A strike wave is under way in Brazil, reflecting growing discontent with President Lula’s Workers Party government elected in January 2003. An ongoing strike by bank workers, and action by other powerful groups, suggests the resurgence of working class struggles after years of quiet.
The announcement of economic growth in the last few months has created a favourable environment for workplace struggles. Many groups of workers have managed to win their best collective agreements since 1996.
Workers in both the public and private sector have struck. Federal justice department workers organised a heroic 90-day strike. Metal workers, teachers, state oil workers, bank workers and other groups are preparing for strike action to regain lost wages.
A month ago an important national strike by bank staff began after rank and file workers soundly rejected an agreement proposed by their union leadership. Instead the workers demanded a 25 percent pay rise. The Workers Party government responded by saying it would dock workers’ pay for days lost through strike action in state banks.
The government’s hard position gave a clear signal for the bosses’ Federation of Bankers, who have refused to negotiate. Police have tried to weaken picket lines and undermine the strike using violence and intimidation.
Brazil’s largest trade union federation, CUT, has said it supports the bank workers, but has done nothing to strengthen the strike or build a wider solidarity movement.
A great deal is at stake—victory by the bank workers would have a deep impact on future struggles.
Already the mood among workers is very different to a year ago. In 2003, the first year under a Workers Party government, there were struggles. But, with the exception of rotating public sector strikes against pension cuts, most struggles occurred in rural areas, mainly led by the MST—the landless rural labourers’ movement.