Brazil: “Congress of the working class” ends in division

Division at congress and non-formation of unified trade union and popular centre represents a setback for workers – learn the lessons and work for unity!

In Brazil, as in many countries, we have seen important steps in process of reorganisation of the left following the collapse of the former “Stalinist” regimes in the ex-Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

This process of reorganisation was reflected in the emergence of new left formations or parties. In Brazil, we saw the example of PSOL, Party for Socialism and Liberty, which the Brazilian section of the CWI, LSR – Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolução, helped to found. But in Brazil, the reorganisation of the left was also reflected in the trade unions and social/popular movements.

When the PT (Workers’ Party) and Lula came to power in 2003, the main trade union centre (federation), the CUT, led by the PT, was transformed into a mere transmission belt for government policies.

The trade unions led by the left broke with CUT in two waves. In Brazil, the unions affiliate to a Centre, and can leave it if the majority decides to without having to split or build a new union. The first wave of splits took place in 2004 and led to the formation of Conlutas. Conlutas was dominated by the PSTU (United Socialist Workers’ Party), but included a section of PSOL, including LSR (CWI in Brazil). In 2006, some other trade unions, dominated by other PSOL currents and some other groups, formed Intersindical. Although LSR participated in Conlutas, because it had a greater weight, involved an important layer of worker militants, and because it was also open to include the popular movements, we always defended that the two initiatives, both of which were relatively small, should merge and form a unified trade union Centre.

Intersindical split in half, as the PSOL currents in it supported the idea of starting a process of unification which the other main groups opposed. The process of unification really began to develop with the onset of the crisis at the end of 2008. This opened up the prospect of important struggles which could help strengthen a new unified trade union centre. The process of unification also included other social organisations like the “Roof-less” Workers’ Movement (MTST).

An important rally took place at the World Social Forum in 2009 followed by two national meetings aimed at calling a Congress of the Working Class on 5-6 June 2010 to launch a new unified trade union centre.

In spite of some important advances – for example, groups eventually accepted the participation of popular movements in the Centre, and some agreed to compromise on some other issues – incredibly the congress split on the issue of the name of the new Centre.

This confirms the position that CWI has argued throughout this process. Namely, that in the process of re-building the workers movement, where the left is often fragmented, and with the legacy of Stalinist and social-democratic bureaucratic methods, it is important to stress the need for democracy and minority rights if you want to build a united movement that is attractive to workers. Those in a majority cannot use this to try and impose their position at any cost on other organisations involving workers and significant forces on the left. Unfortunately, the majority at this Congress, from the PSTU-dominated CONLUTAS, did exactly this. They acted in a sectarian manner and showed no sensitivity in dealing with other significant forces at the crucial moment. When they tried to impose their proposal for the Centre’s name (“Conlutas-Intersindical”), the congress exploded. A third of the delegates walked out – including a section of Conlutas.

Below, we publish a statement put out by LSR (CWI) following these events. We condemn the attitude adopted by the PSTU, but we also opposed the actions of those groups which walked out of the congress. The rebuilding of the left and workers’ movement means it is necessary to know how to act when in majority, but also to how to act when in minority, as the statement explains.

There is still the possibility that this setback can be reversed, as discussions are underway involving various organisations. We hope that the split will not crystallise into two different organisations, which would lead to a longer processes before unification can be posed again.

LSR stayed in the Congress, criticising the PSTU majority and will continue to work for the reunification of the groups, as this is a necessity for the working class, whose interest we put above the narrow interests of any particular grouping.

Marcus Kollbrunner

LSR (CWI in Brazil) statement on Congress of the Working Class

Division at congress and non-formation of unified trade union and popular centre represents a setback for workers

The mountain gave birth to a mouse! A Congress with 3,180 delegates and more than 4 thousand present, representing the most militant section of the trade union and popular movements, following hundreds of meetings of rank and file workers throughout the country, untiring debates and negotiations over a period of months, could and should have resulted in the formation of a strong, unified, fighting organisation. However, unfortunately, it ended in a big defeat. A defeat for all groups involved, without exception. A defeat for the working class as a whole.

The division of the Congress of the Working Class and the political and organisational confusion that followed it, only act in the interest of yellow unions, the bosses and the government. They are more united than ever in their efforts to impose wage freezes for public servants, a presidential veto, lower pensions, and cuts of 10 billion reals upon us, on top of all the persecution and repression against those involved in struggle.

