Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation

IMF Reforms in Brazil

Brazil: Workers and unions say No to

devastating reform of their retirement system

www.globalresearch.ca    4 June 2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/OTR306A.html

The new President of Brazil, Lula, of the Workers Party, just presented a reform project for the retirement regime. Over the past days and weeks, it has been possible to calibrate the point to which this project has been badly received by the workers and unions that worked so hard for Lula's victory as President of the Republic. Together with their unions, the workers have shown clearly, on multiple occasions and in various ways, their opposition to this reform which, among other things, would bring the following: an increase in the minimum age for the retirement of public workers, which would go from 53 to 60 for men and 48 to 55 for women; the diminishment in the pensions covered, which would no longer be equivalent to the worker's last full wages and would instead become 70% of their last salary; the requirement to pay a fee on the retirement fund itself.

The IMF and the "markets" have been calling for this reform for years. The previous government tried but, in the face of opposition from the Central Trade Union Federation (CUT) and at that time, from Lula and the Workers Party (PT), the last president was not able to go as far as his bosses in Washington and in the trading rooms of the international stock exchange would have liked. Since his rise to power, the IMF has pressured Lula to make these counter-reforms happen.

On May 1st, Joao Felicio, president of the CUT, reminded again that the main union federation in Brazil, as well as the coordinator of the Public Employees unions, are opposed to the text of the "reform" as it currently stands.

At the initiative of the O Trabalho current of the Workers Party, an open letter to Lula has gathered thousands of signatures and has given rise to motions in the local and regional congresses of the CUT, which will hold its national congress this coming June. "We address this letter to you, President Lula (says the letter) to ask you to withdraw this project for reform of the retirement system. The necessary condition for a broad, democratic debate on the issue is the withdrawal of the Cardoso's (former President of the Republic, NDLR) "reform", the 9717 law and the 20th constitutional amendment, the abandonment of the legislative project number 9, in accordance with the unanimous decision of the Executive Commission of the CUT this past February. Your government must support itself on the workers in order to confront those who have always plundered Brazil. You, President Lula, will receive all of our support to reject this dictate from the IMF that threatens our rights and our organizations. The millions of working women and men who elected you are expecting that you will tell the IMF that we do not accept it and that we will fight with all of our means against this reform of the retirement system that attacks our rights and sets us back decades."

Deputies and Senators from the Workers Party, for their part, have made it known that under no circumstances will they vote for this reform that is "contrary to that which we have always defended." Today they are being threatened with sanctions. The National Executive Commission of the party met in an extraordinary session on May 12th. After a difficult day of debate, the possible sanction of the deputies Joao Batista Araulo and Luciana Genro, and a senator, Heloisa Helena, was submitted to the Ethics Commission of the Workers Party. Some, within the leadership of the party, are talking of expelling them.

It is a threat that has provoked indignation in the ranks of the party far beyond just those designated the "radicals" of the party. This was evident in the recent declaration from Senator Paim, a historic figure in Lula's current of the party (see statement below). "The party is not a religion and it does not include anathema or ex-communion" declared Francisco de Oliveira, professor of sociology at the University of Sao Paulo, who participated in the drafting of the program for Lula's government.

"The PT has always defined itself as in favor of democratic socialism and pluralism," declared Emir Sader, a professor at the University of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most respected intellectuals in Brazil, closely tied to Lula. "The PT has criticized the consistently Stalinist practice of prohibiting debate-that is what Stalinism was, not discussing the argument, but saying that it was at the service of the enemy and as such had to be sanctioned in a disciplined way."

The PT current O Trabalho has also declared itself in total solidarity with the threatened parliamentarians and completely opposed to any type of sanction: "We consider that, whatever their positions may be with respect to the reform of retirement, the parliamentarians who are being threatened are within the framework of the PT, without a doubt within their legal democratic rights. For our part, we also oppose this reform. We have alerted the leadership and all of the activists of our party of the fact that there is pressure from all sides to take measures contrary to the democratic tradition of the party."

Declaration of the O Trabalho Current of Brazil's Workers Party

* No to the Disciplinary Measures Against the PT Members of Parliament!

* Let's Join Ranks to Defend the Workers Party!

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

From all corners of Brazil, members of the Workers Party (PT) are speaking out loudly against the disciplinary measures that are expected to be taken by the National Executive Committee of the PT against Heloisa Helena (PT Senator), Luciana Genro (PT National Deputy) and Babá (PT National Deputy).

These comrades are accused of "party indiscipline" because they announced publicly that they would refuse to vote in support of PL 40/03, which would "reform" the retirement system in Brazil in accordance with the demands of the IMF.* The action to discipline these nationally elected leaders of the PT was approved by the PT's National Executive Committee by a vote of 13-7, and was later referred to the PT's Ethics Commission for determination of the sanction to be applied.

