Lula: It is the workers who drive the real economy

To Brazil’s former President, economic recovery can’t be separated from improving people’s living conditions

April 29, 2022 by Brasil de Fato
Brazilian former President (2003-2011) Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gestures as he speaks during a forum at the Mexican Senate in Mexico City on March 3, 2022. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP)

Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gave an email interview to Brasil de Fato on the country’s current situation, particularly the deregulation of the labor market and the worsening living conditions. To him, “what generates jobs is people being able to purchase, having a dynamic economy, a real economy, not speculation”.

“The stability presented by formal jobs is transferred to the economy. We can plan a trip to see the family, buy a refrigerator or prepare a barbecue to celebrate a birthday,” Lula explained.

The country’s former president also discussed the deregulation of the labor market and the illusion generated by the so-called “entrepreneurship”. “Every worker’s dream is having no boss. However, it has created an illusion that they wouldn’t have a boss, but then a worse boss was crafted, an invisible one, plus a chain [created] from a cell phone app: labor without rights”.

Read the entire interview below:

Brasil de Fato: Besides the high level of unemployment, Brazil is currently experiencing a decrease in the average income of workers due to the rise in informal jobs. What measures can the public administration take to stimulate the creation of formal jobs? How may the increase in formal jobs impact the country’s economy? 

Lula: The State needs to believe in and build the future of Brazil, and not be a wrecker like the current Brazilian government. We have to build the necessary infrastructure, stimulate economic sectors that generate jobs and income, listen to all sectors of society, and assist the poorest populations so they can live a decent life and take part in the economy. We must support food production and regulatory stocks [of grains and other products] to lower food prices. We need to use reais [Brazil’s currency] to charge fuels instead of the dollar price on the international market. We need to support people in renegotiating and paying their debts. That’s how we will begin to move the economy ahead because what generates jobs is people being able to purchase, having a dynamic economy, a real economy, not speculation. When a worker has a good job, it keeps business and industry thriving.

At the end of 2014, Brazil had an unemployment rate of 4.3%, almost full employment, comparable to France and Sweden. We created 22 million formal job posts. The stability presented by formal jobs is transferred to the economy. We can plan a trip to see the family, buy a refrigerator or prepare a barbecue to celebrate a birthday, thus keeping the economy flowing.

The policy of valuing the minimum wage was abandoned by the Temer government and came to an end in the Bolsonaro administration. How significant is the resumption of this policy for the working class and the economy as a whole?

Everybody is experiencing the impact of inadequate salary readjustment in their daily lives. It’s evident when you have to reduce your grocery list by half or get into debt to pay the light bill. Nowadays, one out of three Brazilian families has overdue bills. The poorest families are the most affected. They suffer more and are living in far worse conditions than before. It is worth remembering that when we [the Workers Party] were governing Brazil, the minimum wage increased by 74%, and over 80% of the readjustments of the unionized classes were above inflation rates. It guaranteed purchasing power. Today, only 7% of readjustments are above inflation. The rest equals or falls below inflation. It means that Brazilians are earning less, have fewer jobs, eat less, and are getting into debt more frequently.

In recent times, entrepreneurial logic has gained more traction in Brazil because people think losing their labor rights is a natural way to keep a job, even a precarious one. It ranges from the narrative of private initiatives with small capital to the precariousness of drivers and app delivery workers. How do you see this moment in the labor market?

Every worker’s dream is having no boss. However, it has created an illusion that they wouldn’t have a boss, but then a worse boss was crafted, an invisible one, plus a chain [created] from a cell phone app: labor without rights. And the dismantling of workers’ rights didn’t increase job offers, as some say. What did increase was the informal job offer without welfare and social security. The young man who delivers food isn’t undertaking entrepreneurial ideas. He is earning some cents. Sometimes, he is starving and has food on his back while the app owner profits millions. If he suffers a bike accident, he has no social security, medical insurance, or disability insurance. He has nothing. The social welfare deficit increased after the welfare reform because people aren’t paying social insurance contributions anymore.

The moment is difficult. We need to discuss it again. Therefore, I have made evaluations and talked with the government of Spain, where there was a negotiation with workers and entrepreneurs to review the labor reform to recover the quality, stability, and strength of the Spanish labor and consumption market.

Unemployment is a concern for all people. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, it affected some social groups in particular, such as young people, women, and Afro-Brazilians. How is it possible to address the unique problems of these groups in order to tackle inequality in the labor market?  

We need to reduce racial and gender inequalities in the labor market. It is necessary to create jobs and once again expand education. Brazil had a growing number of Black students at the universities, more people who were among the first of their families to graduate. It formed a generation that is providing pressure for more diversity in the workplace, since it disproves the idea that there aren’t well-prepared women and Afro-Brazilians to occupy the more qualified job positions in the labor market.

Since the coup against President Dilma Rousseff, unions have been targeted by the federal government and the National Congress. How do we reverse this situation?

The coup was not against Dilma. People know now, six years after the coup, that it was against the Brazilian people: against workers and the country’s sovereignty, which is destroyed.

The coup included this persecution of unions. Unions must be strong and develop new relations not just with their base, but also with the new categories of labor that have been emerging. These new workers hold fewer rights than the factory workers. We need to talk with those who realized that the attacks on unions and the Workers Party were, actually, attacks against people’s rights. The precarious and barbarous conditions imposed on workers need to be explained, not accepted.

This article was written by Glauco Faria and Nina Fideles and originally published on Brasil de Fato.

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