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Brazzil - Nation - August 2003

Brazil: 500,000 Strike Against Lula

Close to half a million federal workers are in strike in Brazil.
They contend that the government did no consult them
about a constitutional amendment that the Lula administration
wants to pass in Congress. They also believe that only a small elite
with capital and the banks will gain from such a reform.

Since July 8, approximately 464,000 federal public workers (58 percent) are paralyzed in a protest against the proposed government reforms in the Social Security System. State judges and Central Bank workers are also threatening to strike. The groups on strike are part of the National Coordination of Entities of Federal Workers (CNESF) and include employees in education, statistical and geographical research, social security, public federal functionaries, social welfare, and fiscal, judicial and health authorities.

The leaders of the strike are mounting an encampment in Brasília of federal workers across the country for the first week of August—one week before the date of the Congressional vote on the Social Security reforms. The workers allege that the government did not consult nor negotiate with them regarding the PEC #40 (Projeto de Emenda Constitucional— Proposal for Constitutional Amendment) that contains the reforms.

Federal Deputy Ivan Valente (Workers' Party, São Paulo) believes that the proposed amendment only meets the needs of international financial capital. The controversial points of the reform include the creation of funds for a pension. Federal public worker leaders and a number of members of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers' Party) believe that changes in the Social Security system will not bring benefits to the majority of Brazilians but will stimulate the growth of private pension funds.

The proposal maintains a contribution of retirees with a ceiling benefit of $333. For future retirees the ceiling will be $827. This proposal of the government is contrary to CUT's (Central Union of Workers) ceiling of $1,655. According to José Domingues, vice-president of the National Union of Docents in Secondary Instruction, "Therein lies the true objective of the Social Security reforms to open up space for private pension funds. Those who wish a higher pension will invest in a private fund. If the government wanted to reduce high salaries, it only needs to implement the Constitution, which establishes that every federal worker, whether in the executive, legislative or judicial branch should have the same salary ceiling. The government does not want to argue with the judges".

For Domingues, there are not social advances in these reforms. No benefits are given to the 40 million Brazilians who work in the private or informal sector or who are unemployed. The small elite with capital and the banks will gain. They already have 66 percent of the goods and riches produced in Brazil, while the majority of society divide up the other 34 percent.

Deputy Valente believes that the government committed a political error with the reform of social security. He states that "the government resolved to confront the public sector. You cannot assume a posture that pits poor people against those who are well-off". The leaders of the Unified Center of the Strike of Federal Public Workers (CNUG) agree with Valente. They indicate that "the state that privileges financial capital, speculators, loan-sharks and large estate owners is thinking only of the market".

In accordance with the new proposal, public workers will need to meet four criteria before they qualify for retirement: 35 years of contributions to the system, 20 years of work in the public sector, more than 60 years of age, and 10 years in current job position. Valente believes that these criteria are draconian. According to him, more people will have to work much longer if they need to meet these four conditions.

Caio Teixeira, general coordinator for the National Federation of the Federal Judiciary and Public Minister of the Union is against the proposed reforms. According to Teixeira, "These reforms were elaborated in the interests of banks and are being created to reduce 'Brazil's risk factor'. Reforms in the tax system are being created to lower 'Brazil's costs". Nory Ferreria, vice-president of the National Union of Fiscal Auditors, in an ironic tone, stated that "the next step will be to eliminate Brazil".

Nory and Teixeira believe that PEC #40 is not necessary. They affirm that Social Security is not deficit and that a good part of their resources are used to pay the external debt of the country. The striking workers agree that there are distortions in the social security system but that a constitutional amendment is not necessary. "The problem is that workers' salaries do not correspond to Brazilian reality".


Source: weekly newspaper Brasil de Fato. Their editors can be reached at jornal@brasildefato.com.br




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