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Brazil: "Rio, a showcase for the world"
Contradictions between prosperous Brazil and precarious conditions bring potential for struggle
Mariana Cristina, LSR (CWI in Brazil), Rio de Janeiro
After the massive mobilisations that took place all over Brazil in June, the struggles did not cease.
There were land occupations in the countryside and the student and youth mobilisations and struggles in the cities for free transport.
Significantly the unions convened, in July and August, two unified national actions of 24 hours including stoppages, strikes and the blocking of major highways.
Workers have also carried out all-out strikes over wages and working conditions. The main strikes were among postal workers, the banks at national level, education professionals in several states, as well as many other sectors.
Right now, the oil workers, are fighting against the privatisation of the Libras oil field. They are engaged in the most important national strike in this sector since the Cardoso government sent the army to repress the workers' occupations of the refineries in the great strike of 1995.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro education workers have been on strike for more than two months. They have been confronting the governor and the mayor of the city with massive demonstrations and have tremendous popular support.
It is the biggest strike in the education sector in the last 20 years. More than 80% of the sector is paralysed.
In state schools, the main demands include the right of teachers to work in only one school, a reduction in the number of students per class, a wage increase of 19%, the guarantee of one-third of the workload being allocated for extra-curricular activities, the election of directors and the end of a form of payment by results.
In this struggle, education workers who are members of LSR (CWI in Brazil) have initiated and led the union activists' organisation, Luta Educadora.
This won a majority in the workers' assemblies against the proposal to end the strike advocated by the board of the union on numerous occasions.
Although the education union SEPE, is led by the left (sections of the PSOL and PSTU parties), there is a strong bureaucracy within it.
These are the same people and political groups who have run the organisation for 20 years, and are in reality very detached from the rank and file.
Councillors of the city of Rio approved a career development plan that does not correspond to the interests of education professionals.
This was despite thousands of people protesting against it outside of the council offices. The police, in trying to disperse the protesters and ensure that the session of the council chamber was not interrupted, used a constant and abundant flood of tear gas.
But within minutes of the effects of the gas decreasing, the workers would return and continue to resist.
The struggle of the teachers caught the ruling class by surprise. Since the strike began, the participation and the support among the general population has increased massively.
Recent surveys indicated that 86% of the population agree with the strike in education. Actions have become more frequent and even more massive, bringing more than 20,000 people onto the streets every week - reaching 50,000 on 7 October.
Police repression, aimed at criminalising protesters and dispersing the struggle, has only intensified the solidarity and strength of the movement.
On 15 October, officially 'teachers' day', over 100,000 people - youth and different sections of workers - were united in defence of education, taking over Rio Branco Avenue from start to end.
The pressure of the strike and the popular support has pushed the judiciary to take a stand against the cuts in the teachers' wages.
The court also overturned the revocation of the license of the union SEPE, initiated by the government.
The protest on 15 October, was once again confronted with police repression in the centre of Rio de Janeiro.
The police dismantled the camp which had been permanently in front of the City Council for weeks.
Around 200 people were arrested, chosen at random to serve as an example. They were illegally taken to neighbourhoods distant from the centre and held in different locations, making access to lawyers more difficult.
All were framed through a newly-created law to combat organised crime. The new law, passed in September in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, toughens punishment for protesters and provides much higher penalties for 'crimes' such as the use of masks in street protests.
Bruno Liberato, a member of the Estudante em Construção - an organisation built by youth activists from LSR - was arrested on that day and only released 24 hours later.
Search warrants and arrests were issued against activists. Several computers were seized from the houses of activists.
This criminalisation of social movements and of poverty is an old policy pursued by the Governor, Sergio Cabral.
We also saw this in the case of an assistant bricklayer, Amarildo, tortured and murdered by 13 policemen in a so-called Pacification Police Unit in the favela of Rocinha.
Cabral was one of the governors elected with the highest votes in the country in the last election (he was re-elected with 66% of the vote), but now he is the governor with the lowest approval rating - only 12%.
He has been exposed, by favouring big businesses and entrepreneurs such as Eike Batista; by his abuses of power such as the use of a public helicopter to transport his family.
He is also known for violent and authoritarian excesses and the scrapping of public education and health.
All these attacks on the population made by the Cabral government also served as a trigger for the June struggles.
These extended into July, August and up until now. He has been pushed up against the wall and forced to reverse some of his previous policies.
The City Council building of Rio was occupied for weeks by protesters to demand the actual functioning of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on public transport.
Demonstrations demanding the ousting of Cabral were organised on a daily basis, including 'Occupy Cabral' - an encampment outside his house.
The political crisis facing the Cabral government and the military police is worsening, especially after the increased crackdown on protesters.
The governor's response to the struggles has been repression in order to intimidate the youth into not organising.
Heavy police weaponry, hundreds of young people being tried for "conspiracy", persecution and sequestration of leaders - adds up to a clear stance of criminalising social movements.
Prospects for struggle
The struggles that took place during the Confederations Cup of 2013, and the days of struggle initiated in June, were an anticipation of what will occur during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
These mega-events will accentuate the contradictions between the illusions of a "great and prosperous Brazil" and the reality of the precarious quality of life of the working class and the poor.
This contradiction brings the potential for further struggles. The repression of demonstrations during the World Cup is likely to be even greater.
What we are seeing today in Rio de Janeiro will be extended to the whole country in the next period.
In The Socialist 30 October 2013:
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