Important step towards re-building workers’ movement in Brazil
Conlutas (National Coordination of Struggle), Brazil, held its first national congress from 3-6 July, in Betim (Minas Gerais state). With 2,805 elected delegates participating from 175 trade unions (most of them representing oppositions and minorities) and 500 other organisations (ranging from the landless and roofless organizations, to other social movements and student unions), the congress is the biggest workers’ congress, so far, this year. In total, there were more than 3,500 participants. This congress reflects an important process of re-composition of the trade union and social movements taking place in Brazil.
Process of re-composition
The PT (Workers’ Party) dominated the left in Brazil, since it was launched in 1980, during the upsurge of struggle that put an end to the military dictatorship. But the PT followed the same road to the right as the social democratic parties in Europe, especially after the collapse of Stalinism. When Lula won the presidential election in 2002, the party had already totally embraced the neo-liberal agenda. However, Lula still had enormous authority as he was the first worker to be elected president in Brazil. However, as Lula launched one neo-liberal attack after another, a process began of forces breaking away from the PT and the organisations linked to it, such as the trade union central organisation, the CUT. This process has, so far, won the support of a significant militant minority of workers and activists. It is establishing an important basis which can win the support of a much bigger layer, when the economic crisis and social upheavals really hit Brazil.
In the political arena, the principal expression of this composition of the left was the launching of PSOL (Party Socialism and Liberty). The CWI’s section in Brazil (Socialismo Revolucionário) participated in the formation of this party, from the beginning. At the same time, amongst trade unions and social movements there have been two different initiatives, Conlutas and Intersindical.
Conlutas was launched in 2004, drawing together some trade unions, opposition currents within trade unions, and social movements. It was dominated by the PSTU (the largest party in Brazil, which adheres to Trotskyism, and is from a tendency which was led by Nahuel Moreno), but also includes groupings from PSOL. However, some groupings from PSOL took another initiative and came together with some other groups and later formed Intersindical.
Since then, Conlutas has proved to be the more dynamic pole of attraction. When it was established, it had the support of approximately 200 groupings in the trade union and social movements. This has now grown to over 700. In the beginning, the PSTU adopted a more sectarian position in its relations to other left organisations and sought to fully control the Conlutas and exclude other forces which opposed them. However, in the last period, it has adopted a more open attitude, and has also called for unification with Intersindical.
Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI Brazil), stressed the need for an initiative on a higher level than both Conlutas and Intersindical. At this stage, the two organisations do not have sufficient strength to really challenge the CUT. Conlutas has grown significantly since its foundation and together with sections of Internsindical has the potential to begin to build an alternative to the CUT which can also appeal to the rank and file workers in some of the CUT affiliated unions. This, together with the work SR has undertaken, helping to build a block of left currents within PSOL, all of which participate in Conlutas, led to us to decide at our congress, last year, to give Conlutas more importance in our work because of the importance of the trade union and industrial struggles likely to develop. At the foundation congress of Conlutas, in 2006, SR just one delegate. This year, SR had 39 delegates, working in a bloc of about 180 delegates, from current the last PSOL congress.
Last year, we saw important steps in the struggle against the neo-liberal policies implemented by Lula government, and other governments at state and local level. After a successful demonstration against Bush, on the 8 March, where the left and the left of the PT set the tone and criticized the government, there was a very successful national conference, with workers, landless activists and youth from all over the country. Delegates from Conlutas and Intersindical were present, but also delegations from MST (the big Landless Rural Workers’ Movement). An agenda for common actions was agreed, which even forced the CUT, in some areas, to participate in protests on a national day of action on the 23 May. Around 1.5 million participated in protests and activities. The PSOL national congress agreed, in June, to adopt a position supporting the idea of a fusion between Conlutas and Intersindical, with the aim of launching a new trade union centre.
However, in the second half of the year, the MST withdraw from joint activities and the process lost some impulse. But there were still important events, like the unofficial referendum organised by social movements in September. About 3.7 million people voted for the renationalization of the mining giant Vale and against a new pensions reform. On 24 October 2007, over 15,000 protesters, from all over the country, marched in the capital, Brasília, against the plans of a new pension reform and other attacks.
However, this year there were two setbacks in the process of unification. In April, at the national conference of Intersindical, a proposal to unify with Conlutas, put forward by PSOL members, was blocked by a more moderate wing that would not accept the majority decision. The conference ended in disarray. Then, a month before the Conlutas congress, two of the PSOL groupings broke with Conlutas, with the intention of creating a stronger PSOL pole of attraction in the trade unions. Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI Brazil, together with many others, opposed these groups, arguing this action would lead to a narrow polarization along party lines and delay and weaken the process of unification and building a new trade union centre.
