“Today there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup — or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us.”
By Daniel Gutiérrez / Conjuncture
[Editor’s Note: The World Cup begins today in Brazil. Thousands upon thousands of Brazilians have been protesting the billions of dollars spent to pay for hosting it while basic needs of the impoverished are unmet.]
The past week in Brazil has fully revealed the face of the country’s Worker’s Party (PT). If there’s any wonder as to which side of the fence the PT is on, it surely isn’t on the side of the workers. And Dilma said it herself, “Today there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup — or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us.” These words are reminiscent of [former British Prime Minister] Maggie Thatcher’s proud words against striking miners: “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.”
That’s a pretty dangerous us that the PT is throwing around, considering that subway workers in São Paulo had gone on strike for days asking for a raise in salary. The response of the state was brutal. It colluded with private business interests (as the subways have been privatized in São Paulo) and the labor courts immediately lashed out at workers, warning them that they would be fined roughly $44,000 for each day on strike. With the tides of workers hardly diminishing, on Sunday the state upped the ante by declaring that the fine would be raised to $220,000. If that’s not a play out of the Reagan/Thatcher handbook, I don’t know what is.
But it really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the PT is hardly a party that represents workers. The world gathered around and drooled in wonder and approval when the PT first came into office when Lula da Silva was elected president in 2003 and expanded the famous Bolsa Familia program. The program is a conditional cash transfer system in which people who make poverty wages are able to receive money directly from the federal government so long as they sent their kids to school. This not only increased enrollment, but it also had affects in public health as in order to be in school, children had to be vaccinated. In sum, since Lula da Silva came to power and expanded the program, some 30 million people escaped poverty.
The New York Times claimed that “this is likely the most important government anti-poverty program the world has ever seen.” And maybe they are right, though not because the program eradicated poverty, but because the protests occurring today reveal that inequality is much more complex than simply income.
While tens of millions people in Brazil are no longer starving, healthcare and education are still terrible and hugely unequal. In urban peripheries, it may literally take days to get proper medical transportation. Like in the case of this manual laborer whose mother died because the wait for an ambulance was 36 hours. That same article highlights that despite advances in mortality rates and overall health, “in-patient hospital beds have declined from 3.3 beds per 1,000 population in 1993 to 1.9 in 2009, while federal spending on the health system has declined since 2003, when adjusted for inflation.” In 2011, private financing in the health care system accounted for 59% of overall funding.
Education is in just as bad shape as it remains just as classist and racist as ever in Brazil. So much so that the education secretary of Rio de Janeiro claimed that schooling is so bad that “it amounts to educational apartheid.” While poor students deal with educational mediocrity, the rich advance far ahead of their working class peers. In fact, private schools in Brazil are often two years ahead of public schools. In should be no wonder then that a recent educational assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, put Brazilian students at 53rd out of 65 nations.
As for public transportation, we have to keep in mind that the protests in Brazil began around rights to the city. Last June, members of the seemingly anarcho-communist organization called Movimento Passe Livre organized with transportation workers and were brutally beat back by the police over a twenty cent price hike in fares. This study by the London School of Economics highlights how terrible transportation in Brazil is, amounting to spatial apartheid. It notes the following:
“Another survey conducted by the Institute of Information and Development in Transportation and the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômia Aplicada identified problems of urban mobility for low-income populations in four Brazilian metropolitan regions, including São Paulo. It showed that people with family incomes up to three times the minimum wage are deprived of access to collective public transport because of the high prices and infrequency of services as well as the difficulty to physically reach distant stations. It also showed that low levels of mobility for leisure activities during weekends are partly due to the prohibitive total cost to transport a family, but also because the scarcity of public transport is even worse on weekends.”
What does all this show? Primarily, that the PT pulled the wool over the working class’s eyes by handing out money while it removed itself from actual public investiture. Furthermore, it shows that poverty or inequality is not simply a matter of having more money, but having more access to things, like health, knowledge, and the city itself. And perhaps more importantly, it shows that though the PT may still be in the saddle in Brazil (as the subway strikes have ended out of state intimidation), but only due to force and intimidation.
Daniel Gutiérrez is a co-editor at Conjuncture. His writings usually revolve around actually existing neoliberalism, social movements, and borders. He is currently co-constructing an oral history of everyday life in Tijuana for his MA in Latin American Studies at UC San Diego. He also writes for the San Diego Free Press and is a head steward at UAW Local 2865.