Strike against privatizations

Image: Daniel Queiroz
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By JOSÉ RICARDO FIGUEIREDO*

The Labor Court is taking away workers’ right to labor defense

The Labor Court has considered illegal strikes by workers at public companies against announced privatizations, on the grounds that such strikes would not be of a labor nature, but of an ideological or political nature.

The argument has a history. During the dictatorship, strikes were banned entirely under the justification that any strikes would be politically oriented against social peace. During and after the dictatorship, strikes by public servants are almost invariably accused of politics, despite their strictly labor character, because they confront political power. The Labor Court assumes and radicalizes the argument by prohibiting strikes against privatizations because they would not have a labor agenda and would be ideologically or politically motivated.

Workers' unions respond that the history of privatizations already carried out invariably points to worker layoffs, lower wages and worse working conditions. Therefore, the strike against privatizations is, in itself, a comprehensive labor agenda.

This union experience with privatizations is not accidental. It is a necessary result of the restructuring of companies' budgets with privatizations, as I summarize in article recently published on the website the earth is round.

As a state-owned company, the company needs to balance the revenue obtained with all expenses: remuneration for work, payments to suppliers, tax payments and savings for new investments or unforeseen events. Privatization introduces a new budget item, which is remuneration to shareholders, profit from capital. To rebalance the budget with the new expense, the alternatives are to increase revenues, increasing the price of your services or products, and reduce costs, whether labor, operational, tax or investment.

Workers directly experience the reduction of labor costs in the form of unemployment and wage debasement, and the reduction of operational costs in the form of deterioration of working conditions. It would be impossible to think that a large majority of state-owned workers would mobilize for strike if it were not for issues of employment, wages and working conditions. The Labor Court is taking away workers' right to labor defense, with the argument that they do not have the right to strike for political and ideological reasons.

Yes, “the strike is political”. But it is not the workers who give these strikes a political or ideological character. The privatization of state-owned companies is, due to its origin, its means and its ends, a political action by privatist rulers, based on the ideological action of the privatist press. Those who introduce political and ideological aspects are not the workers, but the privatization activists, precisely their opponents in the strike. The workers try to defend themselves, but the illegality of the strike robs them of their most important instrument.

There is a second problematic issue in this Labor Court guidance. If this is not expected from the majority of state-owned workers, it is likely that some of the workers mobilized in the strike have a broader vision of privatization, involving extra-labor concerns, which could be considered ideological.

The worker can recognize, for example, that privatization will be harmful to the population that consumes the products or services, by increasing prices or reducing quality, as is the case with water for Rio de Janeiro and electricity for people from Acre and São Paulo.

Or you can understand that privatization will be harmful to the environment, as Mariana, Brumadinho and Maceió saw. Or, it can denounce privatization as harmful to a national development project, as the country deprives itself of command of the company's strategic direction, in favor of private shareholders.

Both democratic concerns with consumers and ecological or national-developmental motivations are political and ideological, so it is likely that a part of the workers mobilized against privatizations have motivations that can be characterized as political and ideological. How would this take away the legitimacy of your stance for the strike? In other words, what justifies the prohibition of strikes for ideological or political reasons, real or supposed?

Therefore, the prohibition of strikes against privatizations removes workers' main instrument of defense for their labor rights, and the argument for this prohibition removes their right to political expression through strikes, while their labor, political and ideological opponents act with total freedom. Such a ban violates labor and democratic rights. It is a political and ideological deliberation completely opposite to the 1988 Charter.

*Jose Ricardo Figueiredo He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Unicamp. Author of Ways of seeing production in Brazil (Associated Authors\EDUC). [https://amzn.to/40FsVgH]


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