Brazilian union leader inspires conference

Local government union leader tells delegates about the fight back against the far right

UNISON’s local government conference rose to its feet as one this afternoon, inspired by Jucelia Vargas Vierira de Jesus, as she told them of the fight back against the far-right government in Brazil.

The president of SISERP, the local government workers’ union in Santa Catarina state, Brazil, she thanked UNISON for its help in helping her union prepare for a privatisation onslaught, and also for “the opportunity to be here as a woman, a Black woman, bringing with me the Brazilian trademark – to fight, resist and never give up.”

Ms Vierira de Jesus went on to say that to understand what’s happening in Brazil now, you need to understand the past.

“Some say Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese – others that it was invaded, because there were indigenous peoples living there when the Portuguese arrived.

“Every single process of the construction of Brazilian society was based on slavery and more.”

Brazil was the last of the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, while Ms Vierira de Jesus describes patriarchy as “a brand” in the country, with women “treated as inferior beings”.

Citing just some of the organisations and groups that have created a history of resistance in the country, she says that, eventually, “we elected a factory worker, who raised his fellow workers, making us believe a different future was possible … Lula de Silva, our president.

“When he left office, he had more than 80% approval.

“Then, we elected a woman, Dilma Rousseff. She made young girls believe in themselves and to know that women can occupy spaces of power alongside men and not behind, and to build together a nation for all.”

But “the Brazilian elite is fascist, racist, chauvinistic and homophobic. They didn’t like sharing power or sharing universities with Black students or having a woman president,” declared Ms Vierira de Jesus.

She explained that this elite conspired with Rousseff’s vice president, the judiciary and others to trigger a coup d’etat. What followed was attacks on the unions, a constitutional amendment that imposed a ceiling on public spending, outsourcing and privatisation.

Then came last year’s elections. Ms Vierira de Jesus said that “fake news” and online interference – including by elements in the US – aided the election of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president.

Violence, unemployment, hunger and poverty are growing. The government has set about dismantling health provisions and social security reforms that end protections – particularly hitting women and the elderly.

“For 13 years we felt we were heading toward a more just and fair society. We see ourselves hit the hardest,” said Ms Vierira de Jesus. But this is far from the end of the story.

“They want women to bow down before chauvinism, but we won’t allow it.

“They want the LGBTIQ to be exterminated – but they will fail.

“They want us, Black people, to return to slavery, but we won’t.

“The solidarity from the world – and from UNISON – the courage that was injected in our student veins” will help the struggle.

“Lula is in prison, but we are his voice. We are his legs on this journey. It is the journey of class struggle. The power comes from the people,” said Ms Vierira de Jesus.

“We need to reorganise ourselves and this is already happening. Last Friday, on 14 June, millions of Brazilians took over the streets against the attack on the social policies and ‘reforms’.

“We resist and fight for a better tomorrow.

“Viva UNISON! Viva the workers!

“Freedom for Lula!”