Elements of the Brazilian conjuncture after the general strike

Foto: Ricardo Stuckert

The general strike convened for April 28th was a historical action of the Brazilian working class. Our evaluation is initial, a first reading, but it shows the success of this measure of force against Temer government and his adjustment plan. It was a forceful pronouncement of the Brazilian working class, in a national dimension, where the labor unions speak of about 40 million workers who have joined the strike. The government has opted for polarization to approve the reforms and the strike puts the escalation of resistance as a reality. One hundred years after the first general strike in the country’s history, the workers again have shown their strength. A general strike in the fifth largest country in the world, a giant nation that is part of the ten most important economies of the planet, impacting the continent as a whole. The fight will follow. So, we present here the first conclusions about the process.

1. The April 28th has configured as a historic day.

With a national reaching, demonstrations have occurred in hundreds of cities, including all capitals, federal district, and practically all cities with over 100,000 inhabitants. Globo [biggest Brazilian TV network] mentioned acts in 241 cities. It is possible to compare with the great general strike of 48 hours of the March 14th/15th of 1989. The specificity of this general strike is that there was no centralized direction, neither the CUT [Workers Unique Union] nor the PT [Workers Party] were the reference as they were in 1989. Without a clear leadership and an alternative program, it´s mark was the rejection of neoliberal measures. Another specificity is that it was a centralized action, although it did not have a single direction, whose great impact was also a product of instantaneous media being able to connect actions and information throughout the country, multiplying the number of news about the strike action. The strike was a victory of the popular sectors. The narrative of the reforms as withdrawal of rights became popular, especially the pension reform. It’s got more difficult to advance there, which does not mean that the government does not achieve a victory through a National Congress quite refractory to popular outcry. Although this has made it difficult, the strike does not prevent the adjustment from being carried out and a major attack is consolidated, both with the approval of the labor reforms (and the outsourcing law that has already been sanctioned) and with the social security reform, in which only the change of the minimum age will already be a major attack. The change in the correlation of forces is still incipient, and the bourgeoisie’s motto is “to proceed”, even with the demonstration of class forces.

2. A strike with a national character.

The protagonism was for the transport sectors (road, subway, rail and port); Great strength also in teachers, banks and postoffice workers, metallurgical and chemical (including petroleum). There were interruptions of roads and highways of the popular sectors (MTST and MST) and youth. Protagonism in several cities of peripheral sectors and organizations in the neighborhoods.

3. Mainstream media had to show the strike

It was a mass strike, although the vast majority of the people did not protest. But the support was real. It was a mass strike, although the vast majority of the people did not protest. But the support was real. Unemployment, the informal workers, the low level of unionization (in fact the weakness of unions), all this hinders a more massive and combined action on the streets. But major support for the strike was clear. The international media showed the importance of the strike and even the coverage of Rede Globo had to yield to the force of the demonstration, especially in the edition of the Jornal Nacional [Most watched TV journal of Brazil]. Despite their natural tendency to disqualify the action of workers, they had to recognize paralysis as a fact. The speech of hiding the general strike changed to say that the picketing in transportation were the engine and not the outrage of millions. Folha de São Paulo, Estadão and O Globo [Bigs right-wing newspapers] affirmed that it was a “corporate strike” and asked the government for more “Thatcher” measures because there was no “Plan B”.

On social networks, also clear signs that the 28A was victorious. The previous day, a Veja [major right-wing magazine] poll gave 96% support to the strike with almost 800,000 votes. Fábio Malini’s analysis shows a devastating defeat of Temer on Twitter. From 0h to 16h he collected terms such as “strike”, “brasilinstrike”, “generalstrike”, “thestrikehasfailed” and “I’mgonnawork”. There were 685 thousand tweets and the overwhelming pro-strike majority.

4. In terms of repression, the action was uneven

In the cities where the paralysis was most striking, the repression of police and employers was defeated. It was the case of SP, where the mark was the paralysis of the city, with subway and buses stopped, as well as in Porto Alegre, BH, and Recife. Where transport workers’ adherence did not occur, or occurred very partially, there was a greater radicalization and repression had a greater impact, as in the case of the Rio de Janeiro acts in the afternoon, where there were police abuses and excessive repression against all protesters.