The division at the Congress and the failure to form a unified Centre tragically completes the disaster represented by the division of the socialist left in the presidential elections later this year.

Any advanced worker with a minimum of common sense will pose the question – how can the left and the leadership of trade unions and popular movements be so politically irresponsible? Do they not understand the importance of unity, in such a difficult situation for those who defend an independent class position towards a government that wants to isolate, weaken and crush us?

A successful Congress, resulting in the formation of a unified Centre of Trade Unions and Popular Movements, would give a boost to the morale of thousands of activists confronting the bosses and government today. A new unified Centre would be a very valuable tool to confront the “package of evil” that the future government – be it led by Dilma (PT’s candidate) or Serra (PSDB’s candidate) – will try to impose on workers because of the contradictions in international capitalism, in its most serious crisis in recent decades.

Without this unified tool of struggle we are weaker, more confused, divided and disorganised – easy prey for the neoliberal jackals. It was the capitalist crisis and attacks on workers, like the massive sackings of workers by GM, Embraer, etc., that pushed the trade union leaders of Conlutas and Intersindical, and other sectors, to re-launch the idea of unification to better resist the attacks. The false idea that the crisis is over is dominant in society. But, this is a mere illusion. In 2008/09 we were not sufficiently prepared to confront the attacks. Will we continue to be unprepared and divided when the attacks return with renewed force?

It’s painful to see that it was possible to conclude the Congress in a positive way, in spite of the limitations of the political debate and the differences that were present. With a little more tolerance towards the differences and divergences of the different groups, with a sense of responsibility about what was at stake, the outcome would have been favourable for everyone. The mood of resentment by many workers as a result of this division is natural and justified. However, it will only serve any purpose if we can learn all the lessons of the errors that were committed.

The Congress of the Working Class took place after a great effort to mobilise the rank and file and after political negotiations between the political groups. It’s unquestionable that many of the main differences, that in the beginning of the debates seemed insurmountable, ceased to be real obstacles.

At the first seminar held to debate the possibilities of unity, both Intersindical and the Unidos/CST/FOS current (which took part in Conlutas), among others, defended the formation of a Centre only composed of trade unions. They rejected the participation of popular movements. At the Congress in Santos there was a general agreement on the defence of a Centre which included the popular movements. This was maybe one of the most important agreements, because it was about the nature of the organisation that was being founded, not to mention the direct effect it has on our intervention in the class struggle. By unifying organically the trade unions and popular movements, we are confronting the challenge of organising the most oppressed and excluded layers together with the working class.

The participation of the student movement and movements against gender, sexual and racial oppression remained a point of divergence at the Congress. Yet a big majority approved the participation of those sectors, with a limit of 5% for them in the leading bodies of the new Centre. Despite the disagreements, the possibility of splitting on that question never crossed anyone’s mind. Anyone who today poses this issue as a justification for a split cannot be taken seriously. It is necessary to have a sense of proportion about what is at stake.

Another concrete example of political agreement is on the issue of the structure of the leading bodies of the new Centre. A general agreement was reached (if not agreed by everybody, there was at least a huge majority) that the executive committee of the new Centre would elected by this Congress and not by the National Coordinating body, composed by delegates from every organisation. There was also an agreement to take a definite decision on this issue at the next Congress.

One of the most prominent themes during the last period was about the question of unity in the elections this year. The PSTU, together with other minor groups, wrongly in our opinion, refused to support a call from the Congress in favour of a Left Front in the elections. The fact that the PSTU succeeded in getting a majority for their position (with the unjustifiable abstention of Unidos/CST/FOS and even a part of Intersindical, not to mention the confused proposal from the MLT current) was a negative element of the Congress. However, despite this, it never crossed anyone’s mind to split the Congress on that issue.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, came with the decision of the name of the new Centre. In an intransigent and totally disproportionate fashion, the PSTU together with the MTL (who ended up playing a very negative role in that sense) insisted until the end on the name “Conlutas-Intersindical – trade union and popular centre”. They persisted in putting forward this name, in spite of the refusal by Intersindical to accept the use of the name for the new organisation that was being founded. The intransigent attitude in defence of this name led many to conclude that what was taking place was a process of annexation of the other sectors in the project by the majority of Conlutas, headed by the PSTU.

