Transport fare increases reversed but the struggle for lasting social change must continue
An estimated two million people in 100 cities took to the streets of Brazil in a gigantic protest movement on 20 June.
This was preceded and followed by other huge demos. In the face of such unrest the authorities quickly rescinded an increase in transport fares which had initially triggered the protests.
But appetite comes with eating and the movement has continued, despite President Dilma Rousseff’s vague promise of social reform.
Many protesters are demanding immediate action from the ‘Workers Party’ (PT) government on growing inequality, the rising cost of living, poor public services, government corruption and more; instead of the government lavishing millions of reales on the forthcoming football World Cup and Olympics.
CWI in Brazil: Liberdade Socialismo e Revolução (Liberty, Socialism and Revolution)
Andre Ferrari of Liberdade Socialismo e Revolução (LSR, CWI Brazil), which has been participating in the protests from the outset, reports on the developing struggles and explains what socialist programme is needed to take the movement forward.
Following the tsunami of mass struggles in recent days, the state government of Sao Paulo, the prefects of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two largest cities in Brazil, along with dozens of state capitals and cities throughout the country, have decided to reduce transport fares.
The reduction in fares in so many cities represents the most significant victory for the mass struggle after suffering almost 20 years of a neoliberal offensive by the ruling class against the workers and the people.
Intransigent, authoritarian and repressive state governments have been compelled to do an about-turn in the face of weeks of intense mass mobilisations, which have swept through the entire country.
On 17 June more than 300,000 people took to the streets in various cities. Almost 200,000 marched in Sao Paulo and Rio. In Brasilia, the Congress was occupied, as was the city hall in Sao Paulo.
In Sao Paulo protests paralysed the main highways and marched to Ponte Estaiada, a monument to rich property speculators.
Following brutal police repression the preceding week, which triggered even bigger protests, on 17 June the state governor decided against further repression.
In Rio de Janeiro, however, there was strong repression and numerous arrests. Among them was a member of LSR.
The comrade was charged with being a ‘member of an organised criminal gang’ and only released on payment of a fine.
In Belo Horizonte (in the state of Minas Gerais), where a football match for the Copa das Confereacoes was taking place in a new modern stadium, more people protested outside the venue than watched the game inside.
A further demonstration in Sao Paulo called the following day, on 18 June, was attended by 80,000 people, which completely took over Praca da Sé Square in the city centre.
At the same time, protests took place in Avenida Paulista, where disorganised attempts were made to take over the city hall and also the office of the city Prefect.
In Rio de Janeiro, on the previous day, the offices of the state Legislative Assembly were taken over for hours by protesters in such a way that it was clearly a genuine popular rebellion.
Throughout the following day, on 19 June, radicalised mass protests took place. Motorways were blocked and closed, bus stations were blockaded and large street marches were held by the MSTS (Movement of Workers Without Roofs), with the active participation of comrades from the LSR, in the outskirts of Sao Paulo.
There were indications that the struggle was radicalising and beginning to explode in the poor areas around the city, involving workers, which put added pressure on the government.
Following the calling of new unified protests, on a national level, for 20 June, the governing authorities in Sao Paulo and Rio decided to announce a reduction in fares.
The scale of the protests caused major debates and divisions in the governing parties. An emergency meeting was organised involving Lula (Brazil’s ex-President, who has no official position), President Dilma Rousseff and the PT Prefect of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad. During this meeting, the Prefectura was surrounded by protesters.
The following morning, Haddad declared that a reduction in transport tariffs would be a ‘populist’ position to adopt.
His argument however did not last long. At a football match between Mexico and Brazil, in Fortaleza, where the stadium was surrounded by protesters, a press conference was organised by Haddad and the governor of Sao Paulo, Alkmin, (a member of the right-wing PSDB which is in opposition to the federal government). Haddad and Alkmin announced that a reduction in fares would be implemented.
With the transformation of the PT (Workers Party) into a capitalist party and as the trade union confederation, CUT, has become a transmission belt for the federal government, there is a strong anti-party sentiment among wide layers of the protest movement.
In this situation, sections of the organised right-wing have whipped up a strong anti-party mood directed against the left-wing political parties present on the protests.
The anti-party mood has sometimes translated into physical attacks against those who carried left-wing party banners and flags.
This has often arisen following the actions of right-wing provocateurs, including police infiltrators.
Given the dimension of this mass movement, all political forces in the country, including the federal government representatives and representatives of the employers, have tried, cynically, to take up the idealism of youth on these mobilisations.
In reality, the Brazilian capitalist class has entered the struggle and is challenging for the leadership of the movement, reflected in some of the demands of the movement.
In this situation, the left parties (PSoL and its internal currents, the PSTU and PCB); the social movements with a working class orientation, like the MTST and Terra Livre (which the LSR actively collaborates with); various trade union fronts, such as CSP-Conlutas and Intersindical, and others, including anarchist groupings, are now beginning to join the protest movement.
