Lula attacks public sector workers

Brazil's Workers Party president is in conflict with his working class base. Fabio Bosco reports

The congress of the CUT, the main union federation of Brazil, held in São Paulo from June 3-7, was dominated by the question of the Lula government and its policies - particularly the social security reform, but also its whole economic policy.

There were deep divisions amongst the 2,700 congress delegates. On the first day, public sector workers staged a demonstration against the social security reform. This entails a higher minimum age for pensions (up from 48 to 55 years for women; and from 53 to 60 years for men), reduced benefits and higher contributions. The savings will go to the ‘primary surplus of the national budget’: that is, to pay debt owed to the banks.

Four speakers were heckled: three from Lula’s PT (Workers Party) and one from the PSTU (United Socialist Workers Party). Municipal workers held up placards during the speech of Marta Suplicy, mayor of São Paulo, who had to cut short her address. Then the president of the PSTU was heckled by a section of PT delegates (the ones who are most supportive of Lula). Next it was the turn of PT president Jose Genoino. Finally, the minister of social security, Ricardo Berzoini, the promoter of the reforms, was unable to speak because of the heckling. The latter two were especially targeted by public sector workers, who were prevented by congress security from holding up banners against the reform.

Another speaker was the minister for land reform, Miguel Rosseto. He is a member of Socialist Democracy (DS), the Brazilian section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. He said he was a supporter of Lula and criticised those who were opposed to the national government, accusing them of dividing the left.

Lula himself visited the congress on the second day. The CUT president asked delegates to give him a polite welcome. All was quiet until Lula started speaking in favour of the reforms. Again it was mainly public sector workers who voiced their opposition. Lula said he was not afraid of heckles: he had been heckled when the PT and the CUT were launched. Nevertheless the whole press carried headlines on the hostile reception given Lula by one of the main sectors that had supported his election.

The main event on the third day was the meeting called to defend the ‘radicals’ - the four PT delegates who had publicly opposed the social security reform. All the left tendencies except the DS were present, in spite of the fact that one of the radicals is a DS member. The majority of the speeches were highly critical of the PT leaders’ democratic shortcomings. But the speeches of the three ‘radicals’ present went much further, making broad criticisms of Lula’s policies. They criticised the alliance with corrupt bourgeois politicians, the subordination to the IMF and World Bank, the economic policies and the reforms (social securities and tax) for taking from the workers to benefit the bankers. They called for a unified left slate in the CUT congress, in opposition to the policies of the PT left tendencies. Almost all the PT left tendencies have places in the national government and are furious with the radicals because, to keep their jobs, they cannot openly criticise Lula’s policies - even less make alliances with those who oppose them, like the radicals or the PSTU.

For the first time since the CUT was founded, the demand to break from the IMF and to stop paying foreign debt was not included in official policy. Support for the landless movement and their occupations was kept off the agenda. Last but not least, the resolution on the social security reform called for changes, but not for its withdrawal (the demand of the public sector workers). The CUT is now the trade union arm of the national government.

On the final day the leadership elections took place. This saw the various political forces attempting to draw up common slates. On the right there was Articulation, with slightly more than half the delegates, and the CSC (led by the Communist Party of Brazil, whose members sit in Lula’s cabinet). On the centre-right are the DS and TM (Marxist Tendency), with a little less than 10%. On the centre-left is ‘Fortalecer a CUT’ (Strengthen the CUT), composed of Lambertists, Left Articulation, the Countryside Forum and various PT tendencies, that together accounted for just over 10%. The left is made up of Unir a Esquerda (Unite the Left), which had slightly less than 10%.

The CUT rules state that to be elected to the national executive a slate must win more than 20% of the vote. In view of this the United Secretariat DS leadership decided to take part in a joint slate with Articulation, the CP and the centre-right. Some DS members cried - literally. It was the opposition slate, headed by Jorginho from the centre-left Countryside Forum, that was defending the radicals, including DS member Heloisa Helena. The opposition picked up around 25% of the vote and got two more places than expected.

The following week, on June 11, around 30,000 public sector workers marched in Brasilia against the social security reform. The press said there were no PT banners, only one from the CP and around 100 from the PSTU. PT and CP parliamentarians were heckled and one was pelted with rotten fruit. On June 14 the national meeting of public sector workers shouted down CUT representatives and showed their support for strike action on July 8. On June 17, Lula was heckled by public sector workers for a second time in the southern city of Pelotas when he spoke in favour of the reforms.

The struggle against the reforms is moving onto a higher level.