But repression did not occur only in these cases. In some cities repression was demonstrative of the class character of the state and the regime’s policy of containing the movement. The most serious was against the dockers of the of Santos. Also in Goiânia, where young people were cowardly beaten, a student is hospitalized in the ICU, still at risk of life. A militant of MES and Juntos had his arm broken by the violent police action of Sao Paulo, during the blockade of roads in the West Zone of the city, organized by our militancy of the University of São Paulo. PSOL deputy Glauber Braga was shot by rubber bullets when he participated in the Rio Act. It also has occurred prisons that need to be denounced.

5. Unity against the reforms and against Temer was an important victory, amidst a hard arm wrestling.

This winning action was the result of a combination of factors. The most important was the unity of different social sectors, with a greater amplitude than in recent manifestations. The unit built on March 8, March 15 and partial demonstrations, gained new and decisive adhesions. As we mentioned in the balance sheet of the 15th: “The March 15th marked that the agenda of the fight against pension reform has attraction to be the engine of a real general strike.”[goo.gl/YRMq3t]. The enlargement can be measured with the entrance of an entire sector of the judiciary, with the strenght that the churches have put, with the adhesion of diverse figures. The fight against reform was popularized and the government got its speech on the defensive. This pressured the unions Bureaucrats, which were squeezed between the base pressure and their own corporate struggle. The anti-union measures of the government – including its offensive against the union tax – forced them to mark a joint action. The 28th was called by CUT, FS, UGT, CTB, New Central, CSP Conlutas, Intersindical, as well as popular movements such as MTST, MST and others…

 

6. It was the first coordinate action of the class since the Journey of June/2013

The 28A showed levels of radicalism, democratic appeal and great spontaneity. The “general strike” convened for July 11, 2013, had a role of decompressing, and therefore deactivating the effect of mass action, and was not a coherent plan of action to keep fighting on the streets and workplaces.

In the case of the present general strike, the elements of June appear in street demonstrations, in the difficulty of control by the directions of the mass movement. Thousands of activists joined in, such as young people who joined the political struggle after June, expanding resistance to the austerity plan. A mass movement that moves, without a clear direction, with a complex dispute about the next steps. A giant with no direction. Although it was not on the official call for demonstrations, the theme of revolt against “politicians”, impunity and corruption was latent in popular sympathy for the strike. These elements are the continuation of June/2013, now own class methods, but still far from having a centralized political alternative that can interfere and say what steps follow. There are clearly fragmented directions that work, but none that is imposed or that has the capacity to address this gap. Thus, the old apparatuses in crisis continue big, although they do not already command. And from the political point of view, as we shall see, Lula is still the main reference of the poor and hardworking people, but he has no more capacity to lead large sections of the middle class nor the more combative sectors of the working class. Its reference to the poorer portions of the population is in the logic of the lesser evil. And it continues as hope for parcels of the large union bureaucracy that is being attacked by neoliberal measures.

The weakness of the PSOL (and the passive policy of a part of its leadership), which we will address shortly, is also a limit of the political situation. The dispute for the direction is very contradictory. The main encouraging directions of the movement that supported June 2013 have difficulty constructing a common narrative and still less a common policy to forge an alternative. Fortunately, playing in favor, we have the June latency that also acts for a call to democracy to discuss and decide actions. The paralysis of transport in Porto Alegre would not be explained, for example, were it not for the process opened in June that culminated in the great road strike of 2014. In other cities we should have many examples of the same type.

7. The government with more difficulties

Minister Serraglio’s statement of minimizing the demonstration, classifying it as a prank fell into ridicule. Temer was more careful in his note. The government has difficulty presenting a clearer line to combat the mass movement. The victory in the approval of the labor reform in the Chamber of Deputies guaranteed the government a relative breath, but with a diminishing margin. As it was a votation that required a simple majority, 296 votes against 177, ignited a yellow signal in relation to the 308 votes needed for approval of the pension reform, that is going to need an qualified majority. Even the passage of Senate labor reform will be a complicated operation for Temer.

On the economic front, unemployment has surpassed the 14 million barrier and in political terms, after Odebrecht’s delation, parliament is becoming more and more demoralized and Temer himself reaches the bottom in terms of statistics, with 4% of popular approval . But the bourgeoisie continues with its holy alliance, albeit with the threat of fissures, to bring the adjustment forward.

