Brazil: National day of strikes and protests shows Temer can be beaten

For a one-day general strike as the next step. 
15 March was a national day of struggle and paralysis throughout Brazil against anti-worker reforms applied by the illegitimate government of Michel Temer. This was the most important workers’ and popular mobilisation since Dilma Rousseff (PT) was removed from power.

These mobilisations were preceded and stimulated by very important women’s protests on 8 March. The day of struggle on 15 march was called in a united manner by the various trade union confederations  and by the ‘People without fear’ front (which includes the MTST, homeless workers movement, which is its main promotor) and the ‘Brazil Popular Front’ (which is dominated by social movements which are closer to the PT and Lula). 

In practically every state capital there were work stoppages, road blockades and mass demos. Education workers carried out a 24-hour strike and in some states even went on indefinite strike. Transport workers also went on strike in various cities, including metro and bus drivers in Sao Paolo, South America’s biggest city, which affected millions of people.

Public sector workers such as postal workers, as well as metal workers, oil workers, bank workers, and dockers also carried out partial strikes and demonstrations. Social movements in struggle for housing and movements for black people’s rights also filled out the many demonstrations and actions which took place, as well as calling their own actions.

In Sao Paolo, more than 200 activists from various women’s’ struggle movements, in which LSR (CWI in Brazil) played a prominent role, occupied the headquarters of the National Social Security service for some hours. In Brasilia, the movement with the MTST at the head, also occupied the Interior Ministry.

Despite the deplorable role of the big media outlets of the bourgeoisie in defending the measures of the Temer government and attacking the social movements, there was huge popular support for the protests and strikes. Even the media had to show footage in any cities of metro workers explaining their strikes to passengers and being applauded and supported. Many of those interviewed merely complained that the strikes were not more solid and generalised throughout the country!

In total hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of the main cities. The organisers claim that 200,000 marched in Sao Paolo and 100,000 in Rio. Even if they were not that big, they were huge demonstrations which reflect the increase in confidence in relation to the struggle against the counter-reforms of Temer.

Biggest attacks in years

Temer’s illegitimate government exists only to impose deep attacks on the rights of the working class, in the name of profits for the big banks and businesses, in the context of a deep crisis. This was the fundamental reason for the coup manoeuvres which led to the impeachment of Dilma in 2016. Despite all its attempts to help big business, the PT could not approve the measures which the capitalists were demanding.

Temer’s government operates as a government of “state of emergency”. It was voted for by no one and has no legitimacy but it has a big base of support in a congress which is full of corrupt servants of the big bourgeoisie. Threatened by the corruption investigations of the “Lava Jato” operation, Temer and the MPs and Senators who support him want to guarantee their impunity by showing their usefulness to big capital.

Since last year the government has approved tough measures against workers. The main one was the constitutional amendment which in practice freezes all public spending for 20 years. They also passed a reform of secondary education in the interests of producing cheap labour for bug business.

However, the most important counter-reforms are the ones being implemented now. The first one is a pension reform which will eliminate the possibility of a dignified retirement for the majority. With this they hope to promote private pension schemes to prop up the financial markets.

Establishing a minimum age of 65, the reform ignores the fact that life expectancy in many areas is not much greater than this! The majority of workers enter the workforce very young and in terrible conditions.

The reform reduced the value of the pensions, and means that 49 years of contributions (of continuous work, all legally registered) to the pension fund are necessary to get 100% of one’s pension.

It also increases the minimum number of years of contributions from 15 to 25, which will mean that any type of retirement is ruled out for the poorest people. At the moment, 8 out of 10 those who retired due to old age did not contribute this minimum of 25 years and thus could not now retire.

As well as this, the reform will abolish the right which was won by women workers, who now can retire having made less years of contributions than man, as a form of compensation for the double, often triple, working day which they are subjected to including house work, children etc as well as the fact that they work in worse conditions. Teachers and rural workers also lose hard-won rights in this reform.

There are a series of other attacks included in the reform, but one of the more terrible features is that there will be practically no “transition period” for the majority of workers. Women who are not 45 years old and men who are 50 years old will simply lose their rights from one day to the next.

There is growing public rejection of these measures, especially as at the same time the pension privileges of the politicians are maintained and the profits of the banks and big capital grow despite the crisis.

In the case of the labour reform, there is a deep promotion of outsourcing in all sectors. Mainly though, the government wants to abolish the labour rights which were won and registered in the law, as a result of hard fought struggle from the 1930s to the constitution of 1988.

The law permits the suspension of workers’ rights via agreements. In the context of the worst economic crisis in many decades, this means the loss of rights for the most vulnerable sectors of the working class, under pressure by the threat of job losses and closures.

The government can be defeated

15 March showed that the government can be defeated in struggle. If Temer is defeated in the vote on these reforms it will mean that the government will be close to falling in practice. If he does not fulfil his promises to big capital, Temer will be swallowed up by his many corruption allegations.

The government has felt the power of protests and there was an impact in the national congress. Many MPs declared in favour of making some changes to the proposals.

It is probable that in an attempt to contain protests, the government makes small concessions to “improve” the laws. Part of the trade union leadership could be taken in by this, which is a real risk for the struggle.

The PT, which now criticises Temer’s reforms, refuses to go to the end in its opposition. The first measure of the Lula government in 2003 after all was a pension reform which attacked rights, especially in the public sector.

Lula has vacillated in his position on these reforms. He knows that if the PT was in government it would be trying to bring in similar measures, even if they would not be as severe. However, Lula did make speeches against Temer’s measures on 15 March.

Despite this, he said nothing about the need of big business to contribute to pensions, or of taxing the big fortunes, or auditing and repudiating the debt. No radical measures against capital, in other words. He only went as far as saying that economic growth is what would resolve the problems of the fiscal budget and pensions in particular.

He did not explain why this model of economic growth, based on the exploitation of commodities and conciliation with big capital is what opened the door for the radical neoliberals who are now in government.

The social movements linked to the PT put all their hope in Lula returning to power in 2018. This perspective is dangerous for the struggle against Temer today. Firstly, because it is focussed on the parliamentary road which is more and more limited for workers in the context of a government like Temer’s and the attacks on democratic rights. Secondly because many of the PT’s leaders want there to be some kind of fiscal “purge” in order to prepare better conditions for when they are in government and want Temer to do the dirty work.

LSR-CWI, as part of PSOL, of the CSP-Conlutas trade union confederation and the ‘People without fear’ front, participated actively in building for 15 March. We highlight the need for the unity in struggle of all sectors willing to struggle against Temer’s reforms, including the sector which supports Lula and the PT and all unions. At the same time, we point towards a strategy of struggle capable of achieving a real victory. We are against negotiation merely on a point by point basis and in favour of the building of a one-day general strike throughout the country as the next step in the struggle.

In this process of resistance it is possible to forge in the heat of the struggle a political alternative of the socialist Left to overcome Lulaism and present an anticapitalist, socialist programme. Along these lines, we call for a united front of the socialist Left with all parties opposed to the right and the governments of the PT, as well as the most combative working class social movements, such as the MTST and others. 

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March 2017