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From theorganizer@igc.org Sun May 28 21:23:47 2000
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2000 23:38:54 -0500 (CDT)
From: Open World Conference <theorganizer@igc.org>
Article: 94659
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: c34837546977aea7f901066aeef04984

The Struggle for the Independence of the Trade Unions in Latin America Today

Statement sent by Julio Turra, representative of the Unified Workers Federation (CUT) of Brazil, to the OWC Organizing Committee in January 1999. OWC Report Back no. 18 (Brazil)

[Note: Julio Turra is a member of the National Executive Committee of the United Workers Federation of Brazil (CUT). Turra was the official representative of the CUT at the November 14-16, 1997, Western Hemisphere Workers Conference Against NAFTA and Privatizations, which took place in San Francisco. He was also a delegate to the People's Summit, which took place in Santiago, Chile, in mid-April 1998 at the very moment the heads of state of the Americas convened in Santiago to extend NAFTA to the rest of the continent via the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Turra also represented the CUT at the Open World Conference in February 2000.]

Dear Organizers of the Open World Conference of the Year 2000:

I am proud to be an endorser of the Appeal for an Open World Conference issued by the San Francisco Labor Council, the International Liaison Committee for a Workers' International and the Western Hemisphere Workers Conference Continuations Committee. Your call to defend the independence of the trade union movement and democratic rights is of central importance to working people in Brazil.

On May 11-14, 1998, a trade union conference took place in Montevideo, Uruguay. Its theme was the Social Dimension of the European Union and the Mercosur. As you know, Mercosur is the free trade pact encompassing the countries of the Southern Cone of Latin America (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile) plus Brazil.

This conference was promoted and organized by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). In Point 7 of the agreement adopted by this conference one can read: We declare that the creation of integrated economic spaces can only take place on the basis of free trade.

This gathering didn't mince words. The unionists involved in this gathering asserted that free trade - which we understand to mean increased exploitation of workers by the bosses - is the only possible framework for workers and their unions today.

Point 7 of the declaration continues:

Only on this basis [i.e. the acceptance of free trade-JT] will it be possible to attain economic and social development. In this vein, the fundamental role of social dialogue must be acknowledged. Only through social dialogue will it be possible to control the consequences of globalization.

Friends, this is the role the ETUC is proposing for the trade unions in Latin America. A leader of the French CFDT was present, as was a representative of the CGIL of Italy. All of them lectured us about the need for unions to be integrated into the process of globalization as full partners in order to curb the most noxious effect of free trade.

I participated in the June 7 [1998] meeting in Geneva hosted by the International Liaison Committee for a Workers' International (ILC) and the heads of numerous African trade union federations. It was very important for me to hear first hand about the experiences of the European unionists who are combating the policies of the ETUC and the European Union (EU).

The policies of the multinational corporations and of the governments and international financial institutions in the service (IMF, World Bank, WTO) are more and more unified. The means they are deploying to co-opt the trade union movement in Europe are now being introduced into Latin America.

Following the lead of the EU officials, the Brazilian government recently called on the United Workers Federation of Brazil (CUT) and other Brazilian unions to participate in a National Roundtable Discussion on the Nation's Industrial Policies. These are the very same Social Pacts the ETUC representatives are promoting throughout Europe.

We who are fighting for the independence of the trade unions and democratic rights state unambiguously that we must not participate in such roundtable negotiations. They are a trap. They are aimed at breaking all collective-bargaining agreements; they are aimed at wooing us into accepting a few crumbs - if that - in exchange for our agreement to become cogs in their system of super-exploitation.

We say it is necessary to resist and thereby prepare the conditions for a workers' counter-offensive. In Brazil, this resistance is beginning to take shape.

On Oct. 10-11, 1998, trade unionists from 17 states across Brazil - representing more than 50 trade unions - gathered at the national headquarters of the CUT in Sao Paulo. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the consequences for workers of the newly adopted Bank of Work Hours - a new law that deregulates the official workweek.

The meeting was convened by three trade unions that have been in the forefront of the struggle against this new law: the Bus Drivers Union of Sao Paulo, the Auto Workers Union of Campinas, and the Auto Workers Union of Rio Grande do Sul. The opening speech was delivered by Jorginho, a member of the National Executive Committee of the CUT in charge of the federation's Political Action Committee.

At the conclusion of a democratic discussion, during which different points of view and experiences were presented, the delegates agreed to propose to the national leadership of the CUT that it launch a nationwide campaign to repeal the law on the Bank of Work Hours. They explained that the aim of this law - enacted at the behest of the multinational corporations - is to make the workday more flexible so as to lower the bosses' costs of production.

The delegates concluded that Brazilian workers would see enormous pay cuts as a result of this law. The official workweek in Brazil is 44 hours - though for a few sectors the workweek is shorter. A workers' take-home pay is based on a 44-hour workweek. All extra hours worked during any given week must be paid at time and a half.

Under the new Bank of Work Hours scheme, all overtime pay disappears. The base pay is no longer tabulated by week, but over a year. This means that a worker is no longer guaranteed a weekly wage based on 44 hours of work. The boss can cut the number of hours one week, and place them in a bank of work hours, to be paid at some undisclosed time in the future.

Leaders of the Auto Workers Union of Campinas described their two-year experience with a pilot project of this law. They showed how the average workweek rose to 56 hours at peak production times and then dropped substantially when inventories piled up. Volkswagen workers in the city of Rezende, for example, saw their wages drastically reduced, given that overtime pay - which they were no longer entitled to - was a key component of their total yearly earnings.

Alcindo Kempfel, a leader of the Auto Workers Union of Rio Grande do Sul, explained that the workers in his union had mobilized for months against the bosses' proposal to introduce a flexible workweek ranging from 36 to 60 hours. The Metalworkers in Porto Alegre, he continued, were able to get the bosses to agree to hold a plebiscite among the workers on this issue.

If two-thirds of the workforce, in a secret ballot, agreed to modify the workweek, the agreement would go through. Otherwise, it would be halted. As it turned out, the proposal was blocked, as the bosses were unable to muster a two-thirds vote.

The Sao Paulo meeting concluded with the adoption of a manifesto titled: No to the Bank of Work Hours! For a Reduction of the Workweek Without a Cut in Pay and Without Flexibility!

The Manifesto states, in part:

The struggle against the Bank of Work Hours is a central struggle for the independence of the trade unions. The bosses, in their quest to impose a flexible workweek, must now seek to win the union's support for this nefarious scheme. Though it is now a law, the Bank of Hours means nothing unless it is incorporated into the collective-bargaining agreements signed with the employers. And to get the unions on board, the bosses are already proposing all sorts of roundtable discussions' and 'partnership agreements.'

These 'partnership' schemes are all traps aimed at demobilizing us. They are an attack on our unions' independence. We must now take the message of this gathering and mobilize opposition to the Bank of Work Hours at all the state and regional assemblies of the CUT. We must win a majority of the delegates to the National Plenary Assembly of the CUT, slated for April 1999, to our fighting stance.

The manifesto adopted by the Oct. 10-11 meeting in Sao Paulo points the way forward for a workers' fightback.

In Solidarity,

Julio Turra,
Sao Paulo, Brazil