 

8. PSOL and its leaders have played an important role in syndicates where they are present, and have promoted coordinated actions.

Despite the central role of the unions bureaucracy, it can not minimize the power of the radical-left in some pickets and paralyzes. The case of Porto Alegre and the São Paulo subways was the most emblematic.

MES had an important stake in the pickets, along with other leftist sectors, who supported this method. In Rio Grande do Sul, PSOL acted as a party. Our leaders have been ensuring action in the garages, not only from the outside but disputing and intervening on the vanguard of the category. An important part of the city’s road leaders are militants or friends of the party and MES. The Party also acts in the subway union and guaranteed the participation of its militants in the pickets of the metropolitan region and Pelotas. The Health union put its forces to convene in the city, with sound car and local media. Unions such as the Federal Court have played a decisive role in articulating with the middle sectors of the Labor Court. PSOL distributed almost 200,000 pamphlets and its public figures, Luciana Genro, Pedro Ruas, the city councilmen, were in demonstrations and pickets.

Roberto Robaina was in the front line of the road pickets and Fernanda Melchionna, building the strike between the municipalities, Alex was in the picket of the South Zone of the city. Fernanda Miranda and Guto Lopes, councilmen, acted in Pelotas and Viamão, respectively. Juntos! took more than 60 activists to participate in the activities with the workers.

Here we achieve unity with the CTB and the bureaucratic direction of the syndicate of the buses (FS), without losing political independence, so much so that they are the PSOL militants who will be ahead of next week’s elections, where new directions will be elected for the DCE[Central Directory of Students] of UFRGS and the metalworkers’ union of Caxias, both disputes between PCdoB and PSOL. As a synthesis, we can say that in Rio Grande do Sul, PSOL acted as an operator that unified the various actions of its militancy and that this militancy was at the forefront of the strike. We can say with no doubt that without PSOL the general strike would not have been guaranteed in Porto Alegre, because our militants were decisive in the stoppage of trains and buses. We do not act in isolation, but we were decisive and the party flag appeared openly.

We also tried to act in the same way in São Paulo, where we threw all our forces for the strike to triumph, with mass collages, mandate pamphlets, permanent presence of Sâmia[our city-councilwoman in São Paulo], and a task force to support the subway workers in their difficult task stopping the lines.

In São Paulo our militancy made an intense agitation. But MES does not run the party in SP. The PSOL role, therefore, was not to be the operator of the strike, unifying its militancy and initiatives in this direction. It was an action of each individual current, and the current that still has majority power in the PSOL of São Paulo did not have this line as central. In the case of São Paulo we can say that more important was our unified action with the PSTU and other currents that act in the subway of SP, which was determinant for the force of the stoppage. Here neither the PT [Workers Party] nor the CUT guaranteed anything. So, it was a continuity of March 15 and a clear sign of building a new direction.

From the point of view of our current, we were at the pickets of the Rio-Niterói Bridge, in the West Zone in São Paulo, in several cities across the country, where this radicalized method served to support the vast majority of workers who could not join the strike by employer harassment. As a collective method, pickets open an important discussion, via the radio, social networks, and other forms of communication about the direction of movement.

Throughout the country the MES militancy put itself in full force by the strike. Our parliamentarians, our union and political leaders, the militants of Juntos!, Emancipa, Juntas! and all our fronts. We have made a tough confrontation throughout the country and we are proud to be an active part of every city where MES operates.

In this example, we want to affirm the need of disputing the political leadership of the movement and even inside PSOL, to dispute the profile of the Party as a combat and ruling party. The reality of PSOL is uneven around the country. We claim the role of PSOL in Rio Grande do Sul where we act unified as a party. Where PSOL acted with force gained prominence. Beyond Rio Grande do Sul, this became clear in regions such as Natal, where Sintest and Sandro’s mandate were a leading part of the process; In Recife, where through the SINPOL – police union – the Party was conducting the strike commands with the leadership of Leandro Recife and police militants, and with the Party flags in Santa Catarina in the strike activities.

