Lula and the unions

Image: Alexander Zvir


The reason why the Lula government tends and is already starting to lose social base in the first month of government

Frustrating the workers' expectations, from which the active and necessary support to stop a fascist coup can come (and new attempts will certainly come). This would be a crass error that could not only shorten the Lula government, but also precipitate the country into a neo-fascist regime. Would the Lula government be capable of not making that mistake?

I deal here with the reason why the Lula government tends and is already starting to lose social base in the first month of government. This is a warning, since it is from this social base formed by different categories of workers that the popular force capable of preventing fascism from permanently taking over the Palace comes from. If the government does not have the incorporation of the wishes and demands of workers as its first order agenda, and is not capable of building real channels for the integration of these demands into government acts, it will hardly be able to count on active popular support when it is necessary to demonstrate social support in the face of coup attempts to come. I will present concrete cases.

As a unionist that he was, Lula in his governments tends to value, at least relatively, union demands. That is, it tends to listen to the unions and, at least in part, to incorporate their points of view and demands. But to what extent do unions represent workers' demands and desires? And if they barely do, how could a government access those wants and demands?

As for the first question, although roughly speaking the unions seem far from actually representing the demands and desires of real workers, there is a great diversity of unions that prevents generalization. To take the example of the public service, of which I am a part, there are unions that cover civil servants from different careers and bodies, whose directors are retired civil servants who perpetuate themselves in the direction even due to lack of interest from active civil servants, to unions that represent civil servants a single body or even a single position, whose directorates are formed by active servants.

It is not difficult to imagine that the latter tend to better represent the wishes and demands of the base. By the way, Europe is also experiencing a union phenomenon in the public service, which is the formation of increasingly specific unions. For example, instead of a union for all teachers, a specific one for primary school teachers is created, at the demand of these workers themselves, so that specific issues are addressed.[1] This is not the place to deal with the pros and cons of this phenomenon, but only to point it out.

The Minister of Labor, Luiz Marinho, himself also a former union member, seems to be aware of the problem of discovering the wishes of the workers, and not simply the position of a trade union. In a statement about app workers, he demonstrated knowledge that most would not like to be classified as CLT employees.[2] If you were to listen to motoboy unions (with a union letter from the Ministry of Labor), the conclusion would probably be that motoboys who work with applications should be included in the CLT. Thus, it sought to find leaders of the category, outside the unions, for a meeting.[3]

Application workers (drivers and motoboys who form the majority of them) are a category that can create sympathy for the government if a regulation that improves their lives is established, or can fall into the lap of the extreme right if a regulation clashes with their wishes. and expectations.

In the federal public service, although there is a considerable number of Bolsonarists as everywhere else, there is also a significant number of civil servants who received Lula's election with enormous relief. That's because, in addition to everything, it's been four years with Jair Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes as "boss". Many bodies were or are under institutional harassment. The relief of the civil servants who voted for Lula, many of whom were involved in some way in the election, came along with the expectation that the 'deficit of democracy in the workplace and the disdain for civil servants of the last four years will or would be followed by a relationship with opposing values: appreciation of servers, their demands, visions, opinions and knowledge.

Issues concerning the work of federal civil servants are not the object of the Ministry of Labor, but of the Ministry of Planning and, now, of the new Ministry of Management and Innovation. An example of the mismatch between union representation and workers' wishes can be seen in the position on teleworking in the public service. While union leaders tend to position themselves against telework, it awakens the category's desire.

By taking a stand, roughly speaking, against teleworking, they end up not fighting for it to be implemented in the most favorable conditions possible for employees. In fact, telecommuting leads to a physical distancing of workers, which makes solidarity ties looser and makes political-union actions more difficult. However, standing against this trend, which finds support in the very desire of the workers, is, above all, a demonstration of a conservative and accommodating position.

During the government of Jair Bolsonaro, the implementation of teleworking in the federal public service was intensified, through the so-called Management and Performance Program. Apparently, the trend in the Lula government is to restrict telework, compared to what is in force. This in itself, although it may satisfy the desire of unions, will clash with the desire of civil servants. It will be lived as a policy of worsening life. Even more if it is not taken into account that many workplaces have been reduced and degraded by the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which would bring more problems for the return to face-to-face work under these conditions.

The accumulation of measures that are perceived as a worsening in living and working conditions will remove the morale and impetus to defend the government when necessary, even on the part of those who voted for Lula. And those who try to mobilize their colleagues to do so will find it difficult.

What happened with the case of the employees of Fundação Casa Rui Barbosa is an example of how to erode a base of support for the government, breaking expectations and, worse than that, discouraging the organization and mobilization of workers. Casa Rui Barbosa is a federal foundation linked to the Ministry of Culture. Its servers are part of the Science & Technology career and, like all bodies in this career, it has had a debilitating reduction in its staff over the last few decades. In addition, the servers of Casa Rui Barbosa were also under institutional harassment in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.[4] Well, the Association of Servers of the Casa Rui Barbosa Foundation organized together with the servers an election for president of the Foundation. People could apply there. There was even a discussion of proposals between the candidates. Undoubtedly an initiative that shows the democratic expectation in relation to the new government. It was not a statutory election, as provided for by other federal foundations such as the Federal Universities and Fiocruz. The winning candidate was a retired researcher at Casa Rui Barbosa.

But it was with “surprise and displeasure” that the Civil Servants' Association saw the Minister of Culture Margareth Menezes disregard the public servants' interest in nominating the new president.[5] Niterói's Secretary of Culture was appointed to the post. It is not difficult to imagine the frustration and discouragement among the employees of this foundation.

Faced with fascism kicking in the door, either the government considers it vital not only to maintain but also to animate the social base that can support it, or it will remain in the illusion that the union bureaucracies and the individuals in commissioned positions are capable of opposing the social base of fascism.

*Leo Vinicius Liberato He holds a PhD in political sociology from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


[1] KEUNE ET AL (ed.). Working under pressure: Employment, job quality and labor
relations in Europe's public sector since the crisis
. Brussels: ETUI, 2020. Available at:

[2] New Minister of Labor hits the hammer on CLT for applications

[3] Ministry of Labor will meet with motoboys who organize strike

[4] See the chapter on Casa Rui Barbosa in: CARDOSO JR., JC et al. (org). Institutional Harassment in Brazil: Advancement of Authoritarianism and Deconstruction of the State. Brasilia: Afipea; EDUEPB, 2022. Available at:

[5] "Disappointment and frustration at the Casa de Rui Barbosa Foundation”. Available in

Ministry ignores civil servant consultation for Casa de Rui Barbosa

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