Brazil: Trade Union Bureaucracy limits Workers’ Resistance to symbolic Actions
A report on the National Day of Struggle on 30 August
On 30 August, a “National Day of Mobilization and Struggles” took place in Brazil. It was called by eight Trade Union Federations (CUT, CSP-Conlutas, Força Sindical, UGT, CGTB, NCST, CGTB, CTB and CSB). The protest was directed against several reactionary projects of the federal government and the parliament:
* To increase and formalize the outsourcing of labor contracts (Bill 4330).
* the ‘Social Security Factor’ (which lowers the monthly benefit of those who retire after completing the contribution length of time (35 years for men and 30 for women), but have not yet reached the minimum age (65 years old for men and 60 years old for women).
* The government’s plan to auction offshore areas containing two-thirds of the country's proven oil reserves in October.
However, this “National Day of Mobilization” turned out to be a rather symbolic and weak action. It was limited to a few marches and occupations of roads in several capital cities and medium-sized cities. These actions were all announced in advance and lasted only for a few hours and did not bother much the Federal Government. It was much weaker compared with the one-day general strike on 11 July which took place under the pressure of the spontaneous mass uprising in Brazil this winter. (1) One has to note that already the general strike on 11 July was demobilized by the trade union bureaucracy and was more symbolic than militant. (2)
Weak mobilization in São Paulo
These weaknesses of the day of action were also visible in the state of São Paulo which is the largest and richest state in Brazil. Similar to the general strike on 11 July, the most important sectors linked to the CUT (the largest trade union federation linked to the government party, the social democratic PT), such as the public transport sector in the capital and the metalworkers in the ABC-region, worked normally. They only blocked the highway that leads to the Port of Santos. The only greater mobilization of the Trade Unions occurred in the financial center of São Paulo – the Paulista Avenue – in the afternoon.
CSP-Conlutas – a smaller but most left-wing trade union federation linked to the centrist PSTU (strongest section of the Morenoite LIT-FI) - accuses on his website that CUT only belatedly entered the “National Day of Mobilization” in order to boycott the movement. In fact, two of the most important sectors of the CUT trade unions in Sao Paulo – the banking workers and the metro workers – have promised to take part of the strike. The union of the banking workers has declared in a statement that their strike would last for 24 hours. But inexplicably both unions gave up and worked normally. Well, not exactly inexplicably, we think that the bureaucracy of CUT in São Paulo is very much afraid of losing control of its rank-and-file workers. Just imagine the chaos in a city of more than 10 million people which most of them use daily the mixed transportation (buses and subway) to go to work in the case of a strike! So the bureaucrats preferred to avoid problems like losing control, damage to federal government, the emergence of new workers leaders etc.
More militant actions in Rio de Janeiro
In Rio de Janeiro the situation was somewhat different. This is related to the fact that the state’s governor Sergio Cabral (from the bourgeois-liberal PMDB) is highly unpopular and accused of authoritarianism and misuse of public helicopters for personal leisure. As a result massive protests against him have happened in recent days, which were a reflection of the June days. Given this background the protest on 30 August was much more effective in Rio de Janeiro. Workers from various sectors of the economy participated such as metallurgical and construction workers, glassware, coin, federal civil servants, sweepers, health workers, nurses, manicures, teachers, workers in the food sector, servers UFRJ, chemists, engineers, bank workers, telecommunications as well as oil workers, military servers, water transportation officials, journalists, broadcasters and electricians, as well as social movements such as the MST (Movement of Landless Workers).
Other important states such as Minas Gerais, Pará and Paraná achieved strong support among public sector workers, transport workers and precarious workers.
Another important sector of the CUT – the workers in the oil sector – also displayed more militant actions on 30 August in a number of important places like Pernambuco, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Duque de Caxias, São Paulo, Paraná/Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. This broad participation of the oil workers is explained by the fact that they are currently involved in a collective bargaining campaign for higher wages.
The PT-led government of President Dilma Rousseff tries to split the trade union federation by offering separate negotiations to the CUT bureaucracy. This was most likely an additional incentive for the CUT leaders to boycott the “National Day of Mobilization” on 30 August.
Other unions are not better. The leadership of the Força Sindical – another trade union federation which has strong links with the big businessmen of São Paulo – demonstrates once more its role as a lackey of the capitalists. In its demands on the government of Dilma Rousseff, it focuses on opposition against any increase in interest rates which is also a central demand of the employers.
Free the Trade Unions from the Bureaucrats’ Grip
The spontaneous uprising during the June Days, the workers protests on 11 July and on 30 August have shown once more the true character of the trade union bureaucracy. It is a petty-bourgeois caste in the ranks of the workers movement which serves the capitalist class and which is corrupted by posts and privileges. It is not interested in militant mobilizations of the working class under the control of the rank and file. It organizes actions only under the pressure of the rank and file and in such cases it does everything possible to keep such activities under the bureaucratic control of the leadership. (3)
This is why one of the most important tasks of the workers vanguard is to build a mass rank and file movement in the unions against the bureaucrats. We can only transform the unions in real instruments of the working class if the workers free the unions from the bureaucracy. Such a perspective has to be combined with a strategy which combines the defensive struggle against the bosses’ attacks with the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Such a perspective has also to focus on bringing together the trade union militants with the unorganized workers, the urban poor in the Favelas, the poor and landless peasants and the youth which showed their militancy in the June Days.
This is why it is urgent for the workers vanguard to elaborate and discuss an Action Program for the socialist revolution in Brazil.
Such a program has also tackle the fact that the trade union leaderships in Brazil are mostly linked to parties like the PT, the Stalinist PCdoB, PSOL (a split from PT), PSTU and PDT (heirs of Getulism, i.e. of the former dictator Getulio Vargas). None of these parties however serves the interests of the working class. To break the unions from these parties and to build a Workers Party which is based on a revolutionary program is therefore one of the most important tasks for the workers vanguard. El Mundo Socialista and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency are dedicating their forces to contribute to this goal.
(1) See on this: Brazil: Solidarity with the Popular Uprising! Statement of the RCIT and Blog El Mundo Socialista (Brazil), 19.6.2013, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-solidarity-with-popular-uprising and www.thecommunists.net/home/portugu%C3%AAs/brasil-solidariedade-com-a-revolta-popular (in Portuguese); The Fight for the Right to Public Transportation - Free and With Quality - Under Control of Workers in Brazil, 14.6.2013, El Mundo Socialista, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-fight-for-public-transportation
(2) See on this: Brazil: Before the General Strike on 11th July, El Mundo Socialista, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-general-strike-on-11-7
(3) On the RCIT’s assessment of the trade union bureaucracy’s nature see the relevant chapter in the RCIT’s Program The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto, www.thecommunists.net/rcit-manifesto/the-struggle-for-the-unions