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Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was inaugurated as Brazil’s president on New Year’s Day. Half of all Brazilian workers are employed in the informal sector, working without protections or a contract. This segment of the working class was key to Bolsonaro’s defeat and Lula’s victory. Yet as the Lula government moves to forge alliances with the nation’s leading capitalists, questions remain as to whether informal workers can simply count on their new president to address their needs.

Production: Martin Varese

Videography: Lucas Mattara

Post-Production: Leo Erhardt


Fabio Bosco:  When you are under attack, either you defend yourself or you are smashed. By any means necessary; that’s the way the working class will manage to stand up, fight back, keep our rights and fight for power. 

Reporter:  Far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been defeated. In the contentious campaign, the majority of Brazilians have re-elected former trade unionist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to be the next president of Brazil. The Brazilian working class played an important role in defeating Bolsonaro.

Margarida B. Dos Santos Ramos:  I’m going to talk in the name of everyone. Lula won the elections and it will be a good thing for everybody. Not only for me. For me, it meant a lot! Because all of us that are under this category (informal workers) or even those in other categories, what we wanted the most was for Lula to become president. Because only with Lula there will our situation change.

Reporter:  Different working class movements have been organizing to resist and defeat Bolsonaro, including the movement for workers without rights. We spoke with two members of the movement on how it was under Bolsonaro, and how they fought back.

Kleberson José Santiago Ramos:  Today, we are here uniting all the (informal workers) categories. From informal workers, like in my case, street vendors, app delivery workers, Uber workers, people who do domestic work, all of those people who work without a contract. Because today, the majority of the rightless workers work to be able to eat, and many times are not even able to eat because of the fascist government (of Bolsonaro) that only knows how to exploit workers.

Margarida B. Dos Santos Ramos:  In this situation, under this (Bolsonaro) government, a lot of people went very hungry. They didn’t have enough to even be able to eat.

Kleberson José Santiago Ramos:  It was a lousy experience (to live under Bolsonaro). A lot of people died due to the lack of vaccines, for lack of food, we went back to the map of hunger, to a place where poor people had a short life expectancy. With high inflation rates, and without salary readjustment. With very few doctors, and hospitals even closing up. And without any investment from the Federal Government which, during this pandemic, could have built hospitals.

Reporter:  Under President Bolsonaro, who called COVID-19 a “little flu”, Brazil became the Latin American country with the highest COVID-19-related death toll and third around the world after the US and India, with more than 34.6 million cases and 686,000 people killed. In the meantime, Bolsonaro used the pandemic as well as remote work arrangements to further destroy workers’ rights. Under Bolsonaro, the attacks on the working class were constant, destroying rights granted to workers under Lula, using the guise of job creation to flexibilize labor laws, and using the pandemic to benefit corporations and attack worker movements.

Kleberson José Santiago Ramos:  For the poor people, the worker, the apps delivery worker, those who worked during this pandemic without any rights, many without money in their pockets, and didn’t get any support from the state, from the government, 

Reporter:  In 2021, a record 50% of the Brazilian workforce was employed in the informal sector, with no legal contracts, social security, or any stability. 13.2% of workers were unemployed, and from those who were lucky to have a job, about 24% were considered underemployed.

Margarida B. Dos Santos Ramos:  Because today, we who work under informality, we suffer a lot from discrimination. Dealing with this [led to informal] workers from different sectors coming together. We embraced each other to be able to move forward, to demand laws and to demand that we get the same rights as a [formal] worker. Because [for us informal workers] it’s not possible to get those same rights working for a company [like formal workers do]. So, as informal workers, we want to have those rights too. Right to health. Right to a house. Right to education. All the rights. 

For example, when an informal worker goes to the streets (to work). When a street vendor goes to work and it rains, or there is a problem, an environmental issue, that day is lost. And in most cases, it’s a day when we need the money urgently. Either to buy some gas, to pay for rent, or to buy food. So, that day for us is lost. And when you get hurt, it is even worse. This is why Lula getting elected was really good for all of us. Because we believe in a better Brazil. And we believe that he will be able to help us, us who work under informality, without rights. We want rights.

Reporter:  The last years were mainly marked by the Oust Bolsonaro mobilizations and protests all over the country. These massive protests expressed the discontent of the Brazilian people over the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic, the incapacity to fight inflation, the attacks on the working class, and rampant police brutality against the poor and oppressed. The mobilization of the working class together with oppressed sectors, like Indigenous people and Black people, were a base of support for Lula’s campaign and for the end of the far-right government.

Fabio Bosco:   The working class played a very important role. Bolsonaro was defeated because of the working class. If we depend only on the capitalists, Bolsonaro would remain. The electoral defeat of Bolsonaro was very important. It was very positive for the working class. Bolsonaro, starting in January, will be out of the federal government, so he will not be in the same position to carry out his far-right policies. 

I think the working class, we face two major challenges now: on the one hand, we have these Bolsonaro groups. Because they are still organized, they suffered a defeat, but they are not over. So, it will be necessary for the working class, the poor, to self-organize, to carry out self-defense, because these (Bolsonaro) organizations are very dangerous. On the other hand, we have to see that Lula’s future administration… What Lula is doing now is building an alliance with the major capitalists in Brazil. The capitalists want to place the burden of the economic crisis on the backs of the working class. So, we can expect more neoliberal policies and reforms against the working people, and we have to stand up and fight back.

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Martin Varese is a Latin American globetrotter and a social and political organizer working in social media for the left in the Global South.