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Why Brazil’s trade unionists are on the streets when President Lula can’t be

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This weekend, thousands of trade unionists gathered outside the metalworkers’ union building in the town of Sao Bernardo do Campo, outside Brazil’s industrial capital of Sao Paolo.

They were there to show solidarity with the man inside, hometown boy and former metalworkers’ union leader Lula da Silva, who was President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011. The trade union movement in Brazil, and globally, has condemned the judicial coup that is being enacted against President Lula, as we condemned the legislative coup that displaced his twice-elected successor Dilma Rousseff in 2016.

Trade unionists in Brazil want Lula to stand again in the Presidential elections this autumn, to replace the austerity and anti-worker policies of the genuinely corrupt and illegitimate regime of the current ‘President’, Michael Temer. The signs are that, if he is able to stand, he would win, with 45% backing Lula against less than 30% for his hard right rival. And that, of course, is why the political elite shocked by Lula’s two victories in 2002 and 2006 – and then Dilma’s two further victories in 2010 and 2014 – want to stop him from standing, resorting to a flawed judicial process because they can’t win at the ballot box.

On Sunday, after a stand-off since Friday afternoon, President Lula walked through the crowd (occasionally carried head high) to turn himself in to begin a potential twelve year sentence on unproven and baseless charges of corruption. Despite two pending court cases to challenge the verdict of Brazil’s notoriously political courts (the latest Supreme Court case decided on a 6:5 split), writs of habeas corpus moved by Lula’s lawyers failed, and he was jailed despite being no flight risk and not having exhausted the appeals process. The legal team led by Geoffrey Robertson QC has even appealed to the United Nations to insist on Lula’s right to fair treatment and justice

If Lula is allowed to stand for President again at the head of the Workers’ Party (PT) he founded after leading the CUT (Brazil’s main trade union confederation), he would be able to restore the pro-poor, pro-worker policies that Temer’s almost all white, male, corrupt government has tried to unpick. Temer has presided over a vicious policy of austerity, scrapped anti-slavery measures (Brazil was the last country in Latin America to abolish slavery, and it still scars the rural regions of the massive country), and stimulated a growth in insecure employment contracts. And now he wants to scrap Lula’s flagship policy, the world-renowned Bolsa Familia which paid people to keep their children in school, tackling several causes of poverty at once.

There has been global support for President Lula’s fight. The world’s top trade unionist, Sharan Burrow, said on Friday:

“Lula was found guilty by a lower court on the basis of no evidence, something that the lower court judges themselves have admitted. Now, with the military threatening to intervene, Supreme Court judges have, by the narrowest of margins, again bowed to powerful business interests which want to undo forever Lula’s achievements in fighting poverty and inequality in Brazil. Lula is Brazil’s most popular politician by a huge margin, and the judicial persecution of him is aimed at stopping him becoming President again.”

The TUC will be joining global trade union protests later this month – and throughout our summer – to ensure Brazil’s people are able to freely choose their government this autumn, and that Brazil’s workers’ trade unions get a government they can work with to reverse authoritarian attacks on liberties and austerity that hurts the poorest in Brazil. #StandWithLula.

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