a comrade faced criminal charges for slander and defamation, two leaders of SR were charged with obstruction of the public thoroughfare and 12 teachers were suspended and indicted in an internal inquiry that proposed their summary dismissal.
Nevertheless, the teachers managed to put pressure on the municipal administration. There was community participation in the neighbourhoods and participation of the state leadership of APEOESP and CUT in the protests. The mayor was accused of misusing education funds and is likely to lose the elections this year. A wage increase for teachers was obtained for this year and a career plan is to be introduced. The cases that may lead to teachers’ dismissals have been withdrawn at least for the time being.
The victory was partial and there is still the threat of persecution. But, there was a leap in consciousness among the municipal teachers, who are now a support for our work in the union
In the Itapecerica region (next to Taboão/Embu) we also began a struggle of the municipal teachers.
We formed a Socialist Education Collective as a union tendency of SR. In the regional conferences we got to elect around 30 delegates linked to our Collective.
The postal workers ran a nationwide strike in late 2002 that was betrayed by the majority of the union leadership that adopted a pro-government position. The result is practically a split in the union in São Paulo and in the national Federation.
We have comrades in the union. One of them was one of the most dynamic activists during the strike. Another became nationally known by being arrested at the Brasília demo (against pension reforms) that surrounded and threatened to occupy the National Congress.
Federal civil servants
The federal civil servants are the vanguard in the fight against the Lula government’s neo-liberal measures, particularly the pension reforms. They headed a national strike.
A member of SR works in the Social Security, one of the most active sections of the civil servants union affiliated to the CUT. The other works in the Internal Revenue / Tax Office, an important section although the union is not in the CUT.
We also participated in the wages campaign and disputes among municipal employees of São Paulo.
Youth Work: MSE
The main campaigns of MSE (Movement for Free Education) in 2003 were the struggle to have a university (extension of USP state university) built in the east zone of São Paulo; the campaign against university entrance examination fees; and the struggle for free bus passes for school students.
In the movement for an USP in the east as a university open to workers’ children, we got to involve unions, movements and other left sections. We held debates, meetings, conferences, public hearings and put pressure on congressmen and elected officials. We organised a protest of more than 600 people in Itaquera, in the east of São Paulo.
The protests were able to alter the original proposal for course content and to increase the number of places from 1,000 for 1,500. We demanded 4,000 places in the first year and made other demands – like democratic management of the university. Protests declined in the second semester, but they may well revive next year.
Our emphasis in the second semester was the campaign to abolish university entrance exam fees. We held a demo of about 150 students that eventually occupied, for the first time in history, the building of the organization that oversees the entrance exam (FUVEST). This had wide repercussion in the press. We faced police attempts to evict us and forced the academic authorities to meet us. Since then, we won a public hearing in the state Legislative Assembly, at which we mobilised about 200 students.
We filed about 150 lawsuits for poor students’ to take the exam free of charge. About 30 were granted.
A bill abolishing these fees is being proposed on the basis of these actions and the next focus of the struggle is likely to be getting it passed.
In Taboão da Serra, MSE, and others, organised a demo of about 300 students from about six schools for free public transport for students. The local city hall was forced to meet the students and posed the possibility of a new law to meet the demands. Nevertheless, the struggle will continue to ensure this conquest.
Our idea is to organize this movement in São Paulo too, where there has already been a demo with about 400 students.
There is growing support for the idea of a mass occupation of the public universities, a proposal that MSE has posed since the start. Sections of the left of the Church, the black movement, homeless movement and other left organisations are discussing this type of action with us.
Our work in USP – the largest Brazilian public university – grew in 2003. Our slate has just won (October) the elections for the Academic Center, the official student body for the Arts/Lettesr course with 40% of the votes.
We organized a Socialist Weekend in July that involved about 50 people.
We have been maintaining Socialist Studies Groups. In 2004 we will expand this type of initiative.