Brazil after the re-election of Lula: A coalition against the workers

Serge Goulart is the leader of the movement of occupied factories in Brazil. He is also a member of the national council of the PT. In this interview he outlines the situation facing the workers in Brazil and explains how he and his comrades in the PT are building a Marxist Opposition within the party.

Serge Goulart is the leader of the movement of occupied factories in Brazil. He is also a member of the national council of the PT. In this interview he outlines the situation facing the workers in Brazil and explains how he and his comrades in the PT are building a Marxist Opposition within the party.

What is your opinion of Lula's first term in office?

Serge Goulart's closing speech
Serge Goulart

Lula based himself on a class-collaborationist policy that aims to chain all the labour organisations to an apparatus, a cage in fact, of tripartite commissions (government, bosses and trade unions). His aim was to carry out three big counter-reforms, with big changes in social security, the labour law and the trade union law. Right from the very beginning this policy led to huge contradictions inside the labour organisations. The Movimento Sem Terra (MST, landless peasants' movement) continued with its struggle. There is also a growing movement of occupied factories and also the civil servants have been very active.

The "reform" of social security was met with huge resistance. The CUT [Brazilian trade union federation] originally had a position of accepting the reform but putting forward some amendments, but then 48 hours prior to when the law was to be approved in parliament it came out against. That is how we arrived at the "night of shame" on August 6 2003, when parliament approved the "reform" at five o'clock in the morning while 80,000 public employees were marching on the capital. There were almost four months of strikes against the "reform".

From the moment that "reform" was approved in parliament the government entered a period of paralysis. Lula understood that he could go no further. The "reform" was approved but without the necessary decrees that would establish how it would be applied, while the other two major counter-reforms became bogged down. From that moment onwards, Lula has tried to carry out a policy that would keep the ruling class happy, but without carrying out an all-out attack on the working class and at the same time trying to consolidate his electoral base.

Thus, on the one hand we have seen the alliance with Bush, who Lula referred to as "comrade Bush" when he visited Brazil. Brazilian troops have also sent to Haiti and Lula enthusiastically embraced the US sponsored FTAA (free trade agreement), which he chaired for two years. The end result was that the whole plan flopped thanks to the intervention of Chavez at the Mar del Plata summit.

He placed the ex-chairman of the Boston Bank at the head of the Central bank, and his whole policy has been centred on achieving a balanced budget, so much so that he actually achieved a surplus equivalent to 4.75% of GDP, when in actual fact the IMF had only been demanding 3.5%. The corporations and above all the banks have made record profits. There are some banks that over a three-year period have managed to double their turnover.

The foreign debt was mostly transformed into an internal debt, given that the slide in the exchange rate of the dollar to the real encouraged finance capital to shift their investments as the state was guaranteeing very high interest rates. In fact after a very slow decline the interest rate still stands at 13%. Tax exemptions and subsidies to the private companies have grown massively as has also financial deregulation.

At the same time the government has tried to increase the purchasing power of the workers and poor. There has been an explosive growth in consumption based on credit backed by state spending, which has shot up from 7 to 29 billion reals. The Bolsa familia state benefits are minimal - 30 dollars a month - but now 12 million poor families are receiving them, compared to 2 million before. In the poorest regions of the country, this has had the effect of removing these families from being dependent on the local magnates who also controlled their votes, to having a direct relationship with the state and the government.

What has been the reaction of the workers to these policies?

The one million strong civil servants organised a serious struggle against the "reform". There were national strikes of the postal workers (120,000 workers) and the oil workers (140,000). Lula allowed Varig, the national airline company, to go to the wall, with its 9,000 workers who fought for months against the closure of the company. At the Volkswagen plant on San Bernardo, the cradle of "Lulaism" (Lula was the chairman of the metalworkers' union in the town), 12,000 workers came out on strike against the sacking of 2000 workers. The agreement signed by the trade union leaders was rejected by the workers in a ballot, but the trade union bureaucracy falsified the result. They then had to leave the factory protected by bodyguards.

