Interview with Douglas Izzo, President of Sao Paulo’s United Workers’ Central

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By: Gerardo Gamarra / The Dawn News Exclusive / May 8, 2017

Douglas Izzo
Douglas Izzo

On April 28, the biggest strike in Brazil’s history took place. It was a strike against two reforms that will transform workers’ lives for the worse: a new labor law that flexibilizes  rights and the reform of the retirement system.

Massive mobilizations filled the streets of the entire country. In Sao Paulo, unions, the Popular Brazil Front and the People Without Fear Front, marched towards Michel Temer’s house in what was a historical strike against the current political system, which has been discredited by the numerous cases of corruption that involve officials who voted for the reforms.

The polls confirm the widespread unhappiness of the people with these reforms, while the government moves forward, turning its back on its people. This is yet another proof that Brazil is being governed by a political caste. The constant attack to social rights and the giving away the country’s resources to private hands will not cease as long as the current Congress prevails in power, as they are planning to do in 2018.

In Sao Paulo, we talked to Douglas Izzo, the current president of Sao Paulo’s United Workers’ Central (CUT-SP), who made a balance about this historical day for Brazil’s struggle against Temer’s radical reforms. Izzo comes from the teacher’s union and in 2015 he became president of Sao Paulo’s Workers’ Central, in the first leadership cabinet that achieved gender equality.

The Dawn: As a part of the struggle process that is being conducted in Brazil against these radical reforms, what is the outtake after the general strike of April 28?

Douglas Izzo: Our outtake at the CUT after the general strike of April 28 is really positive. Here in Sao Paulo, we had already achieved an important paralyzation of activities on March 15, which we regarded as a distrital general strike, and it also had a precedent on March 8 which was a day of massive mobilizations. And since the strike of March 31, we initiated a process of agitation, propaganda and dialogue with all the worker’s sectors, a process that showed its results last April 28.

It was the biggest strike of Brazil’s history; and it coincides with the 100th anniversary of Brazil’s first strike. In 1917, after the murder of an operator, the union movement began a process of mobilizations that managed to spread across the country.

Today we are the protagonists of the first Brazilian general strike of the XXI century, which managed to gather every category of workers, from rural and urban areas, of the private and the public sector. The fact that we had a strike like this one, with a strong unity and will to struggle, which brought together every union—the 6 recognized ones and the 12 unrecognized ones—, shows the danger posed by Temer and his reforms.

TD: How was the repercussion in media?

DI: Well, most media in Brazil are a complete joke. The generalized answer of big media was trying to reduce by all means a historical general strike to cuts and pickets that generated traffic problems. And of course, they also hid the fact that Brazil’s productive system was paralyzed. A city of the magnitude of Sao Paulo was paralyzed, there was no business, no public transport, the health system was reduced, no schools; and no big media outlet reported on it.

The only objective was to minimize the strike and to criminalize the movements that struggle in the country. And it is pitiful how these media behave, acting like a political party while defending the dominant class and the great economic groups. Constructing a narrative to criminalize the left and the social movements and unions; these media outlets do not behave with integrity and are at the service of the dominant class.

That is why it is also necessary and urgent for us to discuss a regulatory framework for media. Because we are talking about public concessions that are used in a partial way. They do not inform— they disinform. And they have their own personal interests that benefit from narratives that do not match reality. They show the reality that only a sector of the society needs, to construct a general agreement on the cosmovision that the ruling class wants to impose.

TD: What is the status of these reforms at the Congress?

DI: The Labor Reform has already been passed, although it did not have the amount of votes that the putschist government expected it to have; in fact, around 80 deputies that voted against the reform are being displaced from office. Now it is already at the Senate level.

Regarding the retirement reform, it should be voted upon at the Chamber in this week, with May 16 as the deadline, if the government has already managed to get the necessary votes to pass the reform.

With the votes obtained at the approval of the labour reform, the Congress will not pass the retirement reform that needs 308 votes. While the labour reform is already at the Congress, we also know that there are senators that will intervene at the project and throw it back to the legislative Chamber for more debate.  

TD: How would you describe the government at the current conjuncture?

DI: The definition we outlined for our general strike was that we’re fighting against an economic power that managed to destitute a democratically-elected president and placed an illegitimate one instead—one who is re-implementing a project that had been rejected  by the people at the ballot boxes. It is a neoliberal project centered around the goal of making an adjustment, making cuts and privatizing, eliminating the rights of workers, and being submissive to the international plans that the USA has for Latin America. A proposal that had been defeated and now is being forced onto us through a coup, which is creating a great setback in matter of labor rights and social policies. As we witnessed, they approved a project to freeze the State inversions for the next 20 years, so the setback is huge. And nowadays, we observe that the population has noticed this and will not accept being ignored by their representatives; this also explains the growth of the mobilization process leading up to the general strike.

The problem we have with representativity in the Congress is not good for democracy, and neither is it for the senators and deputies, because we will go out to the streets and we will denounce everyone who votes in favor of the reforms, or, in other words, who votes against the people.

TD: With the retirement reform, the difficulty to retire is evident, one has to work over 40 years to get that right. How does the labor reform affect workers?

DI: – The main point of that reform is to flexibilize all the guarantees that workers have by law. How? By prioritizing agreements between parties over the law. This means that the individual negotiations between worker and boss will prevail—and  bosses have more power at this scale. Besides that, the reform reduces the field of action of unions, for example, the individual agreement shall prevail over what the collective agreement determines for a category. For companies with over 200 employees it would not be necessary to certify categories and in this way they are undermining the union organization.

In fact, labor justice is already taking the new law into account when issuing verdicts. In this way, workers will no longer have the support of unions nor judicial tools to defend and claim for their rights.

The labor reform reflects an unprecedented setback in Brazil’s history concerning civilian and workers’ rights. Lack of rights, endless work days, juridic protection for businessmen; everything that qualifies as slave work, is included in the labour reform.

There was even a statement against the reform from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and generalized support from the international union centrals with Brazilian workers, condemning these reforms and how they affect people.

TD: – You talked about the importance of the International Women’s Day in the process leading up to  the general strike. What role do women have in the fight against these reforms?

DI: Women are the most affected. With the retirement reform, the minimum age for a women to retire goes from 60 to 65 years, matching the age for men to retire. On the other hand, in important sectors like teaching, health, and even the financial system, the majority are women. And if we add the majority of the public services, the mobilization capability is enormous.

TD: The Forum of Union Centrals Forum has just reunited to plan the continuity of the struggle against the reforms proposed by Temer’s government. Where is the horizon of this process?

DI: Our biggest concern, today, is planning great union marches towards Brasilia. To continue the work during the week of May 15, a work of debate and with any deputy that’s willing to take our side, in the states or in the National Congress. On May 17 we will also have a mobilization to the National Congress with the participation of all the union centrals. And for May 24th, when the retirement reform is voted upon, we have to organize the march and occupation of Brasilia.

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