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The three participants from Brazil were all members of the CUT. Two of them worked in the metallurgic industry and are part of the Metalworkers Union in the cities Juiz de Fora and São Paulo. The third participant worked for the Municipality of Curitiba and forms part of the Union of Workers in the Municipality of Curitiba (SISMUC).
Like other countries in Latin America in recent decades, Brazil is characterized by a weakening of the role of the state in the protection of basic rights for the people. There has been a liberalization leading to huge changes in the labour market. Forms of collective organization have given way to market regulation and privatization. Especially for young people there is a lack of structural protection and resources in order to study and find work at higher level. This has led to social and economic exclusion. In the meantime there is growing competition and division between young and old workers. Companies hire younger people with flex contracts at the expense of fixed places. Young workers are cheaper and can easily be dismissed when the demand for production is declining.
The youngsters are in a vulnerable position, both because there is a lack of accessible vocational education and partly because a surplus of labor and big competition. Many young workers have reason to fear losing their jobs. They do not involve with the unions on a collective way to defend their rights and enter often in an individual battle with the employer. The unions are aware of this reality and have begun specific committees and secretariats to address the situation of young people. There is much misunderstanding and debate within the union. There is a certain resistance from older members to younger workers (who are sometimes seen as competitors) to organize. There is also a lack of knowledge of their difficulties and special interests. The organizational capacity of youth can be strengthened by enhancing their knowledge of the productive processes. These productive processes are reflected in changes in working conditions and terms. It is important that young people analyse their social and cultural context and understand whether their trade union reality sufficiently corresponds to that context. International links with other younger employees is important to respond to neoliberal policies and free trade.
Together with Brazilian trade unionists TIE-Brasil has developed the instrument of “comparative mapping of the production process” (mapeo comparativo). This is a method of constructing a union at the workplace. Mapeo comparativo is also used to strengthen international networks of trade union officials.
History of the Brazilian union context
To understand the importance and impact of the Lula government in Brazil it is necessary to recall some aspects of the policy prior to 2002. The lost decade, the 90s, a period when the country was implemented neoliberal adjustment left deep scars in the Brazilian society, especially for the working class.
The neoliberal project started in the government of Collor de Mello (1900-1992). Health policy and education became precarious as investments within these sectors were withdrawn. This propelled the emergence of an increasing number of private initiatives to meet these demands. Public policies were decentralized to municipal management, which in turn did not get extra resources to implement them. Openness to foreign investment and privatization policies put the national economy in a relationship of extreme dependency on the international economy. In the industrial sector of the country, a restructuring process took place. This resulted in a decrease of 52% of the jobs in the period 1989 to 1999. Consequently, a massive unemployment arose in Brazil, affecting many young people. Those workers who still relied on a formal job found themselves in precarious working conditions, low wages and a loss of labour rights previously guaranteed. There is a flexibilisation of labour, through temporary and part-time work, fixed term contracts, temporary suspension of employment, creation of ‘banco de horas’ (a system in which overtime is not being paid but compensated in the future period) and a minimum wage without readjustment.
Since 2002, with the government of Lula da Silva, the country begins to control the attacks on workers’ rights. De state starts to be the main player in the organization of the political and social life again. Despite the external crisis, the government put the country into a new cycle of growth, which was only possible thanks to the large domestic investment. The state was the driving force behind domestic investment, resulting in policies focused on infrastructure, such as the PACs (Growth Acceleration Programs), the program “Light for All”, “my house, my life” and so on. Moreover, acceleration of growth was combined with the implementation of a policy of income distribution and social inclusion. Examples are the ‘Bolsa Família’ (a family stipend for poor families on the condition that their children attend school and are vaccinated) or the creation of community kitchens. Regarding the workers, a reduction in unemployment and an increase of the formal labor market took place. The creation of 11.5 million new jobs was combined with a policy of upgrading the minimum wage.
Trade unionism in Brazil and the CUT
Unionism in Brazil started with the consolidation of ‘Official Unionism’ in the ‘40s, during the government of Getúlio Vargas. In this period, union structures were created, formalized, and linked to the state through the Ministry of Labour. It was a corporatist organization. The scene was led by the political union of the former Communist Party of Brazil, that was in its political practices still much oriented on by the policy of Eastern Europe and did not bring any great answers to the demands and needs of the organization of Brazilian workers.
