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Brazil: 200,000 Workers and Youth Take to the Streets to Protest Lula Conviction

On January 24, despite having absolutely no proof to back their charges, the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil sentenced former President Inacio “Lula” da Silva to 12 years in prison. This court is an institution inherited from the military dictatorship. The court sentence aims, among other things, to prevent Lula from running for office in the presidential election next October.

The São Paulo Stock Exchange reacted immediately by breaking new records. At the same time, on January 23 and 24, an estimated 200,000 workers, activists and youth took to the streets to protest this court conviction. More than 70,000 people gathered on January 23 in Porto Alegre, where the court hearing was held, and 50,000 gathered on January 24 in Republic Square in São Paulo. The main slogan on all the banners read: “An Election Without Lula Is a Fraud!”

We spoke with Anisio Homem, editor of the Brazilian newsletter Tribuna dos Trabalhadores / Workers Tribune[1], about this major development. Here is what he told us:

“It’s really all about fraud. It’s about a system that relies entirely on fraud. Is it not a fraud when all the institutions put into place by the military dictatorship — the justice system, the military police, the structure of the Congress, the army, and a whole host of laws — remain in place today, 38 years after the fall of the military dictatorship?

“These undemocratic institutions have been kept in place by all the governments over these past 38 years, including the government led by Workers Party (PT). That is why it is urgent to renew the fight for “Down with Temer!”[2] — for a general mobilization of workers that can pave the way to the convening of a Sovereign Constituent Assembly, the only way to ensure democratic elections without fraud and to guarantee the right of Lula to be a candidate for president.

“For me, what’s needed is to promote the fight for a government that repeals all the anti-worker legislation and that enacts such necessary measures as agrarian reform; the takeover by Petrobras[3] of the pre-sal (deep-sea oil reserves); the end to privatizations and the primary fiscal surplus[4]; increased funding for public services; guaranteed social security, healthcare and pensions; and the improvement of labor rights.”

These questions are at the heart of the debates within the Brazilian labor movement today. Thus, Senator Lindbergh Farias of the PT declared the following during the rally that took place in Republic Square in São Paulo: “We cannot have any further illusions; we no longer have democracy in this country. Does anyone believe that it will be through the institutional road that we will defeat the coup d’etat? We’ve had enough! Does anyone have any illusions in this corrupt Congress, which only knows how to enact laws against the workers?”

Lindbergh is right,” stated Anisio Homen, for whom “the central question today is to mobilize workers, youth and the oppressed population immediately and in unity with the PT, the PSOL, the PCdoB, the PCO, and the CUT[5] and the trade union movement, as well as the MST, UNE, and the MST[6] — and, on this basis, form committees to demand “Down with Temer Now! Sovereign Constituent Assembly!” This is the discussion that we have initiated in the PT in Curitiba, where I am a member of the Executive Committee of the PT.

And the discussion is hot and heavy. The National Executive Committee of the PT, for example, issued a statement on January 25 with following message: “With Lula and the People Until Victory in October!”

We asked Anisio Homem what has been the reaction among PT activists to this PT leadership statement.

Many believe this only fosters dangerous illusions,” Homem replied, “as if these institutions (those of the coup against Dilma and Lula) were willing to peacefully accept a possible electoral victory of the PT next October. The ‘victory’ evoked by the PT’s National Executive Committee requires genuinely free and democratic elections, and this means a Constituent Assembly in which the citizens can decide for themselves the form and content of democracy.

A few years ago, with the support of the Workers Party, the Constituent Assembly proposal garnered more than 8 million votes in a popular referendum. Today, more than ever, the struggle for the Constituent Assembly makes complete sense. The country must be covered with unitary committees of workers’ organizations, and of the youth and the popular movements, to organize the struggle for “Down with Temer Now! Sovereign Constituent Assembly!

At the rally in São Paulo, the national president of the CUT trade union federation, Wagner Freitas, denounced “the putschists who want to combine the conviction of Lula with the vote on the pension reform to be held February 19.”

Freitas is right,” said Anisio Homen, “the duty of the workers’ organizations is to organize a common front at all levels, to prepare the general strike against the pension reform and for “Down with Temer Now!

The hundreds of committees scattered throughout the country now have the task of bringing together and orienting the PT activists to strengthen the preparation for the general strike. Such a general strike would combine in the same movement the defense of the working class — i.e., the rejection of the pension reform — and the defense of democracy, meaning the rejection of the conviction of Lula.

The discussion in the Brazilian workers’ movement is now in full swing.

Endnotes

  1. Tribuna dos Trabalhadores is the publication of the OCI, member of the OCRFI and a current inside the Workers Party (PT).
  2. Michel Temer was the main author and instigator of the coup that ousted democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff.
  3. Petrobras is the state-owned oil corporation
  4. The primary fiscal surplus refers to a law implemented by all recent Brazilian administrations, including the PT administrations, that requires all state and local governments to contributed proportionally to the payment of the foreign debt — a debt that was never contracted by the Brazilian people.
  5. Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, or Trade Union Central — the main trade union federation in Brazil, numbering more than 9 million workers
  6. MST is the Landless Peasants Movement.

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