Lula, Neoliberalism And Democracy

When Lula and the Workers Party (PT) came to power in Brazil in January 2003, activists in the anti-capitalist and trade union movements world-wide saw this as a beacon of hope. Lula was once a trade unionist, and the Workers Party is a party of the left, against the tutelage of the World Bank, and IMF.


However, recently the PT leadership has said it wants to cut the pensions of public sector workers which would bring an increase in the minimum age for retirement from 53 to 60 for men and 48 to 55 for women. It would also mean a reduction in pensioner’s incomes to 70 percent of their final salary, plus the payment of a fee on the retirement fund itself.


Many people in Brazil believe that some reform of the pension system is needed – to correct, for example, the highly privileged provision for senior military officers and judges. But the reforms now being proposed by the government will not address these problems. Instead, they will dramatically cut the benefits of school teachers and other poorly paid public sector workers.


To force this through, the PT has threatened to expel three parliamentarians who oppose these plans. Senator Heloisa Helena and deputies Joao Araujo Batista Baba and Luciana Genro are doing no more than standing up for the PT’s traditional policies and are supported in their stance by important sections of the PT’s popular base in the trade unions (CUT), and in the landless workers movement (MST). Heloisa was recently carried at the head of a 30,000 strong trade union demonstration in Brasilia against the reforms.


These pension reforms are classic neo-liberal measures which will delight the IMF and the bankers, with a view to opening up the already limited pension system for privatisation, as is happening in Europe and elsewhere, and freeing up public funds to service the external debt. Since 8 July Brazilian public sector workers, like the French and Austrian workers before them, have been taking strike action against the planned reforms. As the Sao Paulo Public Servants’ Union has argued, for example, they do not want pension rights to be limited even further, but to be extended to the millions who have no pensions at all. As activists in Britain, we have bitter experience of the way in which both Conservative and Labour governments have attacked public pension provision.


A petition to defend the three faced with expulsion was launched in June of this year, and is now gathering signatures every day, becoming truly international and broad-based. We have received the support of Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert in the US, plus Labour, Socialist and Green members of the British, Scottish, Irish, European and Sri Lankan Parliaments, four general secretaries of British trade unions and the filmmaker Ken Loach, to name a few. We hope soon to get the support of French, Italian and Portuguese parliamentarians, activists and trade unionists. Because the petition has been so successful we wanted to open it out to the world anti-capitalist movement and so we’ve put it on a public access website. (See the link below).


The petition has already made an impact in Brazil – it was distributed to the press by the supporters of Heloisa on the occasion of her first disciplinary hearing at the end of June and we have had continuing interest from the Brazilian press since then.


As activists in the anti-capitalist and labour movements we stand by those people like Heloisa and her comrades who were central to the building of the World Social Forum and who showed their commitment to popular democracy with the development of the Participatory Budgets in Porto Alegre and elsewhere. We feel we are simply reasserting the elementary principles of international solidarity, for democracy and against neo-liberalism.


If you and your friends support this petition, either by signing the online petition, or by clicking the link on that site for more information and contact details, we have a real chance of stopping these expulsions and thus helping to strengthen the anti-capitalist movement, not only in Brazil, but internationally.


Andrew Kennedy and Karen O’Toole, Stuart Piper

Leave a comment