May 2008  

Brazilian Teachers Strike Again
for Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal

The following article is adapted from Vanguarda Operária No. 10, May-June 2008, published by our comrades of  the Brazilian section of the League for the Fourth International.

For a second time, the teachers union of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, SEPE-RJ, set an important example in calling a strike this past May 7 in defense of public education and demanding “freedom for Mumia Abu-Jama.” Known as “the voice of the voiceless,” the former Black Panther and world-renowned journalist has been imprisoned on Pennsylvania’s death row for the last 26 years, more than a quarter century, for a crime of which he is entirely innocent.

The SEPE has fought for Mumia’s freedom since 1999, when at the initiative of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB) and its affiliated Class Struggle Committee (CLC) the teachers union called the first-ever labor action for Mumia. During a two-hour work stoppage, events were held at schools around the state to publicize Mumia’s case and denounce the racist death penalty. The next day, dock workers in the United States shut down all West Coast ports for ten hours demanding freedom for Jamal.

This time not a single voice among Rio teachers objected when spokesmen for the CLC raised the proposal to include the demand for freedom for Mumia in the May 7 strike. In the face of the worsening legal situation for Jamal, whose appeal for a new trial was recently rejected by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the SEPE voted to again stop work, calling on other unions to join it in demanding freedom for Jamal. A notice placed on the union’s web site stated:

“The latest of these judicial farces, like those that preceded it, shows that the exploited and oppressed can have no confidence in the racist injustice system. We call on the movement to include in its struggles, strikes and marches and various forms of mobilization the demand for the immediate freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal!”

The same appeal was included in motions passed by the Intersindical union federation at its meeting on April 12-13, and by the national meeting of women of the Conlutas union federation on April 20-21.

The SEPE faced enormous difficulties in massively mobilizing Rio teachers for the strike, due to successive attacks by the state government of the PMDB (Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, a bourgeois party) and the PT (Workers Party) and their satellites. Now the SEPE struck a second time on behalf of Mumia, who has said that one of his heroes is Zumbi, the leader of the escaped slaves of Palmares, who was killed fighting the Portuguese colonial army on 20 November 1695. Every year the anniversary of his death is commemorated in Brazil as a day of black awareness.

A special issue of the union newspaper on Mumia was put out for the strike recounting the facts of his case and the SEPE’s 1999 work stoppage for his freedom (see above). More than 20 chapters of the teachers union took papers to distribute and to inform their ranks of the strike. Particularly active were the locals in the steel city of Volta Redonda (where the LQB/CLC originated); Valencia, which gave full support; and São Gonçalo, a working-class suburb of Rio across the Bay. The issue contained a poem by Marilia Machado, a supporter of the LQB/CLC, titled “Prelude for Jamal” (see below).

In the discussion in the SEPE state assembly on the motion, representatives of the CLC emphasized that the strike by the educational workers of the SEPE/RJ, most of whom are women, was taking place amid generalized unrest. Not only was the union fighting back against attacks on teachers launched by the “militarized popular front” government of Brazilian president Lula (leader of the PT) and state governor Sergio Cabral (of the PMDB), along with their junior partner, the fascistic mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, César Maia.

It was also a response to the epidemic of dengue fever which has beset the poor and black population of the city of Rio this summer as never before, claiming children among its victims. This came on top of the massacre of 70 people, mostly young black men, during raids on the favelas (slums) in connection with the Pan-American Games held in the city last year. The CLC denounced that police operation, which served as a training grounds for the paramilitary National Security Force (FSN), which has been practicing in the hills of Rio to invade and kill in Haiti.

"Freedom for Mumia – Down with the Racist Death Penalty!" Banner of the SEPE
teachers union in Rio de Janeiro, April 2008. (Photo: Vanguarda Operária)

The Brazilian military commands the multinational “United Nations” force that is policing the black republic in the Caribbean as mercenaries for U.S. imperialism, which has its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan. The LQB/CLC has called to mobilize workers action to drive the Brazilian military out of Haiti, and out of the Rio slums.

The CLC has always stressed that the fight to free Jamal cannot be separated from other demands of the working class, and of working women in the educational sector in particular. In their articles, the LQB and CLC point out that the liberation of the black population can only come about through socialist revolution. They emphasize that it is necessary to build a revolutionary workers party as a “tribune of the people,” as Lenin put it, which takes up all the demands of the exploited and oppressed.

The CLC’s call since 1999 to mobilize the working class to free Jamal, which was embraced by the SEPE-RJ, the largest union of working women in the state of Rio de Janeiro, which has twice stopped work on behalf of the imprisoned black leader in the United States, marks an unprecedented and historic step in the workers struggles in Brazil.

Prelude for Jamal
By Marilia Machado

You are the struggle of all of us:
Of those who have gone before
and those yet to come.

The essence of freedom,
reaching for liberation.
You are those who live in Brazil
or in any other nation.

The pain of whoever is a slave
in a world of so many masters,
of the victims of so many horrors
in the countryside, city and slums.

You are one of those who write history
with strength and conviction
A hero without fantasy
who doesn’t serve to alienate,
the voice which refuses to be silent
in the face of so much oppression,
a desire for justice,
a cry from the heart.

You are a scream in the throat
of every black person who cries,
of every human marked
by cruel tortures.

You are peace, and sometimes war.
You are Mumia Abu Jamal.

Marilia Machado has two volumes of published poetry and workers as a teacher in São Gonçalo. In 1997 she was named Muse of Poetry of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

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