The front page of the January 19th issue of the Brazilian metalworker’s union newsletter had an exciting headline laid over an image of thousands of workers with their hands in the air: “Victory at Volkswagen! 800 layoffs canceled!”
On January 16th, after 11 days on strike, 13,000 VW workers in São Bernardo, Brazil, part of the São Paulo metropolitan area, returned to work after their union reached an agreement with VW to reverse the layoffs of 800 workers. Thousands of workers attended an open air meeting to vote yes on the agreement to bring the laid off workers back to work.
Photo Credit: Metalurgicos ABC
Chipsterlife reported on strike’s start on January 6th when all 13,000 workers voted in open air meetings to strike until the layoffs were reversed. We also covered a significant escalation of the strike when workers at Mercedes and Ford also walked off the job, and workers from all three companies blocked a major highway that leads to South America’s busiest port.
Vamberto Guimarães Messiah, a worker at the VW plant, said “thanks for the struggle of my comrades to keep us in the union. This victory is an example for all of Brazil.”
Worker Benedito Beraldo Lobo said that “the company has power on paper, but we have the power of heart, mind and struggle.”
The strike came amidst a rapidly escalating protest movement against a transit fare increase. While the 13,000 autoworkers were on strike, thousands of young people and workers in neighboring São Paulo took over major streets to protest a 17% subway and bus fare increase and were met with brutal police force.
Both conflicts point to rifts within the ruling Workers Party (PT in Portuguese), a social democratic party formed by labor unions and other social movements in 1980 as part of a movement against the then Brazilian dictatorship. The striking VW workers received widespread support from elected PT officials, with mayors of some cities and the state joining workers at actions.
In stark contrast, young people and workers in the Free Pass Movement (MPL), a movement advocating for free public transit, have been routinely met with tear gas bombs and truncheons by PT elected officials.
From our special correspondent in Brazil, Steve Payne