With a minimum of flexibility from the Conlutas majority headed by PSTU, refusing to accept a name that just inverted the name of the Centre, calling it “Trade Union and Popular Centre”, followed by the logos of Conlutas and Intersindical (a proposal that they today admit they could accept), would have reduced the tensions and the atmosphere of indignation present amongst a big part of the Congress. This minimal concession would have saved the Congress and avoided the dramatic outcome.

By not making this concession, the majority threw away all Conlutas’ record of defence of unity with Intersindical and the formation of the new Centre. Instead of being the motor for unification, the PSTU put Conlutas in the position of being an obstacle in the way of this process.

The PSTU lacked the political judgement to understand that an immediate majority victory in a vote at the Congress did not justify the enormous damages that the split caused in the process of reorganising the trade unions and popular movements. The PSTU’s “victory” is a pyrrhic victory.

It’s necessary to recognise this as a precondition to try to reverse this situation. The attitude that, in spite of anything, a new Centre was founded and that life should go on as if nothing had happened, is not acceptable. The provisional Secretariat that was formed at the end of the Congress, without the sectors that left the plenary, only make sense if it is viewed as a commission, whose central purpose is to strive to re-establish relations and build a unified way forward.

At the same time, we cannot agree with the position of the groupings of Intersindical, Unidos and others who abandoned the Congress. Be it by accident or planned, this attitude ended up throwing these groups and the whole process into a level of chaos and confusion that does not serve anybody’s interests. The struggle against the hegemonic stance of PSTU could and should be conducted within the framework of a unified organisation.

It is important to know how to use a majority in a congress. The PSTU has demonstrated that it lacks this quality. It is also necessary to understand how to act when in a minority. We oppose the recurring attitude of some groups to split when in minority in the workers movement.

There was no doubt or question about the result of the votes. Whether we like or not, there was an established majority at the Congress and that was, by the way, no surprise to anyone. All the pressure and effort to try to convince the majority grouping at the Congress could be justified up to maintaining the process of unification. The attitude to split the Congress didn’t serve anyone’s interests, not even the groups who split.

The unfortunate result is that we today have a more confused situation and a level of polarisation and tension in relations that is greater than that which existed previously. Some have begun to draw the conclusion that, in fact, there wasn’t any real basis for a unified Centre. It is necessary to be careful so we don’t end up with a level of polarisation that makes any effort to restart a process of unity that the working class needs, independent of the interests of any of its currents unviable.

The crystallisation of a situation where, on one hand, Intersindical, Unidos and others that split form there own organisation and, on the other hand, the majority sectors of Conlutas, with the MTL, MTST and other groups form another Centre, would not serve anyone. It is necessary to restore the conditions for unity.

It is true that sectarianism feeds upon the reflux of mass movements. Only an intensification of mass struggle can lay a sufficient solid foundation for a qualitative process of reorganisation of the trade union and popular movements. However, even in defensive situations, of a low ebb for the workers’ movement it is necessary to offer an alternative and prepare for a change in the situation.

The unification of Conlutas, Intersindical and other sectors at the Congress of the Working Class would have represented an important step forward. The defeat of the congress opens up a period of bigger difficulties and uncertainties. However, it is necessary to learn the lessons of what happened and try to re-establish the process of trade union and popular reorganisation in a united trade union centre.

The Liberty, Socialism and Revolution current (CWI in Brazil), participated at the II Conlutas’ Congress and the Congress of the Working Class as part of the Socialist Resistance Bloc, and worked for building a united trade union centre.

We didn’t walk out of the Congress, but neither do we believe that the new Centre that we wanted to construct was really founded. The attitude of the PSTU and MTL to consider that the Centre was founded and that the priority is to defend it from attacks from other sectors is wrong. In the same way, we do not agree with the crystallisation of the division by forming another organisation uniting the sectors that split from the Congress.

We do not consider that the Centre we struggled for was formed. The provisional Secretariat elected at the end of the Congress should play the role of trying to re-establish relations and restore conditions for unity.

Within the present framework and the within the limits of the agreements already established before the Congress, no concession is too big that could restore unity. This includes measures to offer democratic guarantees to minorities, especially in issues of minor importance, such as the name. We will work for restoring relations between the sectors that took part in the Congress and even new sectors.

Let us learn the lessons. There is no more space in the workers’ movement for sterile disputes for the control of apparatus, sectarianism and an obsession with the construction of your own current to the detriment of the interests of the working class as a whole. At the end of the day, the currents lose and also the workers movement as a whole.

National Committee of Liberty, Socialism and Revolution – LSR

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