Brazil has been a priority for the TUC since 2017 when, following the removal of Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) government in a judicial and congressional coup, an unprecedented assault on the rights of organised labour and on the country’s welfare state was initiated by Dilma’s successor Michel Temer. The crisis has since been compounded by the rise of the far-right administration of Jair Bolsonaro, who was considered an extremist even during the years of military dictatorship. This report responds to urgent requests for international scrutiny and solidarity from Brazilian trade unions. It aims to reveal the extent of the damage done by Bolsonaro to Brazilian democracy, workers and human rights and the environment and show how unions and others are resisting this assault on rights.
The report covers four major areas of concern: labour rights and austerity; democracy and human rights; racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia; and the environment and Indigenous rights.
Labour and Austerity
The authoritarian Bolsonaro and his supporters have already stepped-up efforts to discredit next year’s election results, giving rise to fears he will resist a peaceful transition of power in the event of his defeat. This follows the previous election after Lula was wrongly imprisoned.
Bolsonaro’s actions against his own people and the environment, his defence of the torturers of Brazil’s last dictatorship and his threat to democratic rule require a strong response from the international community.
Parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in raising the profile of the alarming situation in Brazil, including calling the Brazilian government to account on violations of its international labour, human rights and environmental obligations and maintaining pressure on the UK government to raise concerns.
The trade union movement’s internationalist orientation has a vital role to play in regards to Brazil.
Support the sending of observers for the 2022 election process
By being outspoken on human rights, British business can exercise important influence on both the Brazilian government, which seeks to legitimise itself through foreign investment and trade, as well as on the UK government.
Workers and their unions in Brazil face an unprecedented assault. The far-right government is attacking employment and labour rights, undermining minority groups, and wrecking the welfare state with free-market reforms and austerity. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with our Brazilian sisters and brothers during their hour of need.
This important report describes how the social progress achieved by Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff has been thrown into reverse by the governments of Michel Temer and now Jair Bolsonaro, the so-called “Trump of the Tropics”. It charts how Black workers, women, LGBT+ people and indigenous communities are bearing the brunt of Bolsonaro’s “war on internal enemies”. And, ahead of next year’s crucial elections, it highlights how Brazilian democracy itself is at risk.
Playing straight from the far-right playbook, the government has interfered in the legal system, allowed political violence to flourish, targeted journalists and activists, and turned a blind eye to the worst police brutality since the days of the military dictatorship. Even if Bolsonaro is defeated at the polls, there is no guarantee he will respect the verdict of the voters and agree to a peaceful transition of power.
Bolsonaro is also pursuing one of the most anti-trade union agendas in the world, with the ITUC now ranking Brazil among the 10 worst countries in the world for working people. His government has pared back rights at work to the bare minimum, giving a green light to bad bosses to exploit workers. And it has unliterally ended check-off, deliberately throwing unions into financial and organisational crisis.
As unions and civil society have been targeted, the poorest, most vulnerable sections of Brazilian society have suffered the consequences. Indigenous people and environmental activists have paid a terrible price as the government has allowed developers to trash natural habitats. Violence against women has spiralled out of control and reproductive rights have been attacked. And Black people have been systematically disadvantaged as the government has put the interests of the wealthy white elite first.
A self-described “proud homophobe”, Bolsonaro has also ruthlessly undermined LGBT+ citizens. Homophobic hate crime has risen sharply. And Brazil now ranks as the worst country in the world for violence against transgender people.
To add insult to injury, the Bolsonaro government’s calamitous handling of the Covid-19 emergency has further exacerbated already extreme inequalities. Draconian austerity policies have strangled Brazil’s ability to fight the pandemic, leaving a trail of death, despair and destruction across the country. The President’s scepticism towards the pandemic has come with a devastatingly high price tag.
For all these reasons, Brazil must be a big priority for our movement. Our values – internationalism; compassion; solidarity – have never mattered more than now. With Lula emerging as a favourite to beat Bolsonaro in next October’s election, British unions must offer practical support to our friends in Brazil. And what happens in Brazil matters hugely to the wider political ecosystem of Latin America, where progressives and radicals face an increasingly hard battle against powerful conservative forces.
So please read this report – but more importantly, get involved in campaigns to advance political, social and environmental justice in Brazil. Working people in Brazil really do need our solidarity.
General Secretary, TUC
With thanks to the writing team, the CUT, and all the Brazilian activists and trade unionists whose work and contributions have resulted in this report.
Juliano Fiori, Contributing Editor at Alborada, Rio de Janeiro
José Dari Krein, Professor of Economics, Universidade Federal de Campinas (Unicamp)
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