Translated by Danica Jorden
[Former president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff in support of oil workers who have been striking for three weeks to keep their jobs and preserve Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.]
The oil worker strike has already made history. It represents a significant movement against authoritarianism, neofascism and the neoliberal agenda. It was born out of employees’ defending their jobs at a nitrogen factory in Paraná owned by Petrobras, and acquired the dimension of an historic fight for democracy, human rights and national sovereignty. The oil workers are representing us by exercising the inalienable right to strike.
The Brazilian Constitution states in Article 9, “The right to strike is assured, giving workers the authority to decide upon the opportunity to exercise it and upon the interests that it will defend.” The ILO (International Labor Organization), the accords of which Brazil is a signatory, defends strikes of three types: 1) those of a work nature, which seek to guarantee or improve working conditions and workers’ lives; 2) those of a union nature, which seek to guarantee and develop the rights of labor union organizations and their leaders; 3) those of a political nature, the goal of which, even indirectly, is to defend the economic and social interests of workers.
Under the aegis of the Superior Court of Labor [Tribunal Superior do Trabalho, TST], Araucária Nitrogenados, a Petrobras company, signed a formal agreement last November with its respective trade union that establishes in Article 26 “The company shall not engage in collective or plural [group] firings, motivated or unmotivated, or turnover, without prior discussion with the union”.
Despite having made this written promise, the company went on to fire large groups of workers from one of its divisions, admitting that it was going to fire no less than 1,000 workers, many with 30 years experience with the company and hired by public competitive exam.
Not complying with a collective work agreement is one of the most legitimate reasons for workers to strike. Defending employment, especially when its stability had been assured by the employer in an official document, can be considered one of the most obvious motivations for a strike such as the one oil workers have been leading for 19 days, affecting 121 Petrobras divisions in 13 states.
So a more than just strike, not only rigorously legal but in no way harmful or damaging to consumers. But the same TST that mediated the agreement torn up by Petrobras prohibited in an unprecedented decision 90% of Petrobras employees from taking part in the strike, declaring the stoppage illegal and even setting exorbitant monetary punishments for the union if the movement were not ceased immediately. The tyrannical decision by one TST minister, without consulting the full tribunal, received surprising support from the tribunal’s president.
Much of the information presented here is not known by the Brazilian public, because the press has decided to hide these facts and turn the oil workers’ movement into an “invisible strike” to stop the public from understanding their motivations and eventually supporting them. The traditional media are not showing the strikers’ activities and demonstrations, not reporting that the strike began because Petrobras failed to comply with the collective agreement, not informing the public that the TST that mediated the accord later unilaterally broke it, and likewise, not saying that the strike is legal and justified.
Only totalitarian regimes prohibit the exercise of the right to strike, either directly or by judicial subterfuge. This is what is happening in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, a flagrant attack on the Constitution. When the TST decides that only 10% of Petrobras’ employees can take part in a strike, they are in practice extinguishing the right to strike, which is one of the most important human rights. When they impose exorbitant and unpayable fines on the union representing the workers, they are strangling and seeking to extinguish the union movement and the right to organize and demonstrate. The Labor Court is authorized to mediate conflicts, not take sides. Acting in this way, the justice system becomes a weapon for employers to use against employees.
The context of this crisis is authoritarianism’s design to sustain itself, emanating from a neofascist and neoliberal government that contaminates its institutions. Therefore, the oil workers’ strike has gained an historic political dimension for the country: it is the most significant organized labor movement since the extreme right took power. For the oil workers, it is a strike to keep jobs and save Petrobras. For Brazilians, it is a movement for the existence of Petrobras and the rich pre-salt oil reserves, against handing them over and against the neoliberal agenda. The oil workers serve as an example for all Brazilians, including workers, the unemployed and citizens forced into precarious forms of employment.
The oil workers achieved a victory yesterday, albeit partial. The TRT [Regional Labor Court] of Paraná ruled that the collective agreement be abided by and that no employee be fired, at least until March 6th, when new negotiations are to be made.
But the oil workers are already holding history in their hands by leading a movement defending labor rights under tremendously unfavorable circumstances, especially by daring to confront the bosses, the enemies of Petrobras, the Court’s bias, the silence of Congress and the media’s failure to report.
With their “invisible strike” they are making an example and doing their part in the fight to take back democracy. The oil workers’ strike deserves our total support. The oil workers are fighting for Brazil and for us. Their victory will be the victory of the Brazilian people.
At the least, the lesson the courageous Petrobras strikers are teaching Brazilians right now is “FIGHT LIKE AN OIL WORKER”.