Historic meeting of workers of Latin America – Cipla workers vote for 30-hour week

On Friday one thousand workers gathered in the Cipla plant in Brazil and decided to reduce the working week in the factory to 30 hours. The factory is run by the workers and they are doing it in a very efficient manner, an example to workers in all countries. Workers can run factories and therefore they could also run society. Alan Woods was among the comrades who addressed the meeting, getting a rapturous applause from the workers present.

AudienceThe big auditorium at the Cipla plant, which has a capacity of about 1000, was filled to capacity with people standing in the aisles and listening outside the doors, where the proceedings were transmitted by a loudspeaker system. The mood of the workers was ebullient and cheerful, almost like a carnival, but without samba bands.

The hall was decorated with posters with revolutionary and class struggle slogans. The entire workforce of the plant had come (over 800 workers) to vote on a historic proposal to cut the working week to 30 hours. At a time when the average Brazilian worker is toiling for 44 hours a week, this was a bold and revolutionary step to take.

Factory closed, factory occupied and nationalised, the workers council, FLASCO
Banner saying "Factory closed, factory
occupied and nationalised, the workers
council, FLASCO"

In addition to the Cipla workers, there were a large number of delegates from all over Brazil and from other countries in Latin America and further afield, who had come to attend the Pan American Conference in Defence of Employment, Rights, Agrarian Reform and Industry.

There were a total of 685 accredited delegates and a large number of visitors. Many of them had travelled long distances, some travelling for 24 hours on buses, and some, from the North East of Brazil, enduring a 70-hour long journey to get to the Conference. Among the foreign delegates and visitors were workers and activists from Argentina, Bolivia (the leaders of the Mineworkers), Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Spain, Austria, Britain and Italy.

Serge Goulart
Serge Goulart

The first part of the proceedings was opened by Serge Goulart, the most prominent leader of the Cipla workers and the occupied factories movement. [In Latin America the workers prefer to refer to them as “recuperated factories”] In an impassioned speech, Serge made a convincing appeal for the approval of the 30-hour week. Then, in the democratic traditions of Cipla, he asked anyone who had doubts or an alternative proposal to come forward.

Three workers spoke, expressing their reservations, but no alternative proposal was presented and comrade Serge replied to the objections point by point. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour – with only two votes against and one abstention. The decision was greeted with an explosion of joy by the assembled workers. This now means that the Cipla workers will work a six-hour five-day week, with no loss of pay. Serge Goulart appealed to everyone present to let all other workers know of this historic decision. It was an inspiring start to the Conference.

The Conference opens

The Conference proper was opened by comrade Carlos Castro from the Unified Council of CIPLA and Interfibra workers. The General Secretary of Santa Catarina CUT delivered a message of greeting and also spoke in support of the 30-hour week. Also on the platform was the national secretary of the CUT chemical workers’ union, who spoke of the struggle of the working class on a world scale. Before the international delegates were introduced, revolutionary workers’ songs were sung with obvious enthusiasm.

Apart from delegates from occupied factories in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela (Inveval, Gotcha and Sideroca), there was a representative of the Palestinians and an unexpected additional speaker – a young local bishop, Father Pucio, who surprised more than one by his radical pro-worker speech and ferocious denunciation of capitalism.

Roberto Chavez, the general secretary of the militant Bolivian Mineworkers’ union (FSTMB) made the following speech:

“Comrades, I bring greetings from the miners and wage-labourers of Bolivia. This meeting today marks an historic turning point for the working class in Latin America. All of us who are present at this Pan-American Conference have witnessed the revolutionary decision of the workers of Cipla to cut the working day to six hours. This must be reported in all the other factories and villages in the interest of the working class. And not only in Brazil, but throughout Latin America.

“We Bolivian miners are fighting to get privatised mines returned to the hands of the workers. There are already four recuperated mines in our country. This must be extended to all Latin America. In Bolivia there were big movements of the masses after 2003, when we overthrew the right-wing government of the oligarchs. Now we have a government that has been elected by the majority of the people, including our comrades, the indigenous Bolivians.

Roberto Chavez
Roberto Chavez

“This government is committed to structural change. This means carrying out the agenda of October 2003, that is, the taking over without any compensation of all oil, gas and mineral wealth and the nationalisation of all private mines. The people support these demands, which are bitterly opposed by big business and the oligarchy. The Bolivian revolution, which began in 2003, must be completed in 2007.

“The miners have been brutally attacked. In Huanuni, the co-operative miners, manipulated by the capitalists, attempted to seize two mines by force. The miners defended themselves and a bloody conflict followed in which five comrades were killed. But we think it was worth this sacrifice to save the mines.

“After the conflict we persuaded many of the workers in the co-operatives to join us in running the mine, which now has a workforce of 5,000. We must find a solution to this problem and the only way out is the nationalisation of the mines under workers’ control. That is the only way to guarantee the jobs and security of the workers.”

After this inspiring speech, Roberto Chavez presented Serge Goulart with a shield with the Bolivian Miners’ Union motto inscribed on it.

Father Dulce
Father Pucio

The next speaker was a surprise. Father Pucio, a young priest who is soon to become a bishop, introduced himself as a spokesman of the Episcopate. He appeared before the workers dressed, not in a cassock, but in the yellow t-shirt of the Occupied Factories Movement. He then proceeded to deliver one of the most militant speeches of the day.