The great strikes of metalworkers in the ’70s, during the Brazilian dictatorship, gave birth to a new moment for Brazilian trade unionism. The movement for the construction of the new unionism in Brazil questioned the union model until then, defending freedom and autonomy of the union, the organization at the workplace, the end of the control by the Ministry of Labor on unions, rights to strike, direct negotiation between employers and employees. In short, they proposed a break with the official union structure. The consolidation of these movements was the founding of the Workers Party (PT) and the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT). These two entities gathered the left and progressive sectors of Brazilian society, guided by the construction of a new project for the country, led by socialist and democratic principles.
The consolidation of these entities and dissemination of building ‘new unionism’ coincided with the ‘90s, the neoliberal decade. The working class suffered from the withdrawal of their rights and from the impacts of the changing world of work. The struggles of workers changed, from the policy that works from outside the company, to a policy that is based on the organization of workers in the factory.
Regarding this renewal, it is relevant to discuss Organization at the Workplace (OW), regardless from the format in which it takes place. The OW should be considered as a challenge for the Brazilian trade union movement. Firstly because it is a way in which workers are mobilized most effectively and it is the best way to discuss their immediate demands. It is also a concrete way to convince the worker to join the union, to unionize, and so in this way to seek to break with the official structures. On the other hand, it makes it possible to transform the factory into a space for politics, and to use the factory as a base to defend politics, the collective, and solidarity; important keys to break with individuality.
Data on youth and trade unions in Brazil
The Sindicato de los Trabajadores Metalúrgicos de Juiz de Fora (Union of Metal Workers in Juiz de For a, STIM-JF) and Região, have in their board only 8.33% of youth (age category 30-35 years).
Young people are entering the job market on average under 18 years old of age.
The sectors that employ most young people are the service sector, commerce, telemarketing, electronics. Big part of the youth is still working in informality.
The specific interests of young workers that the union should take a closer look at are:
– Education: pursuing a policy of increased offer on qualification from the part of the government or businesses; discussing the grant to studies by the companies and institutions, which must be included in collective agreements.
– Reduction of the working day without reduction of wages, which aims to increase the time not to work so that young people can experience their youth.
Examples of success of how unions responded to the interests of young people and how they are recruiting young people to action:
– STIM-JF in September initiated the discussion on youth. It has tried to organize and mobilize youth for union activities, both general and specifically for youth, such as to show the demands of young people and the importance of debates, through the newsletter of Metallurgy, the monthly journal of union.
– Our action has been planned and implemented in partnership with the Youth of the Metallurgical Union of Metalworkers of ABC, who already have an advanced level of organization, as well as in partnership with the Metallurgical Youth Coordination EMF-SP.
Successful experiences of the practice of Brazil on how other youth movements and organizations have helped the union to organize young workers and in attract new groups of young people:
STIM – JF has the participation and contribution of the OrganizAÇÃO Movement, which is a group of organized youth from a neighborhood from the outskirts of Juiz de Fora. They have a journal in which neighbourhood issues are discussed and they manage to mobilize several young people, among them are many young metalworkers. We have been doing activities together with this group.
The organizational structure of the CUT
The CUT’s structure starts from the organization at the workplace. It’s structure includes the basic trade union organizations (unions) and the unions by sector (confederations and federations).
The Brazilian participants presented the structure of the CUT and the position of the Metalworkers’ Union of the cities of Taubaté and Região in this structure.
The Structure of the CUT exists at three geographical levels, in our case, this is:
- National: CUT Brasil
- State: CUT Sao Paulo
- Regional: CUT Vale do Paraiba
The union structure of the Metallurgical industry exists at four levels, in our case, this is:
- General: Workers Central Brazil (CUT)
- National: National Confederation of Metallurgic workers of the CUT (CNM)
- State: Federation of Metallurgic Unions of the CUT in Sao Paulo
- City: Metallurgic Unions of Taubaté and Região
In the Metallurgic Industry, there are 21 Union Committees at Company level.
In total, these cover 20.696 workers. That is 68% of the unionized workers.
On May 12, 2009 the CUT handed to President Lula a proposal for a legislation that would broaden the space for negotiations between workers and companies. The proposal aims to modernize the dialogue, which is based on legislation of the ’30s of the last century.
An example of the modernization is the negotiation of the number of portions of the PLR (“Participação nos Lucros e Resultados” a system under which a part of the company’s profits is redistributed among employees, as required under a federal law).
Another important point of the proposal is that to adhere to this new form of negotiation, the company must recognize the Union Committee at Company level, a union model that has been successfully applied in unions like the metalworkers union of Taubaté, Salto, Sorocaba and ABC.