Will Brazil’s PT Government Choose the Movement or the Elites?
The PT government has tried to please the financial elites and gradually reduce poverty, but with public services in crisis, right-wing parties are attempting to use the public’s discontent to their advantage
NERITA OEIRAS, TRNN PRODUCER: On Thursday, July 11: a national workers strike called by CUT, the National Workers Coalition, a new front in Brazil’s social struggle, adding organized labor and leftist organizations to the movement that initiated the massive protests on June 2013 demanding for a better and cheaper public transportation system.
The protest that initiated on Sao Paulo quickly replicated on hundreds of cities around Brazil. This also started a more profound public debate about the current status of Brazilian politics, the role of the government and its opposition, and the new class struggles taking place.
Besides the social demands we saw on the streets, the discussion is also happening on an intellectual level, where the new political order is widely analyzed and where PT’s government sees itself broadly criticized for its separation from the social and labors movements to which the party have been historically linked.
MAURO IASI, LECTURER UFRJ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Without a majority in congress and on state governments to achieve governability, PT chooses to ally with parties of center and right views, working with the opposition formed by PSDB, DEM, and PPS.
That generated a government that moved from a left view to a moderate one. And once the governability was consolidated, it moved to a right-wing view, assuming tasks inherited from Cardoso’s government like the care for financial health and the payment of public debt.
The government assumed a series of unpopular measures, contrary to the program under which PT was elected.
OEIRAS: During its government that already lasts more than ten years, PT seemed to have found the formula to guarantee its political hegemony. At the closing of the year 2010, President Lula da Silva’s government reached peaks of approval, with 80 percent of positive evaluation. Lula was able to satisfy at the same time the financial capital sector, the more conservative segments of the population, and even some of the poorest, by creating social programs like Bolsa Familia and Minha Casa Minha Vida. These programs gave access to income and housing for 52 million people.
PT leaders skillfully handed public sector jobs to key individuals, guarantying the support of the religious and conservative sectors, with which they avoided friction in subjects like the legalization of abort and same sex marriage.
PT also negotiated with economic elites, developing a juridical structure to serve the financial capital in public bids, like it was the case for the “pre-salt” oil extraction, freeways, airports, and stadiums.
But in 2012, the government started to observe the breakdown of its social-liberal politics. With half of the public budget compromised with the payment of interests rates and public debt, the government restrained expenses to public officials. This took the populations to the streets to protest for the first time since PT won the elections.
On August 7, 2012, the Federal Police held its largest strike in ten years, completing 70 days of strike that ended with no negotiation for their demands of career restructuring. Just before it, on May 22, 2012, lecturers of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro held a strike that lasted for more than 100 days and that also ended with no negotiation.
Bolsa Familia, a cash handout to the poor, is the government’s main measure to fight extreme poverty. However, many feel that the government is not really working on other more fundamental social measures.
DARBY IGAYARA, PRESIDENT OF CUT/NATIONAL WORKER’S COALITION IN RIO DE JANEIRO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): People in the street are saying they have had enough, that they want better residences, sanitation, health, education, employment, etc., that they want everything they are entitled, their constitutional rights.
People say that during Lula’s government things got better, but now Dilma’s government still hasn’t had improvements. People want a better income, to be able to buy better things, to have a certain welfare, and that is a genuine claim.
OEIRAS: Transportation costs are increasing faster than the rest of products, amid a step yearly inflation of 6.5 percent. Public investments in education are under 5 percent of GDP, and Bolsa Família, uses only 0,46 percent of Brazil’s total GDP.
All this puts the Workers Party, the PT, in a vulnerable condition, with popular pressure getting more evident each day. The peak of this discontent emerged in June 2013.
For an attentive observer, PT looks like a government in contradiction with its own agenda, ignoring issues like its gradual detachment from land reform and workers coalitions demands, both struggles historically linked to PT.
The official speech on the few last years has been one that claimed that everything is doing great, specially because the 2008 world economic crisis did not hit Brazil as hard as it did to other emerging economies. From the windows of crowded buses and trains, from highly priced rented apartments, from long waiting lines in hospital, population disagreed. Everything was not fine. They demanded quality public services and the guaranty of basic health, education, and transportation rights for all citizens.
IASI: With what Brazil spent from 2000 to 2009 with the payment of interests rates, which is approximately 45 percent of the GDP, it would be enough to finance the main social measure, the Bolsa Familia, for about 108 years. This kind of contradiction was out of tune with the official speech that the country was doing good, that the economy was good, the inflation under control, that social measures were gradually reducing poverty, with Brazil hosting international sport events. The president’s popularity was above 60 percent.
This was an ideological speech that covered the contradiction. Among the population the situation was different, the inflation undermining the wages. The public services were not meeting the public demands. There is a crisis inside both the public health and educational systems, which didn’t make any substantial improvements in infrastructure and recruitment of professionals. Those contradictions maturated and exploded with protests.
OEIRAS: Taking advantage of the people’s dissatisfaction, the right in the opposition guides an attack to the neoliberal practices of PT, feeding the speech of non-partisan political leaderships, waiting for the government to be even more fragile in order to try to take the power in the next elections.
IASI: The right bets in two paths. The first one is to use the protests to create social tension and to enhance its already huge presence in the government. The second is to take advantage of the situation to maximally damage the president’s image and launch itself as an alternative in the next elections.
OEIRAS: But how can PT be out of this stalemate without giving the political advantage to the right by transforming this moment in a political defeat for the left? Something has to be done to avoid creating a wider abyss between society and government.
Darby Igayara thinks that PT will need to actually incorporate the social demands as part of its official program.
IGAYARA: The majority of people don’t want to create instability. They want to claim for their rights, to conquer welfare, to have a public transportation system that takes them to their destinations with a fair price and better quality.
The parliamentarians that are in the federal and municipal Congress chambers need to pay attention and listen to the population. They need to get out of their offices.
President Dilma Rousseff has not much time left. She has only 15 months to regain popularity for her party until the time of the next presidential elections, in October 2014.
Reporting from Rio de Janeiro for The Real News, this is Nerita Oeiras.
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