Class Struggle in Volta Redonda: "Cops, Courts Out of the Unions!"
The following article is translated from issue No. 1 (July-September 1996) of Vanguarda Operária, newspaper of our fraternal comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (Fourth Internationalist League of Brazil).
In the article "Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay" (1940), Leon Trotsky stresses that "the primary slogan" of Fourth Internationalists in the struggle within the unions is: "complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. This means a struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of a labor aristocracy. The second slogan is: trade union democracy. This second slogan flows directly from the first and presupposes for its realization the complete freedom of the trade unions from the imperialist or colonial state."
In Brazil and many other countries, the union bureaucracy carries out the "unionization" of police, guards, jailers and other direct agents of bourgeois repression. Together with the social democrats, Stalinists and others, it thereby shows the consequences of its reformism, bringing into the unions the "special bodies of armed men" who, in Lenin's words, are the core of the bourgeois state. This is one of the most open ways in which the union bureaucracy and the reformists subordinate the unions to the bourgeois state. The pelegos [old-line corporatist union bureaucrats] and "new pelegos" are enemies of the class independence of the workers. We see the consequences in the increasingly open betrayals by Articulação ["Link-Up," the leading tendency in both the CUT labor federation and the Workers Party (PT) led by Luis Inácio Lula da Silva], the CUT bureaucracy, etc., which have paved the way for the strengthening of openly pro-company labor federations like Força Sindical.
But the open reformists are not alone in their treacherous position of supporting "unionization" and "strikes" by the cops. This position is even shared by many fake-Trotskyist organizations and has characterized a number of the treacherous positions put forward by such groups as the PSTU [followers of the late Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno] and Causa Operária [Workers Cause, linked to the Argentine Partido Obrero of Jorge Altamira]. (An article on the grotesque betrayal by the "LBI" [the centrist Internationalist Bolshevik League] on this question appears in this issue of Vanguarda Operária.) The followers of Guillermo Lora, leader of the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario, must explain not only the "anti-imperialist front" which Lora formed in 1971 with Bolivian ex-president General J. J. Torres, but also the POR's statement that in Bolivia "a soviet-type organization, an anti-imperialist front, can include the police as a whole, as an institution" (G. Lora, Resposta ao impostor N. Moreno )! We answer the fake-Trotskyists with the words Trotsky used to answer the German social democrats who said that cops recruited out of the working class were "workers": "The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker" ("What Next?" ).
In Brazil, support by "leftists" to the cops represents not only their social-democratic position on the state but also their traditional "blindness" towards racist oppression. The whole world knows that in this country there are constant massacres of street children, most of whom are black; and the words Candelária, Carandiru and Vigário Geral have become synonyms for racist massacres. [These are locations of some of the most infamous killings of street children and prison inmates by the police in the "new democratic Brazil."] In the recent period we have seen the slaughter [of landless peasants] at Eldorado dos Carajás and the massacre of street children that Belo Horizonte cops carried out as a "protest" against their "low wages." Those who do not fight to separate the police from the labor movement have nothing in common with the fight to defend the exploited and oppressed!
Principled Struggle and Witch Hunt in Volta Redonda
The city of Volta Redonda (state of Rio de Janeiro) is known for having Latin America's largest steel plant, and as the scene of military repression against the historic metal workers' strike of 1988. The Volta Redonda Municipal Workers Union (SFPMVR) carried out seven strikes over the past years, stopping the 2,800 layoffs decreed by the Popular Front city administration of Mayor Paulo César Baltazar. At the end of 1995, with the political support of Luta Metalúrgica/Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, comrade Geraldo Ribeiro, a veteran CUT militant, defeated the Força Sindical candidate and was elected president of the SFPMVR (with a 62 percent majority) at the head of the Municipários em Luta (Municipal Workers in Struggle) slate. His program stressed that all levels of the police, including the military police and municipal guardas, are the "armed first of the bourgeois state" and that any "alliance" with them is incompatible with class independence, "since they bring men armed and trained by the bourgeois state into the unions."
After taking office Ribeiro undertook efforts to disaffiliate the municipal guardas, some of whom have been affiliated to the union. This principled struggle produced a growing polarization between, on the one side, the worker ranks of the union, a significant part of the oppressed population of the city and defenders of the victims of police repression, and on the other side the apologists and "defenders" of the copsamong them the commander of the guarda, as well as many popular frontists and fake-leftists. This is particularly significant in this city, where the highest number of street children in the country were murdered in 1988.