“What a joy it is for me to be present at this historic meeting,” he said. “The reduction of the working day is the only way in which working men and women can live a full life and develop themselves, raising their cultural and educational level.”

Then, bible in hand, he proceeded to lambaste the bosses. Quoting with evident relish from a very ferocious passage from the Epistle of Saint James, he denounced the rich and practically sent all those who refused to accept the 30-hour week to the burning fires of hell.

“This is a big responsibility for all of us to achieve a complete change in the system of work. Our globalised system has changed everything. It is the cause of much misery when conditions exist for a life of plenty for all. May the spirit of God fill you all with the determination to achieve all the demands of the workers. AMEN!!”

The platform speakers on day two
The platform speakers on day two

The audience showed their appreciation of this most unusual sermon with enthusiastic applause, after which the bishop-to-be left the platform to pursue his mission in other places. It is only to be hoped that his speech will not harm his future appointment when the Episcopate gets to hear of it.

Among other speakers were comrade Lluis Perarnau from the UGT of Barcelona, Paolo Brini of the Italian Metalworkers’ Federation of the CGIL, Emanuel Tomaselli of the editorial board of Der Funke in Austria, a speaker from the PLO, and Alan Woods, whose speech received a particularly enthusiastic reception, and was frequently interrupted with applause.

He said:

“Comrades and Friends, in the name of the International Marxist Tendency, I bring you greetings from workers, trade unionists and revolutionary youth in more than 30 countries in five continents.

“I see before me the real face of the working class: the face of free men and women fighting for their rights. Society is divided into two hostile classes: those who have everything and produce nothing, and those who have nothing and produce everything (applause and cheers).

“Let me ask you a question. How many rich people are there in Brazil? How many rich people are there in Bolivia? You do not know and neither do I. But I do know that they are only a tiny handful. We are many and they are few! That is our strength! (applause)

Alan Woods
Alan Woods

“But there is another question. How does it come about that so few people can dominate so many? It cannot be through force of arms. We know that the state is an instrument of oppression of one class over another. But open repression is a reserve weapon that is rarely used. The method of domination is a different one.

“For generations the ruling class has persuaded the workers that they cannot run industry and society. Most workers are completely convinced of this. They say: ‘how can we run the factory or society when we do not have the necessary knowledge?’

“This problem is made worse by the fact that many of those who are supposed to be the leaders of the working class constantly repeat the same idea: ‘Be careful! We cannot do this and we cannot do that!’

“Comrades, I have a message for you: YES WE CAN! (Cheers and applause)

“Long ago a great French revolutionary said: ‘They only seem so mighty in our eyes, because we kneel before them. Let us rise!’ (Cheers)

“Let us rise! The people of Venezuela have risen. The workers of Bolivia have risen. And the workers here in Cipla have risen. That is the answer to all the reformists and sceptics. (applause)

“Comrades and friends, I have seen many factories in many countries. But I have never seen a factory so well maintained, so spotlessly clean, so disciplined as this (applause). The workers have run this factory well, and have made it a success. That is the answer to those who say the workers cannot run industry! And I ask you one question: if the working class can run this factory, why cannot the working class administer the whole of society? (Cheers and applause)

Lluis Perernau
Lluis Perarnau

“I was going to quote from the Bible, but the comrade Bishop beat me to it (laughter). So instead, I will quote from an even older book. I will quote from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said: ‘Man begins to philosophise when the needs of life are provided. Consequently, mathematics and astronomy were discovered in Egypt, because the Egyptian priests did not have to work.’

“Here you have it – historical materialism 2,400 years before Marx! Do you want to know the answer to the question I asked at the beginning? How does it happen that a small minority can dominate the overwhelming majority of society? It is because they possess a monopoly of culture – of art, science and government. That is the real secret of class society.

“That is why the decision taken here this morning has such a revolutionary significance. Only by reducing the working day is it possible for the working class to have the time necessary to acquire the culture and skills necessary to administer society.

“Let me quote one incident that you may not know regarding Lenin. In 1919, the workers of Bavaria staged an insurrection and set up a soviet republic that lasted only a short time. As soon as Lenin found out about this, he immediately sent a telegram to the Bavarian Soviet Republic. What did he write in this telegram? There was no revolutionary rhetoric, no flowery phrases, only a single sentence: Carry out immediately the 40 hour week, for without that you are lost.”

“That is the tremendous importance of a reduction of working hours. That is why the decision of the Cipla workers is so important. But I would just like to issue a word of warning. All history shows that it is not possible to build an island of socialism in a sea of capitalism. In order to succeed, it is vital that the workers of Cipla get out of the factory and go to every other workplace, office, village and school, explaining what you have done and asking for support – not just in Joinville and Santa Catarina but in the whole of Brazil and beyond.

Audience“I agree that a great responsibility weighs on your shoulders. This conference can indeed be a historic turning point if it leads on to action. We must not simply go home after the conference ends and continue as before. This conference must be the beginning of a campaign, nationally and internationally, in favour of the occupied factories, of workers’ control, but also for the nationalisation of the land, the banks and big industries as the only way to solve the fundamental problems of the working class.” (enthusiastic applause)

At the end of the Friday session, members of the Human Rights Organization (Maria da Graca Braz) presented an award to the Occupied Factories Movement, which was accepted by Serge Goulart. At the end of her speech, the representative of the Human Rights Organization shouted: “Long live the struggle of the workers of all the world!” The delegates came to their feet and shouted VIVA!!

Joinville, Friday, December 8, 2006


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