The Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Lula da Silva was elected president in 2002 but without a majority in Congress. To gain support for the election and then in power, the PT formed alliances with other parties.
In its first two and a half years in power, the government has implemented neoliberal reforms that the PT historically had fought against, such as the partial privatisation of social security and bankruptcy reform. It is working for other unpopular reforms of education, workers’ rights and unions.
Now a series of corruption scandals have further rocked the PT’s reputation. In 2003 an assistant to the president’s chief of staff Jose Dirceu was found to have extorted money from a clandestine lottery director for PT political campaigns. The government was able to avoid a Congressional investigation of the case.
Earlier this year a video on national television showed an executive of the postal system, Mauricio Marinho, receiving money from a private company in exchange for contracts with the postal service. During the video, Marinho detailed a bribery scheme, supposedly orchestrated by Roberto Jefferson, president of the PTB, an allied party of the Lula government, which involved other state-run companies.
In a television interview Jefferson, in an attempt to deflect attention from his involvement, introduced a new scandal saying that while in government the PT has been paying close to $12,500 per month to as many as 101 representatives and senators from two allied parties for them to vote in favour of PT initiatives.
Activists and social movements are distancing themselves from the PT. Hundreds of are leaving the party to join the Party of Socialism and Freedom (P-SOL), a left party led by formerly leaders of the PT.
• Brazil Network website www.brazilnetwork.org
On 8 October a general strike in Belgium over planned pension cuts was widely supported, although it was called by only one of the trade union federations, FGTB/ABVV.
The FGTB/ABVV, with links to the Socialist Party, organises 1.3 million workers. The Christian-Democrat union federation ACV/CSC, organising more than 1.6 million workers, and the liberal union ACLVB/CGSLB, organising half a million workers, did not take part. They were “waiting to see” what the Liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who leads a Liberal-Socialist coalition government, proposed in his plan for the year. The news, as expected, was bad: the qualification period for early retirement will be extended.
The industrial action has continued in a series of wildcat strikes. On Monday 17 October workers at the Volkswagen plant in Forest, Brussels stopped work from 2-6am; the FGTB/ABVV union delegate Hedwin De Clercq explained: “People who have worked for 30 or 35 years on a production line are happy to be able to stop their career at 55, as they can do now. If we have correctly read the plans of the government, the current legislation could be deferred once, but afterwards the workers at this company couldn’t leave earlier than at 58. The problem is that at Volkswagen there aren’t any posts for older workers, and manual workers older than 55 normally can no longer work on the production line.”
Strikes are taking place in other factories, supported sometimes by all the union federations.