In late January a sinister slander campaign began against Ribeiro, the SFPMVR and comrade Cerezo of Luta Metalúrgica, who had been an advisor to Ribeiro's class-struggle campaign. The slander campaign was taken up by the local bourgeois press after it was initiated by Causa Operária (C.O.), which used as its Trojan horse the teacher Carlos Alberto Teixeira de Paula in order to hurl accusations (which Teixeira knew were false) against Cerezo. Outside a meeting called on January 29 to clear up the question of the slanders, Teixeira got out of his car and tried to hit a comrade, but this attack was stopped through the intervention of Luta Metalúrgica (various witnesses observed this). Causa Oprária used this "incident" to escalate its rabid diatribes against Luta Metalúrgica. Shortly thereafter, Teixeira published a letter in the Diário do Vale newspaper (8 February) to "clarify that I am not a member of any organized tendency." This was the prelude to his withdrawal from activity in the uniona humiliation for CO. Six months later, this individual returned to the union in order to support the campaign to oust Geraldo Ribeiro.
The witch hunt was taken up by Artur Fernandes, secretary of the SFPMVR, who attempted to carry out a coup against Ribeiro and to destroy the influence of class-struggle politics within the union. In his dirty struggle, Artur joined directly with the bourgeois state. His coup faction distributed a leaflet calling for a union meeting on May 13 and calling for "everyone to defend the guardas." At that day's meeting the great majority of the workers voted for Geraldo to chair the meeting, but a member of the pro-cop faction grabbed Geraldo, who was defended by the participants in the meeting. The faction that sought to carry out a coup immediately called the Military Police in to "restrain the radicals of Luta Metalúrgica." Two Military Police soldiers were armed with pistols and shotguns, the favorite weapon of the ROTA strike force of the Military Police, known internationally as among the most violent in the world. Later, three municipal guardas also arrived, and a number of plainclothes police were also present at the assembly. One was overheard saying they had been hired by Artur at 10 Reals [approximately US$12] apiece, but he said they were worried they might not be paid since they arrived late. Everything points to this provocation having been carefully prepared in order to provoke a "confrontation with the police" (which is something the class-struggle militants obviously do not want to occur). However, Geraldo succeeded in calming the cops down and nobody was hurt.
Together with the provocation by the pro-cop faction in the SFPMVR, municipal guarda commander Freitas launched a lawsuit against the union. Diário do Vale (17 May) reported that Freitas was "one of the military officers who commanded the federal troops that evacuated the CSN [National Steel Company] plant in November 1988, after the clash" in the strike when the workers William, Valmir and Barroso were murdered [by the army].
In response to the police attack on the March 13 union meeting, an international campaign was begun to demand: Police hands off the SFPMVR! This international campaign, initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee of the United States, gained support from unions from Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Canada to Europe, Australia, South Africa and Japan, as well as defenders of the oppressed such as Esteban Volkov (grandson of Leon Trotsky), black political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and many others. This international campaign must be redoubled today, in light of the most recent events.
Geraldo, together with other brothers and sisters who support the LQB program and many other activists, have answered the campaign of provocations and repression by intensifying the work of mobilizing and increasing the consciousness of the proletarian ranks. This effort included the publication of thousands of leaflets with Mumia Abu-Jamal's article on the campaign, "Police: Part of, or Enemies of, Labor?" (reprinted in this issue of Vanguarda Operária), and other bulletins, such as the one published on May 6, which began:
"The Rank and File Is Deciding: Police Out of the Union; Reaffirmation of the Municipários em Luta Program! ...A meeting of the [municipal] garage workers voted unanimously: The police should not be part of, and should not interfere with, the SFPMVR or the workers movement in general. Because they are the instrument and armed fist of the bourgeoisie."
The bulletin also emphasized the class-struggle program:
"...which defends workers' class independence; women, their rights and gains; blacks; children; calls for socialism and the construction of a Revolutionary Workers Party which fights to put an end to capitalism; for proletarian opposition to the Popular Front and for workers mobilizations to defeat the starvation plan, layoffs and poverty of FHC [Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso] and the IMF!"
An example of the defense of women and blacks is the campaign carried out by the union, under the leadership of Geraldo, to demand the reinstatement of sister Regina Célia, a black woman fired by the city for having an "ugly face." (As we all know, "good appearance" has long been a racist code word for excluding blacks.)