This is to defend the right of the left parties to raise their banners on the protests and is aimed at preventing the right-wing gaining an influence in the movement.
Despite the contradictory elements in the political consciousness of those in this movement, it has been able to score a victory and force a reduction in the transport charges.
The question of the movement continuing is posed. But there is not agreement between the combative social movements and the Left on this question.
The LSR is calling for organised assemblies and forums of the movement to work out demands and a programme to deepen the gains already won in relation to public transport costs.
The governments that have announced a reduction in transport costs are also announcing further cuts in social programmes.
The movement should demand that the money is taken from the accounts of the private companies that operate the transport system and not from other social programmes.
Even with a reduction in transport costs the high cost of travel is a heavy burden for workers and students.
The demand for free transport was an old demand of the PT which the party abandoned as it swung to the right.
This demand should be taken up again. It should also be linked with the demand for the municipalisation and nationalisation of the transport system.
The resources to guarantee this system and improve its quality should be taken from suspending the payment of debts by the state and local councils to the federal government, which are currently used to make easy profits by the banks and speculators.
To take up the struggle for a public transport system that is free and good quality, the movement needs to link up with other struggles that have arisen and the demands of workers, the youth and the people to the cities.
Struggles such as the campaign against the crimes of the preparations around next year’s football World Cup, which include the driving of thousands of families from their homes.
Millions of reales are being spent on building new stadiums and other infrastructure projects for the World Cup, yet education and hospitals are inadequate and precarious.
There is also the need to take up the demand to defend democratic rights, for free expression and for the right to demonstrate.
The World Cup means, in reality, the declaration of a state of emergency. In practice, it means criminalising poverty and social protest movements.
Also, it is necessary to deepen mass actions to draw directly into this movement the working class and to take up the methods of struggle of the working class in these mobilisations.
This is the most effective way to prevent the right wing getting an influence in this movement.
The Brazilian ruling class is now preparing the conditions for a general strike. The question of a 24-hour general strike is to be posed sooner or later if the movement is to be maintained and strengthened.
There is an urgent need to build a united front of the social and left political movements in the short term.
Linked to this we need to fight for a national assembly of workers, youth and the communities, to discuss a programme for the continuation of the struggle and the action needed to fight for it.
A new page has opened of the class struggle in Brazil. After a long time we have come out of the desert of years of neoliberalism and downturn in social struggle. We must not lose this opportunity.
The ‘good times’ are over as Brazil’s economy falters
Brazil is experiencing signs of a capitalist crisis and the resurgence of struggles by workers and youth. 2012 had the highest number of strikes for 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 and 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 continued erosion in political support for the government, and the emergence of a new consciousness among broad layers of youth and workers.
The image of Brazil as a country moving towards the ‘first world’ is heavily undermined by a situation of very low growth (less than 1% in 2012) along with high inflation, which mainly affects the poor.
Brazil has been known as one of the ‘BRICs’ (’emerging countries’ Brazil, Russia, India, China). And it is true that during the recent economic boom there were real gains made by workers in Brazil.
For the first time, the poorest section of Brazil could buy computers and people generally saw a real rise in their living standards.
Unlike in Greece and Spain, workers could not say that they were worse off than their parents. Yet this was only one side of the story of Brazil’s ‘economic miracle’.
There was a massive export boom of commodities to China and cheap credit had helped fuel growth in consumption. However, these policies have proved to be fundamentally reckless.
During these years, Brazil’s industrial base was undermined because of cheap imports from China. The commodities boom had, in reality, reinforced Brazil’s traditional neocolonial status. Many families had gone into massive debt because of the cheap availability of credit.
Brazil was the sixth largest economy in the world but the 12th most unequal. The boom heightened this contradiction.
This was shown by the recent development of infrastructure projects where you had a process of ‘Chinafication’ as far as workers’ rights and conditions were concerned.
These conditions have resulted in a whole series of struggles breaking out throughout the country.
As the world economic crisis is becoming more acute and China’s economy is slowing down the government is implementing adjustment programmes.
Dilma Rousseff’s government is making major cuts in public spending. Throughout Brazil there have been demonstrations and occupations among public transport, construction and office workers and strikes among public sector workers in 2012 and continuing now.
There is a real challenge to overcome the fragmentation of these struggles. This is why the CWI is participating within Conlutas, the radical trade union federation and the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSoL).
PSoL is a broad-based left party inside which different political tendencies are organised. Like other new left formations its future is very much open as some of the tendencies are politically moving to the right while others are moving to the left.
The corruption cup and games
The football World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in Rio 2016 are serving as a pretext for counter-reforms 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 ‘modernisation’ and ‘social peace’.
Stadiums are privatised, corruption runs rampant in the construction projects of the Cup; super-exploitation of construction workers has caused accidents and deaths; contractors in collusion with state governments are profiting exorbitantly, while the rights of residents of big cities are trampled on.
However, on 14 June a national campaign began of popular movements for housing, the Urban Resistance Front, along with the World Cup Popular Committees, to denounce the World Cup ‘crimes’.
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