Issue 278 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review

Brazil

Unholy alliance

Raúl Zibechi spoke to Brazilian socialist Luciana Genro about Lula's government

Brazilian workers fighting Lula's pension law
Brazilian workers fighting Lula's pension law

Luciana Genro was elected to the Brazilian Congress as a representative of the PT--the Workers Party--the organisation to which Lula, the country's president, belongs. She, together with three other deputies and one senator, are currently under threat of expulsion for voting against Lula's new pension law.

How would you assess the Lula government?
It's a government based on an alliance with powerful sections of the Brazilian bourgeoisie--like ex-president José Sarney, the vice-president José Alencar of the Liberal Party and several ministers with links to industry and international capital. The PT chose to continue the policies of previous president Cardoso in order to win the confidence of the market. That explains reforms like the new pensions legislation, which was approved by the IMF. In my opinion, this just opens the door to the privatisation of the pensions system.

In the first quarter of the year, the government paid out 74 billion reales in debt interest, 40 billion of which came out of the tax increases that were imposed on the people. To me this is a wrong and cowardly strategy, which favours the powerful economic sectors at the expense of the working class, and in particular of the civil servants who have been striking for wage increases and in defence of their pension rights.

At the same time there were cutbacks in health spending, and neither the Zero Hunger campaign nor the land reform programme [parts of the PT manifesto] have even got under way.

Lots of analysts who are critical of Lula still argue that the process can be reversed, and that Lula's second term will bring economic growth and a serious attempt to tackle social problems.
There's no sign that anyone in the government is arguing for a change of direction. The government has opted for a neoliberal strategy. The deals that have been made limit what the government can do. You can't say I've won the confidence of the market so now I can do what I like. You have to win that confidence back again every day. The PT has made a decision to continue paying the external debt. They can't introduce changes without provoking deep splits.

Lula and other members of his government have announced several concrete measures, though, like reducing interest rates, to reactivate the economy.
It was something that the previous president, Cardoso, always intended to do. No government likes high interest rates--yet he never managed to do it. For me, lowering interest rates doesn't signify any change. The problem is that the economic model they are following demands high interest rates to attract foreign capital. And keeping exports high--that's the key to the model--demands holding wages down to maintain competitiveness while keeping the dollar and therefore the price of exports high. And keeping exports up to earn the dollars to pay the debt necessarily means limiting the internal market.

But surely the government can expand the internal market itself by raising the levels of consumption of people who today are still outside it.
That's in the government's programme. But I don't see how you can achieve growth and maintain debt repayment as well as high profits. If you want growth and a redistribution of income, you have to break with the global financial agencies--and I can't see Brazilian industrialists, who are dependent on them, breaking those ties.

The reform of civil service pensions put civil servants at the centre of the political stage recently. What was its significance?
They organised a very important strike, with big meetings and demonstrations--the biggest, in Sao Paulo, was 60,000 strong. Many of them are breaking with the PT now, and it's quite possible that a new alliance of left wing forces might emerge. Our group of parliamentary deputies--those of us who are about to be expelled--are trying to organise a new political force of the left together with other social movements and forces.

But will the main movements, like the MST, join you?
There are a number of issues, but the key is that the PT government has broken with an important element of its social base--public employees. In Rio Grande state there was a strike of secondary school teachers that lasted for 30 days--because they seem to be the group of workers who are always attacked when the government wants to make cutbacks.

Does that mean that in next year's local elections there could be a second defeat in the state capital, Porto Alegre, which has had such symbolic significance for the PT?
I can't see the PT holding onto it. They've lost a lot of support and the participatory budget is in crisis. There is a shortage of funds, many projects are two or three years behind schedule and this is creating tremendous frustration among the people who have attended all the meetings, and then the projects just don't get completed.

Does that mean Rio Grande state might tell us what is going to happen nationally? Do you think the bourgeoisie might break with the PT?
I think the bourgeoisie recognises that their neoliberal project can only be carried through under the PT. If a conservative candidate had won instead of Lula, he would never have got away with the pensions reform that Lula imposed. Now if Lula starts to lose his popularity and there are demonstrations against the government, there could be a break and a reunification of the right. It depends on the movements who up till now still think of PT as 'their government'.


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