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On August 1, in the main office of the National Institute of Social Security (INSS) in Brasilia [the nation's capital], new and regrettable acts of repression were committed against striking public-sector workers. This time one of the victims of the aggression was Senator Heloisa Helena (Workers Party/PT), her parliamentary immunity notwithstanding. Helena had accompanied a delegation of striking public-sector workers into the INSS building.
An elite brigade from the Federal Police -- the COT brigade -- was dispatched to the scene about 6:30 p.m. According to the press, it had orders from officials in the government to dislodge 18 strikers who were part of a delegation that was waiting to be received by Taiti Inemami, president of the INSS.
The press office of the Federal Police in Brasilia reported that the COT force was activated to "guarantee the safety of public patrimony." How is it possible that 18 people could put at risk the "public patrimony," particularly when they were inside the INSS building with the explicit purpose of meeting with its president to negotiate?
The same press office stated that the police did not "use excessive force" -- when, in fact, two tear gas bombs were launched at the entrance of the building's garage where the public-sector unionists were awaiting Inemami's return to the INSS headquarters from a meeting with the Chief of Staff of the Civil House. Fifteen people were injured and taken to the Hospital de Base. Senator Heloisa Helena was dragged from the building by the police, together with trade union leader Janira Rocha.
Following two previous espisodes in which state shock troops were called out by the president of the Chamber of Deputies, João Paulo Cunha, against protesting strikers in Itajaí (Santa Catarina), what has just taken place at the INSS headquarters represents an escalation in the repression that must be repudiated energetically, as it is an assault on the legitimate right of the striking public-sector workers to demonstrate and express their point of view. Democracy as such has been trampled upon.
The O Trabalho current of the Workers Party fully supports the public-sector workers and their right to organize, assemble and strike. We condemn the acts of repression carried out by a government that the overwhelming majority of the social and popular movement brought to power -- not to repress the just struggle of the workers, but to open a solution to the urgent and legitimate demands of our people.
We demand that those responsible for these savage acts against the striking workers and against a Senator of the Republic be brought to justice. This must be done immediately to safeguard basic democratic rights.
São Paulo, August 2, 2003 O Trabalho Current of the Workers Party (PT)
BRAZIL: The Meaning of the Struggle of the Public-Sector Workers Against the Reform of the Pension System
On July 8, public-sector workers in Brazil began a national strike against the government's proposed measure to reform the Pension System (Proposed Constitutional Amendment #40, or PEC 40). This proposal was submitted to the National Congress by the Lula government and by the State governors. Public-sector workers are demanding the withdrawal of PEC 40 and the reopening of negotiations. The strike was called by CONDSEF (National Federation of Federal Workers), which is composed of eleven unions.
The proposed counter-reform concerns all three categories of public-sector workers: federal, state and local (Brazil is a federation of states). This measure would destroy a whole series of public-sector workers' rights -- all in accordance with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund.
PEC 40 suppresses outright the workers' ability to retire with a pension equivalent to the worker's last full wages. It imposes on actual retirees a fee on the retirement fund itself, increases the minimum age for the retirement of public workers and diminishes by 30% widows' pensions. The overall goal of this counter-reform is to to turn over the retirement funds of the public workers to the speculators who handle the private pension funds. According to a leaflet distributed by the Union of Federal Workers in the Federal District (SINDISEP-DF), "the bankers will benefit from it because from now till the year 2010 the reform would create a pension-funds market of about 610 billion reais." At the current exchange rate, that means more than US$200 billion would be transferred from the public-sector workers' differred wages to speculative funds.
Excerpts from a Correspondent in Brazil:
On its fifth day, the strike is strengthening and expanding to new sections of the public sector, totalling more than 400,000 strikers -- that is. over 50% of federal workers.
Speculators are getting nervous
The strike has opened the floodgates of a social, political and institutional crisis.
Faced with this new situation, José Dirceu (former president of the Workers Party and presently a government minister) and João Paulo Cunha (president of the National Congress, also a Workers Party member) proposed some changes in the reform bill, promising to maintain the full pension in exchange for an increase in the retirement age from 55 to 60 years for men, and from 50 to 55 years for women. But this proposal achieved nothing but a deepening of the crisis.
The unions say the new bill is unacceptable. The proposed amendment has even encouraged the continuation of the strike, according to Ramiro Lopes, coordinator of FENAJUFE (federal justice workers).
On the other side, finance capital has reacted angrily to any idea of an amendment to the proposed bill. A first sign was the big drop on the São Paulo Stock Exchange on the two consecutive days after the government announced it had agreed to modify the reform. Speculators consider that maintaining the full pension hinders the development of speculative pension funds.
Unity with the CUT Trade Union Federation
During the discussion at the 8th National Congress of the CUT (United Workers Federation), not one of the 2,735 delegates to the Congress defended the government's proposed reform of the pension system -- not even the leaders of the main current of the union (Articulation), close to Lula. This fact has been a point of support to attain unity of all CUT currents against the reform. But the CUT Congress decided to present proposals of amendments to the government's bill. This put the public-sector unions affiliated to the CUT in a difficult situation, because these unions are for withdrawal or suspension of the reform.
The strength of the strike, as well as the hesitations and doubts within the government, has favored the struggle for an effective support by the CUT for the strike. In several states, the CUT has led strikes and demonstrations in support of the strikers. In other states, the CUT has called joint meetings of all public-sector unions (of federal, state and local workers) to organize delegations to a national public-sector workers' meeting on July 24, to establish proposals for common actions in August to embrace the entire public sector.
On July 15th a new meeting of the National Executive Commission of the CUT will assess the situation.
Anísio Homem July 14, 2003
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