Brazil: Mass struggles resurface as weight of crisis is felt

Mass demonstrations against the increase of bus fares in all major cities

In São Paulo, on the night of 13 June, the military police cowardly attacked a peaceful demonstration of about 15 thousand people in the city centre. Police arrested in a totally arbitrary way 235 people, many just for being near the site of the demonstration. Some were arrested just for appearing to be a student or for carrying vinegar in their backpacks to mitigate the effects of tear gas. Riot police fired rubber bullets and bombs indiscriminately. In addition to protesters, many journalists, photographers and cameramen were injured. Even those who tried to medically assist the injured were arrested and their first aid kits were confiscated.

The police crackdown comes amid a spate of attacks on social movements and the poor in general.

Brazil is experiencing a new era marked by the more evident signs of crisis and the resurgence of struggles by workers and youth. The year 2012 had the highest number of strikes for the previous 16 years. Public sector workers are resisting cuts and withdrawal of rights. Also private sector workers are demanding their share in the vaunted economic growth.

The political effects of these struggles were limited by the fragmentation of the movement, the character of the ruling bureaucratic union leaders as well as the weaknesses of the left opposition to the government of Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT).

However, 2013, has shown ongoing erosion of the political support for the government and the emergence of a new consciousness among broad sectors of youth and workers.

The image of Brazil as a country moving towards the “1st world” is heavily eroded by a situation of very low growth (less than 1% in 2012) along with high inflation, which mainly affects the poor.

At the same moment that the federal government has taken a shift to the right in economic policy (increase in interest rates, privatization of ports, airports, oil fields, etc.) its support in the polls dropped 8% since March (65% to 57%).

Transport fare increase triggers struggles in big cities

In recent weeks, we have been seeing an explosion of popular struggles, led by the youth ignited by increases in public transport fares. In many state capitals and major cities, the demonstrations have assumed a qualitatively and quantitatively higher dimension than in previous movements. In many of them, such as Porto Alegre, Goiânia, Teresina and Natal, the increase in fares was reversed following protests.

At this time, the main stage of the struggle is the city of São Paulo. With four different demonstrations since June 6, the movement is growing every day. The immediate demand is to reduce the bus and subway fares from 3.20 to 3,00 reals, but the movement also questions the logic of the transport system in the city, dedicated exclusively to the profits of a handful of employers. Expensive fares, overcrowding and poor conditions represent a daily nightmare for workers and students who have to travel every day in a giant metropolis.

In Brazil, it is estimated that 37 million people are excluded from public transport because of high prices. Tens of millions more spend much of their income to travel to work and study amid a chaotic transport of poor quality.

One of the demands raised by the movement is a zero-tariff for transport in São Paulo. The idea is that companies and the richer layers of the population should pay the biggest share the costs of transport and not the workers and students.

The PT defended the zero-rate project in the 1980s, when the party was still on the left and was based on social movements. The current PT government in the city, headed by mayor, Fernando Haddad, rejects this project today, refuses to reverse the privatizations in the transport system and operates with a canine fidelity towards transport businessmen.

The state government of São Paulo, headed by Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB, the main right wing opposition party to the federal government of the PT, and responsible for the São Paulo subway, also refuses to discuss these demands. Alckmin promotes a process of privatization of new subway lines and is responsible for the brutal repressive response by the Military Police of São Paulo during the demonstrations.

Many young workers who voted for Haddad and the PT in municipal elections in October last year to avoid a new victory of the traditional right, at that time headed by PSDB candidate José Serra, today are deeply disappointed with the PT. The unity of PT with the PSDB against the demands of the movement and the policy of repression of demonstrations is alienating large sectors of their social and electoral base.

World Cup Crimes

The big events to be held in the country in the coming years (World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in Rio 2016) are serving as a pretext for a real urban counter-reform in the big cities. The construction projects related to the World Cup are causing the removal of thousands of families from their homes to make way for real estate speculation.

Instead of serving the people, cities are increasingly shaped to serve capital. The space of the city is for sale and any obstacle in the way of profit must be eliminated. All this is under a façade of modernization and social peace.

Stadiums are privatized, corruption runs rampant in the construction projects of the Cup, overexploitation of construction workers have caused accidents and deaths, contractors in collusion with governments are profiting exorbitantly while the rights of residents of big cities are trampled on.

Today, June 14, begins a campaign of national struggles of popular movements for housing, the Urban Resistance Front, along with the World Cup Popular Committees, to denounce the World Cup crimes.

Repression and criminalization of social movements

Faced with the rise of struggles and the need to block the demonstrations on the eve of the Confederations Cup (which starts on June 15), the police crackdown on the protests has intensified dramatically.

Occupying the streets, a basic democratic right, is prohibited. In many cities, the police crackdown on demonstrations reminds us of the military dictatorship. Judicial decisions prohibiting demonstrations, along with police bullets and bombs against demonstrators, shows that we live in a moment of serious attacks on the basic democratic rights of the people.

After a strong media campaign saying that the protesters against the increase in transport fares were vandals and hooligans and thus justifying and supporting police repression, the intense repression of the demonstration on June 13 caused a great commotion and even media itself had to change its tone.

In São Paulo, on the night of June 13, the military police cowardly attacked a peaceful and organized demonstration of about 15 thousand people in the city centre. Police arrested in a totally arbitrary way 235 people. Riot police fired rubber bullets and bombs indiscriminately. In addition to protesters, many journalists, photographers and cameramen were injured.

The police crackdown comes amid a spate of attacks on social movements and the poor in general. In big cities like Sao Paulo and Rio, black youth in the suburbs live a real situation of slaughter. Rapesin Rio de Janeiro have greatly increased in the last period. The racist police violence, impunity of action by death squads, violence against women, the criminalization of poverty and repression on the right of popular organizations, are a reality in the suburbs.

Landless rural leaders have been murdered in a systematic way and recently two indigenous leaders (the ethnic Terena and Guarani-Kaiwoas) fighting against agro-business and the government for the demarcation of their land were also killed.

The struggle in defence of democratic rights acquires a central importance in the context of the World Cup, with the attempt to create a real state of emergency in the country, banning demonstrations and free expression.

The city for the workers, the youth and people!

These struggles for public transport, housing and the democratic right to occupy the streets should be unified into a great national movement for the right of the workers, youth and people to own and control their own cities.

As a result of this fight it would be possible to reconstruct the basis for unification and reorganization of fighting workers’, popular and student movements, independent of governments and employers. A national meeting of workers and youth to carry out a plan of struggle could be built and advanced in the direction of building new united tool of struggle.

That’s what LSR (CWI in Brazil) advocates in the social movements we take part in and inside PSOL (Party of Socialism and Freedom).

We stand for :

  • Immediate reduction of transport fares! Fight for zero tariffs – make the employers pay for public transport! Nationalization of public transport under democratic workers’ and users’ control! Non-payment of the debt to the bankers and speculators and massive investment in public transport!
  • End the removals of residents! No to sexual exploitation! Fight against rape and violence against women!
  • Ensure the rights of construction workers on World Cup projects! No to privatization of Maracanã and corruption in the building sites of the World Cup! Demarcation of indigenous lands! No to emergency laws imposed by FIFA – the right to organization, expression and manifestation!
  • No to the repression of demonstrations of youth and workers! No to criminalization and increased use of the judicial system against social struggle. Immediate freedom for all political prisoners in the fight against rising public transport fares and other movements. No to the slaughter of black youth in the suburbs!
  • For a national day of united struggle around the demands for public transport, affordable housing, against the crimes of the World Cup and in defence of the right to protest and against the criminalization and repression of the social movements.
  • For a national meeting of workers and youth to build a plan of action and a united nation forum of struggles.
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