In Rio de Janeiro, it is worth mentioning the actions of our militants and of David Miranda [city-councilman], who was at the bridge picket, and the fact that Glauber and Flávio[deputies] were hit during the act, which was also a political fact. But in the face of the magnitude of the movement, in Rio de Janeiro, the Party lacks a posture to intervene directly to contest the direction of the mass movement and discuss these tasks with the vanguard. Many sectors of the Party as already mentioned do this, ahead of their organizations and movements, but what we are saying concerns the directions of the PSOL as such. At the national level, the insufficiency of the party for not having a general orientation is clear in the moments where the polarization transcends the parliamentary fight and gains force in the streets. The party did not even make a national pamphlet calling the strike. In social networks we lost to the PSTU in the disclosure of the movement. The presidency of the party did not articulate a unified party action nor did it encourage the strike in any city or sector. The Lauro Campos Foundation did not support this historical fact. In order to not give many examples of what was not done, it is enough to mention that the national insertions of the party on the TV in the days prior to the general strike (On 4/27th the party had an insertion), the general strike was not called. This passivity was a mark of part of PSOL’s leadership.

 

9. Lulism is still the main reference of what is generically identified as “left”

Lava Jato” Operation undressed the disaster of class conciliation policy, but faced with the lack of alternatives and the brutal attacks of Temer, Lula follows with force, as shown in the DataFolha poll of 30/4. His electoral power remains, as great limit of the current conjuncture. This shows the limits of a situation that can not put on the agenda a new idea that surpasses reformism and the logic of the lesser evil. Where the PSOL is more passive the worse it gets.

But the mobilization helps the categories to be encouraged to take steps in the struggle of resistance. This will generate new and greater contradictions. It is clear that there will be a fierce dispute of direction. The lack of a policy of PSOL to show its own face beyond the elections and still weak insertion of the party is one of the major difficulties of the conjuncture.

The CUT and the PT with Lula ahead will seek a negotiation strategy for a major national agreement. The Força Sindical also negotiates in a line of “union mediation” for a weaker pension reform.

The idea that the old politics is dying has never been so true, but the new one has not yet been born. This makes the old politic’s death slower.

 

10. PSOL must fight to have its own face in the conjuncture

That is the task of the DN[National Directory] meeting on 6th and 7th. The Party needs to be present as such, placing its strength, leadership and prestige not only in denouncing repression or voting in Brasilia, but also in the service of mobilization to defeat the overall adjustment, and at the same time discuss an alternative emergency plan. It is necessary to intensify the demarcation with the Lulism, that will use the political capital that still has to save itself. The party must be in the struggles, support them, articulate them, take their flags, put their parliamentarians to the service. And the party must have an alternative global policy. In this policy, in addition to economic measures such as the defense of taxation on big fortunes, PSOL can not hesitate to support Lava Jato, in the terms that Luciana Genro has written insistently. The force that keeps her name in opinion polls is indicative of the struggle for a new policy, which PSOL must develop.

 

11.  It is necessary to strengthen our associative links, the presence in the work places and the democracy to decide the direction of the movement

We must take advantage of the “breach” that unity among unions enables us to exert the necessary extension of the movement: joining categories, neighborhood associations to discuss the balance of the success of day 28 and the new measures. Demanding democracy in the workplace and a plan of struggle to follow. There is a need for a new general strike, bigger, deeper and more forceful, to fight against the reforms.

We must strive to unite the agenda of reform – to follow and broaden the United Front against wage arrears, in defense of employment and to give voice to the fight against corruption. This is qualitative, in youth and in the popular movement. Support the struggle of poor neighborhoods and favelas, increasingly explosive.

 

12. Agitate “Get out Temer and the National Congress”

We must move forward in the agitation of the overthrow of the government as a strategic necessity and the overcoming of the Lava-Jato regime by a Popular Constituent Assembly that discusses the directions of Brazil. An emergency program that has economic measures such as the tax on large fortunes, dividend taxes, public debt audits, defense of jobs, defense of wages and valuation of public servants, as well as the fight against Genocide of black youth on the periphery.

Women also gained power in the struggle, uniting the demands of gender to the general struggles of the working class. Our spokeswomen have been prominent in this strike, and it tends to gain more and more power, as well as the fight against racism, LGBTophobia and the demands of youth in general.

In the historical sense, the general strike was a great school for the fight. The militants are forging, in the heat of the pickets, advancing in the structures of the class; Our public figures are postulating as “tribunes of the people”. We must follow because great battles are to come.

National Secretariat of the MES, May 1, 2017.

 

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