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Brazil – ‘Workers can take the struggle to the next stage’

This article is over 8 years, 6 months old
Huge protests have forced the unions into action—creating new opportunities and challenges, says Sean Purdy
Issue 2361

The huge wave of protests in Brazil continues with a national general strike called for Thursday of this week. 

The demonstrations against transit fare hikes that started off the movement in early June were led by direct action groups inspired by autonomism.

They soon spread to a multitude of single-issue campaigns—against the World Cup, for better public services and against police violence. 

The first protests involved mostly university and high school students, but also some young workers and trade unionists.

But these were working class issues. The movement quickly widened to include large sections of the working class, including poor workers from the urban periphery.

Besides, some of the students were workers too. There has been a significant increase in university education in the last ten years with many young workers studying in night classes at private universities.

They work full or part?time, study at night and graduate to work in schools, offices and factories.

But with the cancellation of the fare hikes, and the political crisis caused by the spreading protest movement, the organised working class began to intervene.

Brazil’s union movement is historically very divided.

There are 12 federations, many of them tied to particular political parties. The largest, CUT, is closely tied to the Workers’ Party (PT) government and very reluctant to take action.

But the scale of the protests and the political crisis has forced all unions to intervene together.


The call is supported by all the principal federations. Between them they organise the majority of trade unionists, and for them to overcome their divisions is a major step forward.

The general strike is officially a “national day of struggle with strikes and mobilisations”. The unions are focusing on shutting down transport and industry. 

Metro workers in the largest city, Sao Paulo, have voted to take part, which is a huge victory. Almost five million workers use the metro each day, so this will encourage for other workers to strike too.

There’s also an ongoing city-wide strike of municipal bus workers in Recife.

The demands of the general strike are coherent and widely supported.

They include more resources for public services such as healthcare, education and public transit, shortening the official work week from 44 hours to 40 without a pay cut, and various demands against proposed attacks on workers’ rights. 

But like all general strikes, there are possibilities and challenges. Most of the union federations were reluctant to call action and hoped to use the strike to blow off steam and take us off the streets. 

This dovetailed with an attempt by the PT government to introduce moderate political reforms from above to weaken the radical content of the protest movements.

This is why it is incredibly important that socialist militants are building local mobilisation committees in their workplaces and neighbourhoods to make the general strike effective.  

We are in the process of constructing the general strike from below, organising pickets at workplaces and mobilising workers for the huge demonstrations that will take place.

With focused demands and rank and file organising that unites workers from diverse unions, we can take the struggle in Brazil to the next stage—using the economic power of the working class. 

Sean Purdy is a member of the PSOL socialist party in Sao Paolo


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