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Workers’ rights and social justice in Brazil: the issues at stake in Lula’s trial

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Igo Estrela / Stringer

On Wednesday 24 January, Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva goes on trial for alleged corruption. In fact, the trial is simply the latest attempt by Brazil’s rich and powerful elites to prevent him winning the presidency again later this year. Unions in Brazil and across the world have called for the prosecution to be halted. If the elite wants to stop Lula becoming President for a third time, they should do it at the ballot box. The trial is the latest evidence that they don’t think they can.

Former President Lula governed Brazil from 2002-2010, winning the two consecutive terms that the Brazilian constitution allowed. As leader of the Workers’ Party (PT), and a former head of the trade union movement CUT, he introduced policies which addressed poverty and strengthened unions. His most famous measure was the Bolsa Familia, which rewarded poor families for keeping their kids in school. But just as important were the increases in the minimum wage, formalising employment, and stronger rights at work.

When the Workers’ Party candidate to succeed Lula – Dilma Rousseff – won the Presidency in 2010 and then again in 2014, the powerful families of the Brazilian elite realised they could not win at the ballot box. They forced Dilma from office in a legislative coup and replaced her with the corrupt politicians around former Vice-President Temer who have since presided over swingeing austerity and attacks on rights at work.

Now, with the Presidential election looming, and former President Lula eligible to stand again, the elites have engaged in judicial harassment and trial by media (which the elites, of course, control), culminating in tomorrow’s trial for alleged corruption. The case against Lula is circumstantial and weak, and – prompted by the CUT - the global trade union movement has issued a brochure explaining the failings of the prosecution case.

The TUC, which has had close links with the CUT directly and through the International Trade Union Confederation, has been offering support and solidarity since the legislative coup against President Dilma in 2016.

Our General Secretary Frances O’Grady said today that "Lula’s achievements as President have inspired working people not just in Brazil but around the world."

She continued:

“The trial he faces on Wednesday is an undemocratic attempt by the rich and powerful in Brazil to prevent him winning back the Presidency at the ballot box. They fear that the Brazilian electorate will give him another mandate to improve the lives of working people. We stand in solidarity with trade unions in Brazil and in defence of democracy and Lula.”

And in a letter to the Brazilian Ambassador to the UK, she calls on the Brazilian government “to abide by its international obligations and halt the politically motivated judicial harassment of former President Lula da Silva.”

“The right to a fair trial and the due process of law are bedrock principles of a democratic order. These rights have been enshrined in numerous international human rights instruments, including article 14 of the International Covenant and Civil and Political Rights and article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights. They are also recognised as customary international law.

“We call on the government of Brazil to comply with its treaty obligations and customary international law, and protect the fundamental rights to due process of law and to a fair trial. If it fails to do so, it will cause irreparable harm to democracy in Brazil.”

Our protests are part of a global trade union campaign to stand in solidarity with Brazilian trade unionists, stand up for democracy in Brazil, and stand with Lula. You can add your name to the global petition.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and one of seven co-chairs of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, has issued the following call:

Democracy is under attack in Brazil. After deposing the democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff, a group of corrupt politicians took power to implement anti-union measures - including dismantling of workers’ rights, threats to public pensions, attacks on social protection and the cash transfer programmes; it has attempted to legalise forced labour by changing the definition of slavery and now it is trying to prevent former president Lula from running for office in the coming elections.

“On 24 January, a regional appeals court will decide on politically motivated and false charges against Lula. They want a guilty verdict to stop him standing for election again, destroy his reputation and remove his influence.

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