Huge protests gripped university campuses in Brazil on Wednesday in the biggest challenge to far right president Jair Bolsonaro since his inauguration at the beginning of the year.
Some news reports said that tens of thousands took part in the demonstrations against Bolsonaro’s plans to slash the education budget by 30 percent. Fernando Haddad, the Labour-type PT party candidate who ran against Bolsonaro, claimed, “We have more than a million people on the streets for education”.
Marches took place in over 200 cities as ordinary people went on the offensive against a man who has boasted of his opposition to rights for women and indigenous and LGBT+ people. People marched and chanted, “There will be no cuts, there will be a fight” and “Education is not a commodity”.
Marcela, an activist in the Socialist Transition organisation from Sao Paulo, told Socialist Worker, “The movement is organised by student groups, the teachers’ union, trade union councils and most of the political organisations that oppose the government.
“The protests began in Rio de Janeiro (UFF), Brasilia (UNB) and Salvador (UFBA).
“These are public universities that were already underfunded—further cuts would lead to their closure.”
Education minister Abraham Weintraub gave a taste of the ideology behind the attacks when he said that “a scientific, technical, number-based, efficient and managerial approach is vital to save this country.”
While protests raged on Wednesday Bolsonaro was in Dallas, Texas, attending a fancy dinner hosted by the World Affairs Council.
“They are useful idiots, imbeciles, who are being used as the manoeuvring mass of a clever little minority who make up the nucleus of many federal universities in Brazil,” he said of the student protesters.
Bolsonaro is in deep trouble over a corruption scandal, having presented himself as an alternative to the corruption of the previous PT government . A court gave police permission to examine the financial records of his son Flavio on Tuesday
Marcela said, “Now it’s becoming clear that Bolsonaro was never going to be an alternative to the PT’s corrupt practices."
He is in a weak position, embattled from below and from other sections within the ruling class. “On the day before the protests, Bolsonaro stepped back from the cuts,” said Marcela. “Then he realised it would expose his weakness and recoiled from the retreat, saying he would implement the cuts.”
More protests and crucially strikes can defeat him.
Bolsonaro is also in trouble over his pension reform plans. There is a huge amount of anger over the attacks which will see the pension age rise along with cuts to other benefits.
There are calls for further mobilisations by secondary school students on 23 May and by the PT-aligned national student union on 30 May. And a general strike has been called for 14 June, presenting an opportunity for students, education workers and the wider working class to link together.
The main goal of the union leaders is the freeing of PT former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula. He made dangerous compromises with neoliberalism and was imprisoned on charges of corruption.
Workers’ Force union president Miguel Torres said, “We're going to hold a general strike which will bring Brazil to a halt—free Lula now and strike.” Marcela explained, “In general, the workers’ movement is tightly controlled by the union bureaucracies.
“And some workers have to make up for the hours they strike.”
She added, “But the bureaucracy is under pressure to show more militancy because there is growing social unrest.”
The movement of students and workers on the streets shows the force that can bring down Bolsonaro and go on the offensive against neoliberalism.