California Labor Joins Union Delegation to Brazil

California Labor Joins Union Delegation to Brazil

By Angie Wei

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to be a delegate representing the AFL-CIO to the 3rd Congress of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), at the invitation of Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre. 

TUCA is the regional organization of the International Trade Union Confederation, the global labor movement.  Nearly 500 delegates representing countries across the Americas came together around a theme of More Democracy, More Rights, Better Jobs. 

What an incredible time to be in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Brazil’s lower House of Congress had just voted to impeach Worker Party President Dilma Rousseff; the Senate will consider her impeachment in mid-May.  These charges aren’t based on corruption – no one is saying President Dilma did anything illegal or anything for personal gain.  The Congress is filled with corrupt politicians (prosecuting senior officials is extremely slow and difficult).  Of the 65 members on the impeachment commission, 37 face charges of corruption or other serious crimes.  Of the 513 members of the lower house in Congress, 303 face charges or are being investigated for serious crimes.  In the Senate, the same goes for 49 out of 81 members.  The impeachment against President Dilma shifts the spotlight on corruption away from Congress and onto her. 

For two decades, the Worker Party has continued to win elections and make real progress in improving the day to day lives of its people and lifting them out of poverty.  From 2000-2012, Brazil’s economy was one of the fastest growing in the world.  During this time, President Lula, founding member of the Workers Party and key figure in creating the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), our union allies, championed social programs to eradicate hunger, invest in Brazil’s infrastructure and raise wages. 

Tough economic times have hit Brazil over the past two years.  Workers are anxious and insecure and, as a result, President Dilma is paying the price.  Corporations are fueling this insecurity to take out the Workers Party.  Rather than wait for the next election, big business is exploiting this opportunity to oust a leader of the Workers Party and roll back decades of worker-led struggle. 

Democracy is at stake in Brazil and throughout the region.  It was only 1985 when Brazil liberated itself from a military dictatorship.  The Workers Party has led the charge to grow Brazil’s economy and the workers share.  Such progress cannot be rolled back.  In a statement, “The AFL-CIO vehemently rejects the effort to invalidate the progressive policies and achievements designed to build inclusive democracy in Brazil. We firmly support the democratic, pro-worker programs for social justice that have been pursued and administered with professionalism and success, lifting over 40 million people out of poverty.”

You’ve seen so much in your time, did you ever think it would come to this?” I asked a CUT leader. And then I remembered the recall election in California of Governor Gray Davis.  Didn’t do anything wrong, just really unpopular.  He was recalled in a popular election, not by our Legislature.  We opposed the recall, we oppose this impeachment.  We then got Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor, architected by big business.  How’d that go for us? 

In this context, delegates to the TUCA convention, wrote, discussed, and debated resolutions on fair trade, racial justice, income inequality, and support for democracy throughout our region.  It was awesome to experience a union convention simultaneously translated into four languages with workers from so many different countries.  What I learned…while our language may be different, our spirits were the same – the principles of solidarity, of equality, of justice – spoken in different languages, said with the same intent – to build power for working people.

At least once in a while, it’s so important to lift our heads a little and remind ourselves that we are not just the California labor movement.  We are a part of a global movement of workers in a collective struggle for More Democracy, More Rights, Better Jobs.