What's involved is a concerted attempt at preventing them -- and others in the PT -- from expressing their point of view. The accusations are all based on quotations lifted selectively from newspapers and past actions that are totally unrelated to the current charges. The entire affair is a gigantic juridical frameup that represents a blow to the PT's democratic traditions. The charges, as the revered PT Senator Suplicy put it, are an "affront to freedom of expression inside the PT."

The renowned jurist Dalmo Abreu Dallari noted that "the parliamentarians of the PT had every reason to indicate their intention to vote against a measure that would tax the inactive workers. ... This is a very debilitating debate inside the PT; the party should come to an agreement on what to do."

Economist Chico de Oliveira stated that "the Party is not a religious sect; therefore it cannot ban ideas or excommunicate its members." Philosopher Renato Janine Ribeiro noted that "the measures opposed by the parliamentarians are not programmatic planks contained in the program of the PT; rather they are measures proposed by the government. .... In the past, all experiences on the left that confused the party and the government proved disastrous."

Sociologist Emir Sader stated that the PT members of Parliament have every right "to hold and disclose positions that are different from those of the leadership -- especially as their views are based on the historic positions of the PT on the issue of the national retirement system."

Faced with these unprecedented events, a question must be asked: Where does the PT leadership want to take the party with procedures and actions such as these?

For our part, we must repeat yet again that we are opposed to the so-called reform of the national retirement system (Previdência). True, this is a complex question -- which makes it all the more necessary for there to be a free and open discussion within the party. For the leadership to impede or strangle a discussion with administrative measures will only harm the party and prevent it from developing the kind of solution that can address the needs and aspirations of the Brazilian people.

One final word: For the government to raise the retirement age is a "criminal act against the public-sector workers," to quote Deputy Trindade, PT-PI. To tax the inactive workers is "absurd," stated Senator Paim (PT-RS). Moreover, to turn over the retirement funds of the public workers to the speculators who handle the private pension funds -- a proposal included in PL 9, now incorporated into the retirement reform plan -- is a proposal that is opposed by 77 percent of the PT's parliamentary fraction, according to a survey conducted by the Folha de Sao Paulo.

These positions are the historic positions of the PT. Up until recently, they were positions voiced publicly by PT national secretary Zé Dirceu.

They are positions that express the people's resistance to the dictates of the IMF contained in all the recent Agreements signed between the Brazilian government and the IMF. The dictates of the IMF and World Bank on the question of reform of the pensions systems, in fact, have provoked mass demonstrations of millions of people in France, Germany and Austria.

For people to explain that the PT now in office must make "tactical shifts in relation to certain topics" is nothing but verbal gymnastics aimed at sowing confusion among those who have always fought against the attacks on the rights won by the workers through bitter struggles. Indeed, if we now have a Workers Party in power, it's because the Brazilian people voted to oust all those politicians who implemented the kind of measures such as the one now being proposed by the PT government.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

It is regrettable to see the president of the PT, comrade Genoino, being hooted by the Public Employees Union in Pernambuco for defending a reform that is simply indefensible. It should not be necessary for the president of the CUT -- the national union federation-- Joao Felicio (also a member of the PT) to have to remind Brother Genoino that "no one will give marching orders to the CUT."

In fact, a situation has been reached where it has been necessary for the National Federation of Education Workers to convene a Mass March to Brasilia next June 11th in opposition to this proposed reform of the retirement system.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

This past May 14th, in the Mobilization of the Excluded organized by the Contag, a banner read as follows: "Lula: Listen to the People. Do Not Cave in to the IMF Pressures!"

These words summarized the feelings of an entire people. To the majority leadership of the PT, we say, "Listen to the People, and Withdraw the Draft Law to Reform the Previdencia (Retirement system)!" To the Party leadership we say, "Listen to the People, Do Not Subordinate Yourselves to the IMF!"

We are confident that the entire party is sensible and will know how to resolve these problems in a positive manner.

For our part, we address ourselves at this moment to the PT leadership and rank and file as follows:

- We warn against pursuing this insane assault upon the democratic rights within the PT, upon freedom of expression within the party. Such a course will only end up putting the very existence of the PT into question.

- We call upon all the political currents within the PT, and all members and affiliates, to remain vigilant and to act so that we can maintain the PT as a party where its members and members of Parliament can freely express their points of view. We must act to defend the PT.

This is what's at stake, and that is why we call upon all of you to join together and discuss how best to act to defend the PT.

Not one disciplinary action against the Members of Parliament of the PT!

Sao Paulo, Brazil -- May 21, 2003

O Trabalho Current of the Workers Party

Copyright O TRABALHO   2003.  For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .