Last month, the world watched with bated breath as Brazilians voted in two rounds of high-stakes elections that pitted far-right president Jair Bolsonaro against former president, leftist hero, and leader of the Workers Party Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. After being elected president in 2018, Bolsonaro and his far-right movement have unleashed a darkness upon Brazil that has had wide-ranging implications for the country, the hemisphere, and the world. From burning the Amazon and overseeing a disastrous response to the COVID pandemic to stoking fascistic violence, conspiracy theories, and a fervor for religious war among his supporters, Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism have been a political wrecking ball slamming against a world already teetering on the edge of disaster. And that is why so many around Brazil and around the world celebrated when Lula defeated Bolsonaro at the end of October.
What role did workers and working-class voters play in this critical election? What does Lula’s victory mean for working people and for the labor movement in Brazil? How have the lives of working-class people, and the shape of working-class politics, changed in Brazil in recent years and decades? And what can we all do to build international solidarity with our fellow workers in Brazil and beyond? We talk about all of this and more with Fabio Bosco, a retired subway operator in São Paulo, a trade unionist, and an organizer with the labor federation CSP-CONLUTAS.
Additional links/info below…
- CSP-Conlutas website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- Michael Fox, The Real News Network/NACLA, Brazil on Fire podcast series
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “Indigenous-Led Alliance Moves to Stop Bolsonaro’s ‘Ecocidal’ Destruction of the Amazon”
- Michael Fox, In These Times, “Brazil’s Labor Unions Prepare for War with Far-Right President Jair Bolsonaro”
- Robert Maisey, Trades Union Congress, “Bolsonaro Is Waging War on Labour Rights in Brazil”
Permanent links below…
- Leave us a voicemail and we might play it on the show!
- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive at freemusicarchive.org):
- Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
Rebecca: Hi everyone at the Working People team. My name is Rebecca. I’m a teacher. I live in Oregon now, but I taught for almost 20 years in New York City. I love your show. I really can’t put into words how much I love your show. I just finished listening to the episode with Leo. Goddamn it, what a poignant story, and what amazing insights he has into society. I just can’t thank all of you enough, Max. I love you. Thank you so much for all that you do. Solidarity forever.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. So if you’re hungry for more worker and labor-focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network.
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My name is Maximillian Alvarez, and I just want to start off by saying how incredibly grateful I am for that beautiful voicemail that we got from Rebecca in Oregon. Rebecca, if you’re listening to this, thank you so much for your kind words about the show and about our interview with Leo Linder. And thank you for taking the time to drop us a message. We’ve spent so much time working on this show over the past five seasons. And even though we can see a lot of people listening, it’s actually quite rare that we get to hear directly from people posting about us online, emailing us their thoughts, writing reviews of the show on Apple Podcasts, or sending in a voicemail for us to play on the show.
It can feel a little lonely on this end, if I’m being honest. And every week, we send new episodes out into the world, and we put all our love into them, and we just hope that they speak to people wherever they are as much as our episode with Leo spoke to Rebecca. And every time that we get a message like that, it puts fuel back in the tank and reminds us that we got to keep going and we gotta keep fighting. So again, to Rebecca, to everyone who’s shown us love over the years, from me and Jules, and from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. If you’re listening to this and you want to send us a message to play on the show, you can find the link to our voicemail in the permanent links portion of the show notes in this episode or any other episode that we’ve posted.
All right. Well, there’s obviously a lot going on in the world right now, and we obviously can’t address all of it on one podcast. And while we tend to post a lot on Twitter, who the fuck knows how much longer Twitter is going to be around? But I wanted to take a moment to send all of our love and solidarity to the 48,000 academic workers at the University of California who are currently waging the largest higher ed strike in US history, the largest strike going on in the country right now. And we also want to send love and solidarity to part-time faculty at The New School in New York, who may be on the picket line by the time that you listen to this.
If you want to know more about those crucial struggles which we are unable to cover on Working People, you should definitely subscribe to The Real News Network newsletter, the YouTube channel, and the podcast feed, because I have an interview over there on the University of California strike. And we also published a really great text piece on The New School strike by Miles Hamberg this week. Also, if you listen to our episode from earlier this season with the great Brandi McNease of Chipotle United in Maine, you should go check out my latest segment on Breaking Points where Brandi and I talked at length about some recent bombshell developments in their struggle for justice after Chipotle illegally closed the store where Brandi and her coworkers were unionizing this summer. My point is we’re putting in the work, and we’ve got a lot of great stuff out there for you, and we’re covering as many stories as we can on top of everything that we’re doing here on the podcast.
One of the stories that we’ve been covering a lot this year over at The Real News has been the incredibly high stakes elections that just happened last month in Brazil. As you all probably know, after being elected in 2018, President Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right movement have unleashed a darkness upon Brazil that has had implications for Brazil, for the rest of the hemisphere, and, frankly, for the world. From burning the Amazon and overseeing a disastrous response to the COVID pandemic, to stoking fascistic violence, conspiracy theories, and a fervor for religious war among his supporters, Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism have been a political wrecking ball slamming against a world already teetering on the edge of disaster.
And that is why so many around Brazil and around the world celebrated at the end of October when former president, leftist hero, and leader of the Workers’ Party, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, defeated Bolsonaro in the general election.
So what role did workers and working class voters play in this critical election? What does Lula’s victory mean for working people and for the labor movement in Brazil? And how have the lives of working class people and the shape of working class politics changed in Brazil in recent years and decades? And what can we all do to build international solidarity with our fellow workers in Brazil and beyond? I genuinely couldn’t be more honored to say that I got the chance to talk about all of this and more with our guest today, Fabio Bosco, a retired subway operator in São Paulo, a trade unionist, and an organizer with the labor federation CSP-Conlutas.
And a big shout out to brother Chris Hutchinson for putting me and Fabio in touch. Thank you, Chris. Really appreciate it, man. And I had such an incredible conversation with Fabio. And frankly, I wish I could have talked to him for hours longer, but eventually I had to let him get to bed. But we talk about his life as a young radical during and after the military dictatorship in Brazil. We talk about the political and economic changes that he has experienced in Brazil over his lifetime, the importance of international working class solidarity, and about working people’s fight today in Brazil and beyond. This is his story.
Fabio Bosco: My name is Fabio Bosco. I am a subway operator, but now I am retired. I was an official in the union, and I started to be politically active when I was a kid. It was the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil, and I joined. My sister took me to a socialist organization that in those days was working to legalize what would become the largest party in Brazil, which is the Workers’ Party, the party that Lula is currently the main leader. And afterwards, what happened? The Workers’ Party that in those days, in the ’80s, was a very interesting party in the sense that it talked about the need for the working class to organize independently from the traditional capitalist parties.
But then, after those big events related to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the politics of the Workers’ Party changed and they started to support a humanization of capitalism, make alliances with the capitalist parties. And then my group inside, my caucus inside the party was expelled because we still were talking about socialism and revolution, and this was not what the Workers’ Party was fighting for in those days, the ’90s onwards.
And since then, we’ve organized another political party, which is the Unified Socialist Workers’ Party. And later on when Lula was elected the president of Brazil for his first term in 2002, one of his first measures was to deliver reform in the social security that took away rights from the public workers. And so there was a split in the main labor federation in Brazil, the CUT, and I was among those guys that split. And we formed a new labor and people’s federation called CSP-Conlutas where I’m organizing today. More or less, that’s my story. And I’m very happy to be talking here to you about labor issues all under the perspective of the independence of the working class.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. Well, Fabio, it is a real honor to be chatting with you across the hemisphere. I know it’s late where you are, but I’m so grateful to you for taking time to sit down and chat with me. I know that a lot of our listeners are interested in not just what working people are going through here in the United States, but around the world. And they want to know how they can build solidarity with their fellow workers from Brazil to India to Canada to Europe. And so it’s a real treat to get to talk to you a little bit more about what workers in Brazil are going through right now, what the current election results mean for the working class and the labor movement in Brazil. We were all watching very closely from afar, and we were sending all of our love and solidarity, hoping that things went in a better direction. We’re going to talk about all of that in a bit.
But I wanted to jump back for a second because you have a really interesting story that I would love to know more about. And first, I’m curious to know what it was like for you as a boy coming out of a military dictatorship and gravitating towards socialist politics. Could you tell us a little bit more about who you were at that time and what the country was like? Paint a picture for folks who maybe don’t know a whole lot about Brazil in that time period.
Fabio Bosco: Max, what happened in those days, it was the end of the military dictatorship. It was not the worst moments, which were around the end of the ’60s and beginning of the ’70s. But then, what happened? You see how it’s important for us to see how the US is influential in Brazil. In those days, in the mid-’70s, the US lost the war in Vietnam. And some years later, Carter was elected and he started a kind of human rights politics.
And so Brazil, the military in Brazil had to adapt themselves to that. And so they started to talk about… The word in Portuguese means opening. It meant that they were going to accept parties to be legalized and then this stuff. So in that moment where there was this opening, I became politically active.
The dictatorship in those days, it was weak. It was not strong. And the popularity of the dictatorship was low because the influence of the crisis of oil at the end of the ’70s made the inflation in Brazil to be very high. And so the working class was divorcing from the military and the first big strikes started to happen. The first one, it was the auto workers of Scania in Greater São Paulo. They went on strike for wages, a very bread-and-butter issue. And the military, goodness me, they put the guys under siege. It was a strong repression. And so the working class was fighting for their survival and had to face repression from the military. And the succession of strikes started to, how can I say, to finish the dictatorship.
So in those days there was a lot of hope in the new moment that Brazil was about to live with the end of the dictatorship, with democratic rights, so it was a good moment, I believe. And there were many socialist organizations here in Brazil, so there was talk about socialism. Everything was together. Workers’ struggles, democratic rights, socialism. It was, I think, a good moment to join all these movements.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. Oh, that’s quite a moment to be young and political. And on top of that, you’ve got the punk scene emerging. You have the worldwide youth rebellion that I know that my folks in Mexico were even experiencing at the time. And through music and different forms of art and politics, I think, was also something that really influenced them in the early ’80s. Were you yourself steeped in a socialist tradition? I think you said that you and your sister were getting involved at that moment? Tell me a little more about young Fabio in that moment. What were you doing? What were you fighting for? And what was going on in your world?
Fabio Bosco: Look, my family in Brazil, when the military dictatorship started in 1964, a few years later, there was a lot of foreign investments in Brazil. It developed many industries because these foreign corporations, they felt safe because the military was giving the necessary stability for their business. There would be no strikes, no problem of unions. A kind of middle class emerged, and among these guys were my father and my mother. They were poor when they were very young, but my mother became a teacher, my father went to work in a bank, and so they became a kind of middle class. My family was a middle class family, and all of us, we were four children. I am the youngest.
The oldest one was the first one to get involved in politics. He also joined another socialist organization, not the same as I did, and he started to organize clandestine meetings of university students. So he was active in this [inaudible]. Then my older sister also joined, but it was another organization. I was very young. She took me.
And it was interesting days, as I told you. First, she took me to the senior high school students’ union here in São Paulo. And man, there were some crazy debates there. I remember that one of these debates was about Poland, because in Poland there was a new labor movement around our organization called Solidarity, and the students were divided. It was a vanguard organization, and they were divided. Some of them supported Solidarity, and others, they supported the Soviet Union-sponsored military alliance that was called the pact, the Warsaw Pact, to invade Poland to stop Solidarity. And so it was very interesting to see how among the left wing, the ranks of the left wing, you have some very authoritarian perspectives on the one side and others that are connected with the working class, the people, the people’s demands. So in those days, there was this discussion.
And some other different things that were happening was that a couple of years before, there was a revolution in Iran. All those things, [inaudible] class, oil, workers in the streets, students in the streets, it was everything very interesting.
Another thing that was happening those days were revolutions in Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador. And I remember that the first internationalist activities that I took part in, one was around the war that the United Kingdom moved against Argentina for a couple of islands called… We call them Malvinas as the Argentinians call them. But the British, they call them the Falklands. And here in Brazil, we organized the demonstrations for Argentina, for the right of Argentina to have the islands.
And just after, the far-right militias in Lebanon invaded a Palestinian refugee camp called… Two camps. One, it’s called Sabra and the other one Shatila in Beirut, and carried out a massacre, something horrible. And here in São Paulo, we are very far away. But there were 10,000 people in the streets against the massacre. It was a very powerful movement for a place that was so far away.
So those days, the beginning of the ’80s, there were interesting things happening, and I think that’s why I joined. I did not know anything, but I joined and started to learn. And it was something very important for my life, personally speaking.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and I wanted to ask you about this because this is, I think, a really incredible thing to hear. And I imagine some people who are listening to this now in 2022 may be baffled by that. Because, especially here in the United States, as you know, it’s very hard to build a consciousness of the world outside of our borders, and let alone to build solidarity with other working people who are fighting against military oppression, apartheid, exploitation, so on and so forth. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but hearing you talk about that moment in the ’80s, it just feels like that international consciousness was such a fundamental part of left politics in São Paulo in the circles that you were in. And that was in the days before the internet.
So I was wondering if you could say a little bit more about why there was such a focus on what was going on around the world. How did these struggles connect for all of you as young Brazilians coming out of a military dictatorship, fighting for a better world, fighting for socialism. How did you see that fight connected to what was going on in Beirut, what was going on in Argentina, and so on and so forth?
Fabio Bosco: I think that the socialists, they always work under an internationalist perspective. The ones that link themselves to the national arena, I think it’s a halfheartedly socialist stand. On the other side, I also think that as we were under a military dictatorship, you need to get energy from outside as well. And so when you hear, look, the guys put down the dictatorship. They expelled the Shah. The working class went on strike. The students went to the streets. The poor joined. You start to think, well, why not here?
So I think there is a combination of this issue of being under a dictatorship. You look outside to get energy. And also because the socialist groups, if they are faithful to the idea of socialists, socialism cannot be done in one nation alone. It has to go across the borders. It’s an international movement. Capitalism is international. And so socialism, to be accomplished, it must be international as well. That’s why I think socialists are always interested in building connections, in supporting or opposing the politics in one country or the other.
And lastly, I think that the relationship between politics is international as well. I gave you this example. The US lost a war and Jim Carter started this human rights stuff. It influenced Brazil. The military coup d’état in Brazil was organized by the US. So you see that things are very connected. And the working class must recognize this reality. The economy is internationalized. The politics are internationalized. You must jump into this page.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. No, I think that’s beautifully put. Capital doesn’t play by national rules, so why are we? And why are we committing ourselves to this fiction that we can fight the monstrous forces of international capitalist domination by just saying, oh, we’re going to build American by American and fuck whatever’s happening to workers in Mexico. We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, so hopefully we learned our lesson.
And I wanted to build on that as well and ask about your life and career working in the subways, what you saw over these past few decades, what working people in Brazil have been going through since emerging from the dictatorship. I don’t know if you could maybe talk a little bit about what that job was like for you on a day-to-day basis, what went into that job, and what folks who have never worked in that industry may not see as passengers or customers.
Fabio Bosco: I had different jobs. The last one was as a subway operator. Look, it’s a very interesting working place because it’s one company and everyone is working… How can I say? It’s like a small city. We are around 9,000 workers, but all of us are connected by six subway lines, so we are very near one to the other. It’s different from other industries where you can be scattered across the country. The subway workers are not like this. And so that’s one characteristic that I think is very positive.
There is a second one, which is when you work there, you understand that many of us work underground. And these guys that work underground, they are a little bit strange because it’s strange to work underground, to stay half of your life underground. And the working times, we work some days in the morning shift, other days in the afternoon-night shift, others in the night-morning shift. And so subway workers are always a bit sleepy [laughs].
But it’s a wonderful place. We feel a lot of solidarity. People like to talk, to discuss politics. There are different perspectives you find. Look at this, not this last one but the previous one, the previous election, national election in Brazil when Bolsonaro became the president. Look, my station, 6:00 AM in the morning, we were all together having coffee and fighting for and against Bolsonaro. It’s a very lively place. And at the same time, what happened with the decay in the economy and the attacks against labor rights, life is becoming more difficult. So the subway workers, like all the Brazilian working class, all of us have been suffering a lot because it’s something like this.
I will explain to you. For instance, since 2015, there was an economic crisis in Brazil, so inflation was very high, around 10% per year, and unemployment was increasing. So everyone of us had one, a friend or someone in your family that lost a job. It was affecting everyone, and things were getting worse. And so for instance, today here in São Paulo, there are something like 30,000 people living in the streets. In my subway station, there lived something like 30 people. They lived there.
We’re always making jokes saying, look, we need to give them a card because they are like us. They don’t work here but they live here. They are our coworkers. So the living conditions in Brazil decreased a lot. And the pandemic was very hard, because look, the subway did not stop. And so when everyone had to stay at home, the subway workers had to work. And anyone who could have COVID was put aside, so people were working with less people every day. It was a difficult moment.
And I think that one of the lessons we must take from these realities that I’m telling you is related to capitalism. Because look, capitalism presents itself as a powerful economic and political system that can deliver, can improve production, new technologies. But they cannot provide two shots of vaccines for every human being across the world. They cannot do it. And the two shots are cheap. They cannot provide. They cannot provide improvement in the living conditions of the whole people. Some people, okay, they improve. So when you look ahead and you see, look, my life will not get better. My children, you have to do a revolution because there is no other way.
So I think that this situation of economic decay leads us to this political situation that we’re living Brazil, that a far-right president managed to be elected under a lot of lies and building an alliance that put together all the conservative Christians with the military police, far-right militias, capitalist sectors that want to destroy the Amazon to make money. It’s crazy. He put a lot of people together [laughs]. And with hate speech, it’s something very, very problematic and makes our lives that we’re under this economic stress, also under a political and social stress. It was something like hell. These times under Bolsonaro were very problematic. And what I feel is that despite the fact he lost elections, his movement will remain.
And what does it mean? For instance, after Lula was elected the president last Sunday, these people that are connected to Bolsonaro, they organized roadblocks, 500 roadblocks across the country to demand the military to intervene and stop Lula from ruling. And what happened? Joe Biden, he sent a message to Lula saying, congratulations. We must work together. And he said, we must work together to fight back hunger and also to stop illegal immigration. The guy is concerned with his agenda, not our agenda [laughs]. And so the military, when they saw that the US is supporting that Lula won the election and he must rule, and not only the US, Europe, the same. So the military said, okay, we cannot step in. These Bolsonaro people, they can stay in the streets calling us to step in, but we won’t. So the generals of the army, they did not do anything.
But that shows that this movement that Bolsonaro organized around himself under far-right speech and occupying the political space that used to be of traditional capitalist parties, he occupied this space. They are going to stay, and they have much more than only hate speech. They also sometimes go into action and they attack people and they kill people. It’s something very problematic. So despite the fact he lost elections, I feel that the working class, we have to organize some kind of self-defense to protect ourselves. Because I don’t see any willingness by Lula or the state institution to crush this far-right movement despite the fact that they have made a lot of wrongdoings, illegal stuff. But there is no willingness to finish with them.
I feel that the capitalists, they want to have both cards. At this moment, they prefer Lula in alliance with the capitalist parties to rule. But just in case it does not work and the working class decide to stand up and do something like Chile did three years ago, then they have Bolsonaro and his gangs and these guys will attack us, and we have to defend ourselves. So I think that one of the main issues that remain after the election is to organize self-defense, working class self-defense and build international solidarity because we need it. And that’s why I’m talking to you.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah, brother. Like you said, international solidarity is not just a virtue on its own. It’s not just a nice thing to say. It’s an essential form of working class self-defense. It is an essential part of actually changing the world so that we have a world left. We’re heading towards a pretty gruesome future right now, and we’re all connected to that. Like you said, from the capitalists inside and outside of Brazil who have targeted the Amazon for profit, even if it means the destruction of our shared ecosystem, to the rampages of a global oil industry that will suck every last drop of profit out of the ground even if it means human civilization cannot continue. And so this is part of our collective struggle, and we can’t get there unless we do it collectively and internationally.
And I wanted to go back to something that you said, to really give listeners a sense of the class dynamics that created the possibility of Bolsonaro. Because this is something that I think listeners here in North America will recognize when we’re talking about Donald Trump, because there was an essential class element to Donald Trump’s rise. And to anyone listening, that’s not to say that there weren’t a whole lot of bourgeois and upper middle class people who created the coalition that voted Donald Trump into office in 2016. There were. There were a lot of people in the upper classes who wanted Trump to be president, and they got what they wanted. They got their taxes cut, they got a renewed war on workers and labor, they got the benefits of the far-right politics that Trump promised.
But at the same time, there were a lot of working people in this country who, over the course of decades since, to go back to when you were talking about, the 1980s. You can look at these charts and you can see that basically from the time Ronald Reagan became president, the percentage of American workers who were in a union just dropped off a cliff over the next 40 years. And now we’re barely above 10% of the American workforce is part of a union. And so you’ve had the destruction of organized labor, and you’ve also had organized labor contributing to that. We don’t have to go into that now, but over the 40 years, the labor movement has become less of a political force for the working class to defend itself and to advocate for itself and to push its interests on the national and local level. So you have that.
At the same time, you have the rise of neoliberalism. You have this belief that once the Cold War is over capitalism is going to dominate. It’s going to create enough wealth for all of us to rise to a comfortable middle-class existence or an upper middle-class existence. Or maybe we can all become millionaires in the new digital age. And at the same time we’re going to essentially cut services from the government and give them over to the market.
We’ve had 40 years of this crap, and what it has meant is the rich have gotten richer. The wages for working people have stayed stagnant for four decades while union density goes down and while workers are working harder and longer, and yet they’re seeing less of the benefits of that. And the cost of living just keeps going up. And then we had a massive financial crash in 2007 where families like mine lost their homes and lost their retirements.
There’s been an ongoing class war for many, many years, and I think that that really played a role in a number of people wanting to believe that Donald Trump could change things and wanting to believe, because people had lost so much faith in the government. They had lost so much faith in Republicans and Democrats, and here comes Trump saying he’s different. And so there were working people who bought into this. I have people in my own family who voted for Donald Trump, and we’re Mexican immigrants. That’s, I think, how desperate a lot of people felt, or how hopeless a lot of people felt.
So I wanted to ask in the Brazilian context how those class dynamics have shaped the terrain for working people over these past few decades and how that played into the rise of Jair Bolsonaro.
Fabio Bosco: I think, Max, that yesterday I was talking to some guys from the US and we noticed that there are many similarities between Brazil and the US regarding this issue of Trump and Bolsonaro. I think that here in Brazil, what happened is that in the ’90s, every government was committed to this Washington consensus, which is neoliberal policies, which opened the economy for international corporations, privatizations everywhere, this kind of stuff, and labor rights. And the governments start to be very similar one to the other, because on top of this Washington consensus, you have the IMF and the World Bank that are very influential men, very influential.
I used to say that here in Brazil, for instance, the politics, the policies, public policies towards public education and public healthcare, it’s the World Bank who decides it. It’s not Brazil. And the IMF, they rule the economy, which will be the public policies regarding the economy. The IMF, they are always influencing through loans, through pressure. And so the governments started to be very similar one to the other, and the living conditions were decreasing. And so that’s why there is dissatisfaction coming from the working class in relation to everyone. That’s why I think it’s very similar to what you are talking about.
At the same time, I think there is something else, which is the capitalists. They see the crisis and they see that they must do what Karl Marx called this primitive accumulation. It’s when you destroy, you loot, you make this primitive accumulation so that you can start to have normal exploitation, industries, wages. And so I think that they realized that they must carry out some kind of primitive accumulation, and that’s why they are destroying the Amazon, the rainforest. Because they see, look, there are minerals in the underground, so take the trees, and we take what’s underground. And then the trees, we take the ones that are profitable. You cut them and take them away. And the others, you just take them and then you make something for cattle and that’s it. Or you just leave it destroyed. And you make immediate money. You have no commitment with the future, with humanity, it’s just immediate profit, and it’s very profitable.
So it looks like the time that preceded the industrial revolution. And it’s not only that the capitalists are greedy. It’s because there is an economic crisis, and so the cake is becoming smaller. We from the working class, we always take the burden of the crisis on us. But the capitalists, they fight between themselves. And so some sectors resort to this kind of exploration of nature that destroys nature. And I think in the US, I also saw that they are trying to take oil from Alaska. They destroy everything, these fracking techniques. This is very harmful to the environment. And so what we could… Yes.
Maximillian Alvarez: We’re just hearing right now, this month, that the world is going to blow past 1.5 degrees warming. And so we’re not going to change our ways enough to keep ourselves below that threshold, which is going to mean a lot of devastation, a lot of death, a lot of destruction of human life, human civilization, but non-human life. And we’re looking at crisis levels of warming. And the Biden administration is tweeting about how American domestic oil production is higher than it’s ever been, and celebrating this ahead of the elections. And it’s just like, well, okay. Well, I guess we’re fucked.
Fabio Bosco: [laughs] Yes. America’s exporting gas and oil to Europe now, trying to replace the exports that were coming from Russia. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. And so I think that this combination of this dissatisfaction with these neoliberal policies that have been going on for 30 years, and whether every government is progressive or not or conservative, they do more or less the same. Then a guy like Bolsonaro steps in and says, look, I am different. I want to change everything. I don’t accept that, blah blah blah blah. And he was elected.
But look, Max. When he was elected in 2018, I think that half of the vote for Bolsonaro was not for Bolsonaro. It was a vote against the others, against particularly the Workers’ Party, but not only. Also, the traditional right-wing parties. So it was a vote that was not for a military dictatorship or hate speech. It was not for that. It was against the others.
But what happened? Since this guy is in power, he understands that to keep his domination, his rule, he must work in that direction. As much division and hate there is in society, it’s better for him. He can build a base under this kind of horrible speech and lies. But now, he lost the election. The difference was like this, but he lost the election. Now, I think that we cannot wait for Lula. Lula will not do anything to crush Bolsonaro, to finish with these far-right groups. I think it’s the working class, through our struggles and our movements and our protests. I think we will be under attack by these groups, and so that we will take the necessary lessons and build self-organization.
There was an experience these days in Brazil that was very funny. When these Bolsonaro people were blocking the roads, there was a round of the Brazilian football championship. And so football supporters, they were moving from one city to the other to see, to go to the matches, the city. They stayed in the other cities. And sometimes they found these roadblocks and they came out of the buses and they took away these Bolsonaro people. It was very interesting, instinctively. And these guys from football, they also come from the people, the ordinary people. So I think that instinctively, the working class, the poor communities, they will learn this. It will be part of their reality, this backlash coming from far-right groups. And so they will self-organize. And I think that we must follow Malcolm Xism by any means necessary. You must defend yourself.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, man. I saw some videos of that, and it was great to see. Don’t get between working people in Brazil and their soccer match! Not even the fascists can withstand that force. And so man, I could talk to you for hours, but I know it’s late there so I don’t want to keep you too much longer. But I wanted to follow up on that and ask about the labor movement in Brazil. What did the Bolsonaro presidency mean for the labor movement? What role did workers in the labor movement play in the latest election? And what is it going to mean having Lula back in office, not just for workers in unions, but for the working class in general? So you see those three stages of the question. I was wondering if you could comment for folks who were wondering what movement is coming from the grassroots, from labor organizations. What is the state of the movement over there in Brazil?
Fabio Bosco: Look, Bolsonaro, for the labor movement, was very negative. He implemented a labor reform that came from the previous government, but he implemented it. And so there was a casualization everywhere. The new jobs that emerged were low quality jobs with very low wages. So for the working people it was very bad. And regarding unions, he also implemented measures that limited the possibility of the union to survive. And so through these means, he weakened the unions. It was a difficult moment. Even so, there were strikes, there were struggles. Some of them won, some of them did not.
And what happened? In the election, the majority of the labor movement, the union officials, these guys, the activists, they supported Lula, or they voted for Lula even if they didn’t agree very much, but they were totally opposed to Bolsonaro. In the ranks of the working class, you find people supporting Bolsonaro. In some places, a large number of people. But the activists, the people that make the union present everywhere, these guys, all of them were against Bolsonaro. And so some of them voted for Bolsonaro because here, we have a first voting and then a runoff. The majority supported Lula since the first voting. I myself, the first voting, I supported a socialist candidate, a Black woman and a worker called Vera. And then in the runoff, you have Lula and Bolsonaro. I voted against Bolsonaro, so I voted for Lula.
And then with Lula, what will happen? Look, if we look at what he did before and the kind of alliances he’s doing now, which were the same he did before, he made an alliance with big capitalist groups. For instance, in his presidential ticket, the vice president is Geraldo Alckmin. He’s a very right-wing politician. He was the governor of São Paulo. And so the teachers of São Paulo every year elected him, enemy number one of public education. This guy is the guy that, when we went on strike, the São Paulo subway were workers in 2014, he demanded the company to fire us. He fired us. I was one of them. 42 workers were dismissed because of a labor strike. So this man is the vice president, and he’s connected to an ultra conservative wing of the Catholic church that’s called Opus Dei. I don’t know if you’re aware of this. But this man is the vice president.
So he’s building an alliance with these capitalist groups. And when you do this alliance, you cannot deliver to the working people because your alliance prevents you from doing anything. And it means everything. For instance, the legalization of abortion. Because this alliance includes conservative Christians, you cannot talk about that. Lula himself said, oh no, I personally, I’m against abortion. Of course, everyone that supports women’s rights voted against Bolsonaro. But to achieve the legalization of abortion, you have to fight. You have to take these streets. You have to do the same that was done in Argentina, Chile, Colombia. If you wait for Lula, you will not have this right, as we did not have after 13 years of rule of the Workers’ Party.
So I feel that what’s posed for the labor movement, for the working class in general, is that we have to face two challenges. On the one side, we have to build self-defense against Bolsonaro’s gangs. And on the other hand, we have to fight back the liberal policies that will be coming from the new government. So it will be a big challenge. But I think that after a first honeymoon period with Lula, I think the working class will start to move because the situation is bad here and people need to improve it. And the way to improve, you can try individually. One or two will succeed. But collectively, it’s easier.
And so my expectation is that after some months, we will start to have big campaigns, labor campaigns for wages, for jobs, for improvements, to cancel the liberal reforms that were done by Bolsonaro and the previous government. That’s my expectation. These students will go to the streets to fight for a better budget for public education and the poor communities. Because here in Brazil, Max, I don’t know if you know, but Brazil has the second largest Black population in the world after Nigeria. And there is a lot of racism here. Every year, something around 50,000 people are killed. 10%, the police do that. And 70% are young, poor, Black people. It’s a genocide. There is a genocide.
Another thing, there is mass incarceration of people here. And that happened because of a law that Lula did in his first term under pressure from the United States that was carrying out a war on drugs. So in Brazil, Lula put out a bill against drugs, and this criminalized anyone carrying any amount of drugs. And so what happened? The incarceration in Brazil increased 200%, three times. Who are these guys? Majority of them, poor, Black, young people. So I think there will be a big struggle against this killing of people, police brutality. And on the other side, we must reverse this bill on drugs and take out of jail the majority of people that are there, all these poor people that are incarcerated for absurd reasons.
Maximillian Alvarez: Oh yeah, we got a lot of that here as well.
Fabio Bosco: Yes, I know. I know that you are in a worse situation than this, but what we have is too much for us. We cannot stand this.
Maximillian Alvarez: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I just want to really emphasize what you said for listeners because I think it’s really important. Because listen, obviously a lot of people here in the United States and around the world, understandably, have been celebrating Lula’s victory as a victory for humanity. Because if we had more Bolsonaro, we know we were heading towards destruction even more quickly than normal. So there are obvious reasons why it is good that Bolsonaro got voted out. We don’t want anyone listening to mistake what we’re saying here. But this is a really important point where we have to understand that the labor movement needs to be independent. It needs to be a voice of and for the working class to advocate for itself and to fight for our ourselves and our fellow workers’ interests instead of putting all of our faith in one political party or another, or one institution or another that we don’t have control over to deliver the change that we need.
I’ll give you a United States example. Joe Biden famously said that he was going to be the most pro-union president in American history. And that was a significant statement from Joe Biden. And he has expressed support for unions more than presidents in my lifetime have. That’s important. And yet, here working on this show, Working People, at The Real News Network where I work, we’ve been covering the crisis on the freight railroads in the United States. And there’s been a long struggle brewing there for years. And we finally have reached a point where there may be a national rail strike or a lockout initiated by the companies, but it’s been a long road to get to that. And what we have seen is that President Biden appointed an emergency board to try to settle the dispute between the unions and the companies.
And what they did, they came out with their recommendations. The companies enthusiastically endorsed those recommendations, and the workers and the unions were pissed off because they didn’t address the issues that have been driving workers to quit in record numbers because they never get to see their families, because they’re working themselves to the bone, because they don’t have any paid sick days, because they’re on call 24 hours a day seven days a week. Biden’s solution to the dispute on the railroads didn’t address any of that.
And now that the unions, some of the unions, the rank and file of some of those unions, have rejected this deal, Biden’s Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh just came out this week and said if the unions are going to strike, Congress needs to step in and force them back to work. This is the labor secretary of the supposedly most pro-union president in American history saying fuck the railroad workers. They need to get back to work even if the railroad companies are making record profits while driving workers into the ground and driving our supply chain into the ground.
So why do I mention that? I mention that for all of the folks listening to say that we can’t just trust any president or any political party to just give us what we want. We need a strong, robust, independent labor movement pushing in the direction that we need to be pushing in. So if it’s Biden or Trump or whoever saying, no, we’re going to stop you from striking, that is why we need workers to band together with our brothers and sisters on the railroads, stand in solidarity with one another and say, no, we’re not going to submit to this. We’re going to fight back until we get a better deal. That is an important ingredient of labor struggle.
And so I just wanted to mention that for people listening to say it’s not that there aren’t good things about Lula being elected president. Obviously there are. But we are in a much broader crisis and working people need to be the ones pushing their interests from the grassroots on up.
And in that vein, Fabio, I’ve so enjoyed talking to you and I would love to have you back on in the future if you’re ever down. But by way of rounding out so you can go get some sleep, I wanted to ask if you had any final words for folks listening here in North America or beyond about what they can do to show solidarity with working people in Brazil, and any other words that you wanted to share from Brazil to working people who are listening to this around the world.
Fabio Bosco: Yes, that’s the point to see, Max. I think that the solution for the Brazilian working class will be to independently self-organize, as you mentioned, exactly what you said. And at the same time, we need international solidarity. We must build these links internationally. And a couple of days ago, brothers and sisters from a group called Workers’ Voice, they sent me a letter suggesting a uniting action against the far right here in Brazil. This will be very useful for us, because I remember in the time of the military dictatorship, it was something important to have someone abroad supporting you in some way, giving you moral strength. And so I think it would be very useful if we can do something like this in the US, a kind of movement.
And no problem, people that support Lula, against Lula, I think this issue is a political debate. But the question of fighting back the far-right gangs, it’s critical. And it’s something that all of these people agree on. So I come here to tell you that we make our part here. We work a lot to bring an independent perspective for the working class in relation to any government and in relation to the bosses as well. And we ask you in the US for us to build these links. Help us in fighting back the far right. It will not be easy. I’m talking about self-defense and it’s something that instinctively, I think, the working class will develop, but it has not already developed. So it will be an experience, probably a tough experience that we start with defeats, that we start with a lot of people being hurt.
And so if we have in the US, in other countries, people that understand what’s happening here about this struggle of the labor and working class against the far right, it will help us. It will help us a lot. And so that’s my request. And of course, another time that you have some time to talk with me, I’m available. It will be a pleasure to talk to you. And I believe that international solidarity is something critical for all of us.
And I’m sure the American workers, we also appreciate it. I remember when there was a strike led by the American and Canadian Union, the US steel workers. It was a strike in Canada by mining workers. And the company was a Brazilian company called Vale. And here in Brazil, in one of the unions that represents these Vale workers, we collected one helper worker to send to Canada to support them. It was little money. But the guys there, they see, look, Brazil, their wages are very low and they’re trying to help in the way they can. So I think even symbolic things help to build the necessary relationship that we must have among the working class worldwide. So that’s my message, and let’s keep in touch, and let’s stand up and fight back.