Report and balance sheet of the first big rally in Joinville
June 23, 2013. More than 15,000 students and workers took to the streets of Joinville on Thursday, June 20. They chanted slogans and carried placards with messages of change. This kind of mobilization has not been seen since the Collor Out1 movement in 1992.
Amongst those present were several trade unions, political parties, student organizations, neighborhood associations, social organizations. However, there were also other organizations which never participated in a movement and have always opposed street demonstrations. It was a historic day for the city’s social movements. However, it also revealed the weaknesses of the demonstration and the contradictions among the protesters. In order to understand the situation and move forwards we need to draw a balance-sheet.
Balance sheet of a movement that can go forward
Young people and workers who participated in the demonstration on Thursday (June 20) had an experience that most Joinville inhabitants never had before. They were participating in a social movement and participating for the first time in a spontaneous movement of the population. Many had never concerned themselves with or reflected carefully about political issues. Others had always supported movements, but had never come out onto the streets to struggle. It is all new to most of them.
A thorough understanding of this situation, which is being repeated across Brazil, would mean the movement would be able to take stock of itself, and identify its own weaknesses and contradictions. Thus, it would be possible to move forward in an organized and systematic manner around the demands that have been raised by those who are angered by the whole situation. The victories already achieved with respect to the reduction of the price of transit tickets shows that the masses can win and achieve even more. The question is: how?
What is required is organization
The first point that needs to be highlighted about the Joinville demonstration is the lack of organization. The organized social movements are trying to explain what is happening and mobilize the population in the streets. However, there is also a campaign of the right wing and the mainstream media, with the aim that the demonstrations do not guide the struggle to take clear actions so as to adopt slogans that relate to the working class and the youth.
This demonstration showed that sound systems that are powerful enough to ensure that all those in the squares and streets can hear, are absolutely necessary. After all, how can we make sure the demonstration carries out decisive action decided by all if those present cannot even hear what is being discussed? Otherwise, the movement ends up by splitting up, as we saw this Thursday, because there are no clear references to guide the march. Different legitimate groups of the workers and youth attempted to organize different parts of the demonstration, but were unable to carry out a coordinated effort.
Unity of left wing organizations and movements
Another question that all the protesters need to think about is the need for the unity of all the organizations that struggle for the working class. It is legitimate for the movements to attempt to organize protests, but it is important to advance in the discussion and coordination with the other organizations of the working class. The attitude of not seeking a broader unity around the slogans did not contribute to making the demonstration stronger and better organized.
What we saw on Thursday was a massive protest, but it could have been an even more important step forward if the left had acted in a united fashion. Thus it would be possible to call for the unity of struggles and come out with clear decisions about goals, and with a clear strategy to achieve them. Meetings of the organizations that defend the workers and youth should be convened with the aim of unifying all entities who were elected by their bases to organize them and call them to fight.
A third question that needs to be dealt with is what steps need to be taken to guarantee democracy within the protest movement—which caused much controversy within the social networks and the beginning of some scuffles on the demonstration itself. This question can be divided in two main points. The first one is on the organization of the protest itself. The only solution is to adopt democratic methods of conducting and organizing the demonstration, involving the unity of all the organizations of the left.
The second aspect is related to freedom of expression. Solidarity demonstrations broke out all over the country after protesters in São Paulo were attacked and imprisoned for the simple fact of expressing themselves politically in opposition to the increase in fares. Paradoxically, several people who attended the protest in Joinville expressed hatred and disgust towards those who are organized in parties, trade unions and student organizations.
The right to freedom of expression was being attacked by some of those participating in the demonstrations that had been called precisely to protect that right. This approach must be combated and removed. Freedom of speech means not only not being arrested for thinking and doing what you want, but also the right to be respected in the form in which you express these ideas (with banners, placards, T-shirts and slogans.) There was only one moment in the recent history of Brazil where this right was not respected: during the Military Dictatorship!
Contradiction: fascists and right-wingers present at the protests
The number of people on the streets of Joinville impressed everyone. But we need to look at some aspects more carefully. Not only were there students and workers on the protest. The slogans raised were not only in defense of free public transport for all, solidarity with the arrested protesters or for good quality public services. There were also some who were for the “Impeachment of Dilma,” “Petralhas Out,” (a play on words based on the cartoon characters the Metralhas Brothers, who are thieves, and on the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—The Workers’ Party,) “Less taxes,” “Down with the parties,” “For a military coup now.” Those who defend such slogans are often termed as “right-wingers,” representing a conservative political position, advocating improvements for those who are at the top of the social pyramid. These are the people who drive luxury cars, are close friends of the commanders and generals, as well as having the best available healthcare and education that money can buy.
The slogan “Parties out” belongs to this kind of people. We have to see which parties are participating in the protests. It is precisely the parties of the working class! It is those parties that were created as a result of 21 years of struggle, torture and death of thousands demanding political freedom, organization and expression under the dictatorship. These are precisely the parties that overthrew the military dictatorship, but we mustn’t forget that those who supported that dictatorship are still present in society. That is the right wing. It is the right wing which was present in the demonstrations promoting a nationalist agenda, as if they were defending Brazil. The truth is that they are defending their interests as a ruling class.
The young student or worker, who has never been involved in politics before, may welcome those who wrap themselves in the flag of Brazil and sing the national anthem because they do this too. However, although both do the same thing they do it with very different aims in mind. Those others are part of the ruling class. They want to exploit the protest movement to promote their own political candidates into certain positions, to impose their agendas from positions of power and increase their own wealth, regardless of the situation facing the people. They go as far as to argue that there should be no parties and they act with violence against “the left”—those who represent the historical interests of the working class. This approach has a name: it is called fascism.
Working class protesters need to reflect on this and prevent the right wing from usurping the movement for their own interests and attacking the organizational capacity of the exploited. During the demonstrations everyone needs to be aware of the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression and prevent that right from being attacked, as well as not falling into the trap of the provocation of the mass media. The demonstrations were called precisely in solidarity with those to whom this right had been denied.
The demonstration also revealed the confusion that exists about the slogans of the movement. The points that have unified demonstrations throughout Brazil are the fight against repression and the reduction of fares. In Joinville this year the local government is going to present a fake tender to deliver public transport again into the hands of private companies Gidion and Transtusa. We need to stop this service from being used for profit. So here the struggle for transport means the fight for a public transport company, the only way to ensure zero fares and a public service, free and available to all.
The slogan of “down with repression” means demanding the immediate release of all the arrested protesters, and the withdrawal of charges of “conspiracy” against them. Free public services for all is a right, and to struggle for them cannot be seen as a crime.
Transport is a symbol of something greater: it is necessary to move forward
What is driving all the indignation of the masses is the current model of society that favors banks and businesses, destroys public services and lowers the standard of living of the population. The issue of fare increases is just a symbol of the plight of the poor.
It is this situation that is being questioned in the explosion of protest movements around the world. What is happening right now in Turkey is a similar example, and it began with the government cutting down trees in Gezi Park in Istanbul.
The youth and workers are on the streets of Brazil and the world to transform society. For this to happen we will need to overcome the contradictions within our society. In this sense, the struggle for socialism once again acquires strength as a way of building the kind of world we want.
Johannes Halter is a member of the National Committee of the Brazilian Marxist Youth.
—In Defense of Marxism, June 23, 2013
1 Refers to the movement to impeach Fernando Affonso Collor de Mello the 32nd president of Brazil from 1990 to 1992. He resigned in a failed attempt to stop his trial of impeachment by the Brazilian Senate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_Collor_de_Mello