SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 170 July/August 2013

Brazil: a victory for mass struggle

Following a tsunami of mass struggles, the administrations in São 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. This is a significant victory for the mass struggle, after almost 20 years of neo-liberal offensive by the ruling class against workers and the people.

Intransigent, authoritarian and repressive state governments were compelled to do an about-turn in the face of two weeks of intense mass mobilisations, which 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 São Paulo and Rio. In the federal capital, Brasília, the parliament building was occupied.

The city hall was occupied in São Paulo, where 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, the state governor decided against further repression on the 17th.

In Rio de Janeiro, however, there was strong repression and numerous arrests, among them a member of Liberdade Socialismo e Revolução (LSR – CWI Brazil). The comrade was charged with being a ‘member of an organised criminal gang’ and released on payment of a fine. In Belo Horizonte (in the state of Minas Gerais), where a football match for the Confederations Cup was taking place in a new stadium, more people protested outside the venue than watched the game inside.

A further demonstration in São Paulo on 18 June was attended by 80,000 people, who took over Praça da Sé in the city centre. At the same time, protests took place along Avenida Paulista, where disorganised attempts were made to take over the city hall and 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 protestors, in what was a genuinely popular rebellion.

Throughout 19 June, increasingly radicalised mass protests took place. Motorways were blocked and closed, bus stations were blockaded. Large street marches were held by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST – homeless workers), with the active participation of LSR, in the outskirts of São Paulo. The struggle was beginning to explode in the poor areas around the city and involving workers, which put added pressure on the government.

Following the call for new, unified protests on a national level, on 20 June, the governing authorities in São Paulo and Rio announced the fare reductions. There had been major debates and divisions within the governing parties. An emergency meeting involved Lula (the former president who has no official position), president Dilma Rouseff, and the prefect of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad. During this meeting, the prefecture was surrounded by protesters.

The following morning, Haddad dismissed a fare reduction as a ‘populist’ position. His line of argument did not last long. At a football match between Mexico and Brazil in Fortaleza, where the stadium was surrounded by protestors, a press conference was organised by Haddad and the governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alkmin, from the right-wing Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (in opposition in the federal government). They announced the reduction in fares.

With the transformation of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) into a capitalist party, and with the trade union confederation, CUT, becoming a transmission belt for the federal government, there is a strong anti-party mood in large layers of the protest movement. Sectors of the organised right-wing have whipped up and directed this sentiment against the left-wing political parties present on the protests. This has often translated into physical attacks against those carrying left-wing party banners and flags, and has often followed the actions of right-wing provocateurs, including police infiltrators.

Given the scale of the movement, all political forces in the country, including representatives of the federal government and employers, have tried cynically to take up the idealism of youth on the mobilisations. In reality, the Brazilian capitalist class has entered the struggle and is challenging for the leadership of the movement by reflecting some of its demands.

The left-wing parties (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, and its internal currents, the Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado, and Partido Comunista Brasileiro), the social movements with a class orientation (such as the MTST and Terra Livre), various trade union fronts (like CSP-Conlutas and Intersindical) and others, including anarchist groupings, are beginning to join the protest movement. They are aiming to defend the right to raise their banners on the protests, and to prevent right-wing forces from gaining an influence in the movement.

Despite the contradictory elements in the political consciousness of those in this movement, it has scored an important victory with the fares reduction. This raises the question of continuing the movement. There is not yet agreement between the combative social movements and the left on this. LSR is calling for organised assemblies and forums of the movement to work out demands and a programme to deepen the gains already won. The administrations that have announced a reduction in fares are also announcing further cuts in social programmes. The movement should demand that the money is taken from the accounts of the private transport companies and not from other social programmes.

Even with a reduction in fares, the high cost of travel is a heavy burden for workers and students. The demand for free transport was one of the old demands of the PT which the party has abandoned as it swung to the right. This should be taken up again, and should be linked with the demand for the municipalisation and nationalisation of the transport system. The resources to maintain and improve it should come from suspending the payment of debts by states and local councils to the federal government, which are used to make easy profits by banks and speculators.

To take up the struggle for a free, good-quality public transport system, the movement needs to link up with other struggles that have arisen, and with the demands of workers, youth and communities. These include the campaign against the crimes committed in the preparation for next year’s football World Cup, such as driving 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 schools, education and hospitals are run down and inadequate.

There is also the need to defend democratic rights, free expression and the right to demonstrate. The World Cup means, in reality, the declaration of a state of emergency. It means criminalising poverty and social protest movements. It is necessary to deepen the mass actions, drawing the organised working class directly into the movement, and taking up its methods of struggle. This is the most effective way to prevent the right-wing from getting an influence in this movement.

The Brazilian ruling class is preparing the conditions for a general strike. The question of a 24-hour general strike has 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 in the class struggle in Brazil. After a long time we have come out of the desert of years of neo-liberalism and downturn in social struggle. We must not lose this opportunity.

Andre Ferrari, Liberdade Socialismo e Revolução (LSR – CWI Brazil)

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