On June 13, a union conference was held, with delegates elected in sectoral assemblies, on the basis of points which included the disaffiliation of the guardas, a point which was accepted by a wide margin at the conference itself. On June 19, a general union assembly was called at the Volta Redonda Municipal Hall in order to discuss the SFPMVR's campaigns and carry out the disaffiliation of the guardas. The events that followed were described in a bulletin that Geraldo published on July 4:
"On June 19 the cops, 'invited' by the sell-out faction, were sent by [Mayor] Baltazar to stop and shut down our assembly, violating our democratic and trade-union rights and the rights of all the workers. They want to stop the city workers from having a meeting, the purpose of which is not a confrontation but to defend our jobs and separate the guardas from the SFPMVR (the need for which was shown once again through their strike-breaking during the June 21 general strike, when once again the Municipal Guard and Military Police fired a shotgun into the air, arrested brother Marcello Carega and sought to break the municipal workers' strike). Now they have asked the bosses' courts to shut down the meeting and suspend Geraldo. They want to bury the wage reopener...and destroy the SFPMVR as a combative, class-struggle union. This is the meaning of their attempt to place the union under bourgeois court intervention, as in the days of the military dictatorship, and under the control of the Municipal Guard and Military Police."
The bulletin ended with the slogans: "The union is ours, not theirs! For the class independence of the workers! Out with the bosses' intervention and repression! Down with the suspension of Geraldo! Bosses' courts, MPs and guardas out of the SFPMVR! Defeat the interventionist coup provoked by the Artur faction! Respect the ranks and the workers! Workers of the world, unite! Bourgeoisie, hands off our union!" Workers carried signs with several of these slogans at an assembly of the ranks on July 4.
The bulletin had an enormous impact, in good part for its statement: "Remember the repression against the oil workers, the victims of [massacres of landless peasants in] Eldorado and Rondônia, and Vila Americana [a neighborhood in Volta Redonda], where a municipal guarda murdered a 12-year-old black child who was working to help his parents." As a result of this denunciation, O Dia [a Rio de Janeiro daily] published a full-page report on the murder of the black 12-year-old Ernane da Silva Lúcio in Vila Americana in October 1995, as well as on the brutal repression against street children.
The bosses' "justice" system appointed Artur as "president" of the SFPMVR during the 30-day suspension it decreed against Geraldo as a result of the demand by the pro-cop, sellout faction, which scandalously has been advised by the fake-Trotskyists of the "LBI." But the proletarian ranks continue to mobilize. As we go to press, a petition is circulating to call a decisive meeting of the union ranks; one of the main points is "disaffiliation of the municipal guardas from the SFPMVR." This petition has already been signed by close to 300 union members, which is approximately 20 percent of the union and more than enough to call the assembly.
[Despite repeated maneuvers by Artur Fernandes to try to stop it, this union meeting was held on July 25 and attended by upwards of 150 workers. After a minute of silence in memory of Ernane da Silva Lúcio, the meeting reaffirmed Geraldo Ribeiro as union president and voted the "disaffiliation of the municipal guardas from the SFPMVR." The Internationalist.]
Meanwhile, a rank-and-file bulletin against the suspension of Geraldo, the bosses' court intervention and the cop presence is circulating widely in the union, the Vila Americana neighborhood and other sectors of the working-class population of Volta Redonda and other cities. This bulletin included a declaration by Ernane's mother in support of the campaign to disaffiliate the guardas.
The bulletin also called for boycotting an illegitimate "assembly" called by the "intervenor" Artur on July 11. Diário do Vale, a bourgeois newspaper which supports the Artur faction and has carried out campaigns against Luta Metalúrgica/LQB, reports that "only 10 municipal workers" showed up at Artur's meeting! This puppet of the bosses openly complained that this was a result of the class-struggle bulletin. It is time to redouble this historically important campaign and carry it through to a victorious conclusion. As the July 4 bulletin said:
"Now is the time for all the unions to show their urgent solidarity in action!... Worker, take a stand with us in the campaign to defend the union. What's needed are mobilizations and protests by the CUT [labor federation], the unions, the landless peasants' movement, black organizations, organizations of the street children (victims of racist repression), students, left activists, etc.... Now is the time for young people in general, for university students who solidarize with the oppressed and exploited, to mobilize together with us. You must take a stand on one side or the other; with the workers or with the bosses. Defending the SFPMVR means defending all the workers and oppressed because an injury to one is an injury to all. Our cause is the cause of all."
The principled struggle for the separation of the cops, which has the complete support of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil as part of our Trotskyist program, must become a class-struggle banner of the workers movement, not just in Brazil and throughout this continent but all over the world. n