Massive mobilisations involving 1 million people across Brazil and a mood for general strike unlike anything seen in some time marked March 15.
That day, various organised sectors came onto the streets to protest a packet of reforms proposed by the government of President Michel Temer.
Temer was installed in power last year after a constitutional coup removed elected president Dilma Rousseff, of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT). Since then, Temer has carried out a harsh austerity program and wound back a number of progressive reforms implemented by the PT governments of Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula) before her.
In the biggest rally, in Sao Paulo, professors and subway workers prominently featured in the 200,000-strong protest that was primarily focused on stopping the reform of the pension system.
Below, Paulo Pasin, president of the National Federation of Subway Workers (Fenametro), discusses the importance of the March 15 mobilisations in an abridged version of an interview done by Gabriel Brito for Correio da Cidadania. It has been translated by Federico Fuentes.
* * *
Firstly, why did subway workers go on strike and what are your demands?
Our strike was against the reforms to the pension system and labour regulations. Our union has a tradition of struggles in defence of the rights of all workers.
That is why our strike was supported by commuters using the Metro. Not even the media, which always attacks our strikes, could hide the population’s support for our strike. Many people said: “everyone needs to go on strike”.
What can you say about the pension reform proposed by the Temer government?
It is not a reform, but rather the destruction of the pension system. The proposed changes would stop millions of Brazilians from accessing this right.
Establish a minimum retirement age of 65 years for men and women; increase the number of years worked to 49 in order to receive a pension equivalent to the wage you received; no longer tie the Continuous Cash Benefit (BPC) program to the minimum wage; gradually lift the minimum age of retirement from 65 to 70 years; reduce the BPC paid to poor people with disabilities or illnesses; oblige rural workers to not only work for longer but also hand over a large sum of money [to retirement funds]; this is perverse.
We know that life expectancy in various regions of Brazil, such as the north and north-east, is less than 65 years. Studies show the reality is similar in the outer lying areas of Sao Paulo.
That is, the majority of workers, mainly the poor and those who work in the most dangerous and unsafe industries (farm labour, construction, etc.) will not live to reach the minimum age of retirement.
Ignoring the double burden of labour and the inequality of work conditions that women face confirms the retrograde and sexist position of this illegitimate government. Temer not only ignores the fact that women work more than men, but also that this gap has increased further in the last decade.
In line with this, how do you evaluate the set of reforms the federal government is seeking to implement?
The central objective of all of the reforms and measures of this government is to make workers and the poor pay for the crisis of the capitalist system.
They have already passed legislation to freeze social spending for two decades (health, education, housing, public transport, etc), penalising the poorest.
Now they want to pass the pension reform, and labour reform to increase and generalise unrestricted casualisation.
And, because they know that workers will react, they are strengthening the repressive character of the state and further limiting the right to strike and protest.
What is your analysis of the national day of protest against the reform? Specifically, how do you evaluate the protest in Sao Paulo?
I believe the national day surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. There were strikes by various sectors in all of Brazil, including various public transport strikes. We, subway workers, went on strike in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Recife, and opened ticket barriers in Mercado station in Porto Alegre. There were also big actions in various capital cities and road blockades on important highways.
The protest in Sao Paulo was very impressive, demonstrating that, contrary to Temer’s speech on March 15, society does understand the pension reform, which is why it opposes it and is mobilising to defeat it. The large support of the population towards subway workers is also a sign of this comprehension; that it is necessary to struggle in defence of this right.
What lies ahead? What are your expectations for 2017 and the continuity of the Temer government?
Despite being strong, the protests on March 15, as well as the women’s mobilisations on March 8, were the start of a series of days of struggle against the Temer government’s reforms.
Despite being anti-people, the reforms have the support of all fractions of international and national capital, of this conservative and corrupt parliament, of the courts and of the media.
We need to continue taking to the streets and preparing for a general strike at the grassroots level in every union. We should not channel our struggles towards the 2018 elections, as the PT want.
We also cannot accept a path that will lead towards divisions within our class, one of putting forward specific proposals to modify the government’s project. We have to defeat the pension and labour reforms.
The future of generations in Brazil will be defined in 2017. Either we greatly broaden out the unity of our class with even stronger actions, or we will lose those minimal rights we have won in the last decades.
The result of this battle will determine the continuity or not of this illegitimate government, as the approval of its reforms is a condition for its existence.
In this sense, it is fundamental that we achieve a broad unity of action with all those who are in favour of direct mobilisation to defeat the pension and labour reforms.