Brazilian activist speaks to Cleveland labor

Brazilian political scientist Luis Fernandes was given a warm welcome by the Cleveland labor movement in his visit here Dec. 11.

The visit, hosted by the Cleveland AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, included a dinner at a Brazilian restaurant with the Federation leadership and a speech to the nearly 100 delegates attending the group’s monthly meeting.

AFL-CIO President Tom Frisbie introduced Fernandes to the delegates, stating that he is part of the transition team for the new coalition government led by Luis Inacio da Silva, known as Lula. Fernandes, he noted, is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Brazil, which is expected to hold cabinet posts.

In his 20 minute talk, Fernandes described the long struggle of the Brazilian people, led by the working class, to end decades of military dictatorship and restore democracy. It was strikes by metal workers in the Sao Paolo region, led by Lula, which delivered the final crippling blow to military rule.

The return to democracy meant that political parties that had been dismantled or, in the case of the Communists, forced underground, could reorganize and operate legally. Lula, he said, established the new Workers’ Party and ran repeatedly for President, each time gathering wider support, as the neoliberal policies of privatization, deregulation and cuts in social programs imposed by the World Bank became increasingly exposed as a detriment to the national interests.

Finally, in this year’s elections Lula won with 61 percent of the vote, the second largest vote in absolute numbers for any president in world history, which included a broad coalition of workers, farmers, professionals and business people hurt by neoliberalism.

The policies of the new government, Fernandes said, are still being worked out, but will represent a fundamental change in direction and will restore social programs and workers rights and address concerns of national capitalists.

'We are optimistic about the future,' Fernandes said, ending his speech. 'I come with a message of hope, a message that persistence and unity are the way to progress, a message of solidarity.'

In response to a question about the Bush administration proposal to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) throughout the western hemisphere, Fernandes said that the government was very critical of the plan and shared many of the concerns of the U.S. labor movement. 'On this basis, I hope that we can meet and work together.'

Despite the fact that the speech came at the end of a meeting, which included important resolutions against Trent Lott and the Bush administration plans for war against Iraq, as well as discussion of the victorious ending of the 39-month AK Steel lockout and regular business, Fernandes held the rapt attention of the delegates and received warm and prolonged applause.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org