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General Strike in Brazil: Social Movements Lead the Way Toward Constitutional Rights

July 2013

Millions of Brazilians are marching today (July 11) in another demonstration of the vitality of national social movements. The demonstrations taking place in different major cities across the country follow last month’s historic marches.            

Building on the political momentum created by the massive mostly youth-led demonstrations, today’s show of force will include both organized labor and social movements, marching side-by-side to demand political reform and expanded constitutional rights. 

“For the first time, since the defeat [of Lula da Silva] in presidential election of 1989, we haven’t seen such a broad grassroots coalition”, celebrates João Pedro Stédile, of National Coordination of the Landless Workers Movement (MST).               

The powerful coalition of social movements includes Via Campesina International, the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP), the Movement of Homeless Workers (MTST), the World March of Women and many others is demanding a set of constitutional rights that include:

  • Agrarian reform
  • Free public transportation
  • A 40-hour work week without wage reduction  
  • Free quality public education (devoting 10 percent of the GDP dedicated to education)
  • Rent-control 
  • Demilitarization of the police and end of the state-sponsored violence
  • Democratization of the media

Protestors are defiantly opposing the Brazilian government’s misguided trust in trickle-down economics to solve structural problems. While the demands of the social movements may not receive wide publicity in world media, they are consistent with the political struggle social movements and labor unions have waged for decades in Brazil.

The July 11 nation-wide strike will strengthen social movements which over the past decade have suffered major setbacks. Implementation of agrarian reform, a key component and promise in the ratification of the 1988 Brazilian Constitutional, has stalled. The delays are due largely to the agribusiness lobby, which has dominated all political braches since the Re-Democratization Period, including legislation bodies, the executive and the judiciary.

The vilification of social protest by corporate-controlled media has put in jeopardy the lives of peasants, indigenous peoples and poor working class families whose rights are being neglected. Silencing dissident voices is an act of terrorism that unfortunately is all too common nowadays. The democratization of communications and media is critical for democracy in Brazil (and elsewhere).

In general, the demonstrations this week in Brazil will be a good thing for those who are marching, as well as the diminishing progressive voices that remain in the government. President Dilma Rousseff will also benefit from a robust march, because her democratically elected government is under attack by market speculators, old oligarchies, corporate media and career politicians.

In that sense, we at Grassroots International join our partners in Brazil in asking the government to protect the right to peaceful assembly and protest there. Repression against social movements and organized labor is inexcusable for any democracy.

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