The need for unity in the struggle against the bureaucracy within the trade unions is more urgent than ever. There are several groups of workers that are in struggle: teachers, metal workers, construction workers, postal workers, and others. Yet all these struggles are isolated and not unified by an alternative trade unions federation. The potential was recently shown in recent elections in the important teachers’ union in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The opposition won, mainly because, at local level, Conlutas and Intersindical came together and succeeded in splitting a part of the left in CUT.
The main issues
Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI Brazil) prepared a political platform for the recent Conlutas congress, together with the other groupings that have formed a joint block in P-SOL. These organisations are: CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective), AS (Socialist Alternative) and ARS (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative). CLS leads the print workers’ federation of Brasil, and the print workers’ union in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais) and Brasília (capital). They have also an important support amongst the landless in the states of Minas Gerais and Goiás. The AS is the leading force on the election slate that won the teachers’ union in Rio Grande do Sul. The ARS has a base in the far north of Brazil, with trade union positions amongst teachers and others. With the defection of the two PSOL groupings, this block became the third biggest block in the congress, after PSTU and CST (from PSOL).
Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI Brazil) brought 39 delegates and 10 observers (including comrades from Ireland, Sweden and South Africa) to the Conlutas congress. We had most delegates from the teachers’ union in São Paulo state and from students’ unions, reflecting our gains in these areas. The international presence was important. Terry Kelleher, from the Socialist Party in Ireland (CWI), for example, after making a greeting to the congress, was invited to speak to over 20 delegates from the postal workers that are currently on strike. Terry is a postal worker and sits on the executive of the CPSU union in Ireland.
One important issue raised by the block SR is involed in, was the need to democratise Conlutas even further. Any impression that the PSTU will use its majority to dominate and impose its position on Conlutas, will limit Conlutas’s possibilities to grow. The PSTU has been prepared to compromise on some issues. However, it would not agree to our proposal that no political group should have more than 50% of the Conlutas executive.
There was an agreement to keep the character of a ‘Centre’, not only for trade unions, but also for social movements and students. This reflects the need to reach the many workers that are not in trade unions and out of the formal economy. It is also necessary to stress the need of an alliance of workers in the city and countryside, and between workers and students. There is also agreement on the need to have a strong class and combative approach and a socialist perspective when building trade unions. There is also agreement that on the leading organisations of Conlutas, the trade union should be in the majority.
There was also a general agreement to make a new call for unity with Intersindical and to propose new dates for common days of actions.
Although the congress was large, it was smaller than expected. In total, 770 organisations had registered to participate, with a potential of electing 9,000 delegates. Of course, the costs and travel distance put a limit on this. But the expectation was that the congress would have over 4,000 delegates. The reason this did not happen needs to be discussed further in Conlutas. It does, however, reveal the complications in the process of the recomposition of the left, and that the process has just begun in Brazil.
The SR and CLS had two stalls in the congress; one selling food and the other selling political literature. Together with the others in the P-SOL block, we distributed thousands of copies of a printed manifesto for the congress. We also made quite an impact with a leaflet explaining the ongoing process of unification between SR and CLS, which is aiming to have a unifiacation congress at the beginning of next year. We had several well-attended meetings during the congress. At one, the CWI was represented with the international guests, and attended by up to 90 people. Another important activity was the launching of Robério Paulino’s book on the lessons of the rise and fall of Stalinism. Robério is one of the leading members of CLS. During the congress, we also took initiatives to strengthen common work between students and others in the block, launching a joint student manifesto.
Latin American and Caribbean workers’ meeting
Immediately after Conlutas congress, a two days Latin American and Caribbean Workers meeting was held, with 150 representatives from 20 countries and 250 Brazilians. The meeting was called by Conlutas, COB (Bolivian Worker’s Confederation), Batay Ouvriye from Haiti, TCC (Classist and Fighting Tendency) of Uruguay; CCURA (Classist, unitarian, revolutionary and autonomous current) from Venezuela and MeCosi (Trade Union co-ordinating body) of Paraguay. The SR/CWI participated, with a small delegation – three from Brazil, one for Ireland and two from Sweden. The aim of the meeting was to build more common action and solidarity between workers in struggle on the continent. There were many interesting reports but also important disagreements; for example on what approach to adopt towards governments of Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Fernando Lugo (Paraguay). This was also an issue at the Conlutas congress, which agreed not to adopt a position or to impose a position on these issues.
A manifesto was adopted, opposing neo-liberal policies and imperialism and proposing a a common plan of action to coordinate protests against the UN’s occupation of Haiti, and against criminalisation and persecution of social movements.
The Conlutas congress was an important event in the process of re-building the workers’ movement in Brazil. The CWI Brazilian section, together with comrades from the block of four in P-SOL, with whom we work, played an important part in teh Conlutas meeting.