The MST kept up and spread its movement. In the rural areas the struggle is very bitter. The landlords have hired thugs who have killed dozens of peasants and activists involved in land occupations. The government pretends to be surprised, but says that the armed guards of the landlords cannot be disarmed and that the law must be respected. All this, with a Minister of Agriculture in the government like Rossetto, who in words declares that he is a Trotskyist linked to the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International [that international tendency whose historical leaders was Ernest Mandel and to which belong the LCR in France and the Sinistra Critica in Italy - Editor's note].

The Occupied factories movement has spread from 4 plants to 12. We have organised three national and two international conferences, various protest convoys and a march on Brasilia in April 2005 together with the MST, with whom we have now established a very close alliance.

At the end of the day, this is where the main problem lies for the bosses. In spite of the huge profits they have been making, the bosses are not happy with Lula. Their fundamental problem is that the labour movement remains intact and is capable of mobilising and they know that sooner or later they will have to take it on.

That explains why they have launched a furious attack on Lula and the PT. They have conveniently "discovered" that the government was buying the support of several MPs to guarantee itself a majority in parliament. Lula has washed his hands of everything, blaming the chairman of the PT, José Dirceu, claiming he knew nothing about it... In the end Dirceu was forced to resign. The ordinary people weren't too affected by all this, but the left intelligentsia came out with a flood of words about the need for an "ethical" policy. Our view is that each policy has its methods: if you insist on governing with the bosses you end up with these methods.

How was all this expressed in the presidential elections?

In the first round Lula got 48 per cent, with 30 per cent abstaining, spoiling their papers or casting a blank ballot paper. This is a very high rate of abstention if you consider that voting is a legal obligation in Brazil. The workers were giving the government a clear warning. What is worth noting is that the sum total of votes received by the individual PT parliamentary candidates was less than that received by the right wing candidates, but at the same time the votes cast simply for the PT list was far higher. The message was clear: we do not want the right wing to win, but we have no confidence in this leadership.

Between the first and second round Lula changed his tune. He spoke of the struggle of the poor against the rich and he won with an overwhelming 63 million votes, more than in the 2002 elections. He even won back 2.5 million votes that had gone to the right wing in the first round.

What role did the PSOL and other left forces that stood against the PT play?

I believe the PSOL has failed, and without even offering a clear alternative. Their main economic demand was to cut interest rates. Incredibly, Heloisa Helena, the candidate of the PSOL, criticised Lula for not having been firm enough in defending "Brazilian interests" when the Morales government in Bolivia carried out a partial nationalisation of hydrocarbons. In the second round Heloisa called on her supporters not to vote for Lula, but didn't utter a word against the candidate of the right wing.

The sectarian mistake here is crystal clear, and this was even clearer in the case of those sections of the PSOL and PSTU who have tried to split the CUT. The CUT had 2600 affiliated trade union bodies. After an all-out campaign they managed to get 94 to disaffiliate, 4 industrial and 90 civil service unions. In the same period 900 new trade unions affiliated to the CUT, taking the total to 3500.

What are the perspectives for Lula's second term?

After the elections Lula came up with the proposal of forming a government with all the parties that are prepared to join. If during his first term we saw minor bourgeois parties - the "shadow of the bourgeoisie" - forming an alliance with the PT, here w e now have significant forces such as the PMDB, which was the main bourgeois opposition to the old military dictatorship, and the PP, which stems directly from the dictatorship and is led by one of the most corrupt politicians in Brazil and possibly the world. The Socialist Party (PSDB) and the PFL, linked to the International of Popular parties [to which the Spanish Aznar belongs, editor's note] stayed out.

Incredibly this position was supported by all the tendencies within the PT, including that of "Socialist Democracy". When this was voted on in the national council only two of us voted against, myself and a comrade who is active in the movement of the homeless people.

This says it all on how far all the tendencies within the PT, even the so-called lefts, have adapted to the apparatus.

In spite of appearances, it will be a weak government. As I said before, the labour movement is intact and impatience is growing. New struggles are on the agenda and even the PT will inevitably be affected by these mobilisations. At this year's PT congress we will make sure our voice is heard, the voice of the Marxist opposition, of internationalism and of class struggle.

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