For Brazil, a Worker
In the White House
SAO PAULO, Brazil
On Oct. 27, a solid majority of Brazilian voters (61 percent) cast their ballots for a former factory worker and union
leader known as Lula, the candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT).
Brazil, one of the world’s largest democracies with a population of 175 million, is the biggest country in South America
and has that continent’s greatest concentration of wealth.
The election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva as president of Brazil is one of those triumphs of democracy that we in the
United States used to claim for ourselves. He’s a candidate born in the equivalent of a log cabin, an honest politician, of, by, and for
Lula was born in 1946 into extreme poverty in rural Pernambuco in Brazil’s poverty-stricken Northeast. He was the
seventh child of a woman who never learned to read or write. His father, a farmer, deserted the family to look for work. Lula and his
mother later joined the exodus traveling in rickety wooden trucks to the heavily industrialized state of Sao Paulo in hopes of finding
Lula worked as shoeshine boy and sold peanuts on the street. At age 14 he found work in a screw factory, where he operated
a lathe; he enrolled in a trade school, with the dream of working in an auto factory. He became involved in the metalworkers’ union,
which organized clandestinely in the days when a military dictatorship ruled Brazil.
Lula became president of the metalworkers’ union, negotiating with companies like Ford and leading a series of militant
strikes. The dictatorship in 1980 sentenced him to jail for violation of Brazil’s labor laws (inspired by fascist Italy’s labor
codes). Some newspapers and unions in the U.S. compared him to Poland’s Lech Walesa.
FOCUS ON CORPORATE BEHAVIOR
At a 1981 meeting with New York labor representatives, Lula agreed with then UE NEWS Managing Editor James
Lerner’s assessment that union members in the U.S. have a tremendous stake in U.S. corporations’ cooperation with Brazil’s
repressive regime. Lula made a fervent plea for American workers to understand that it isn’t Brazilian workers who are responsible for
the loss of jobs in the U.S., but the corporations that move work to countries like Brazil to take advantage of repressive conditions.
In the face of severe repression, the Metalworkers’ Union succeeded in winning wage increases for workers in Brazil’s
auto plants. However, the unions’ struggle against the dictatorship convinced Lula and other labor activists that better living and
working conditions had also to be realized through political action. Lula became a founder and president of the Workers’ Party.
Prior to this year, Lula made three unsuccessful bids for the presidency. He achieved the largest number of votes in the
first election in 2002, but not enough to avoid the Oct. 27 run-off. Fifty-two million voters had confidence in Lula and would not trust
their futures to the candidate favored by big business.
Lula’s opponent tried and failed to scare voters by suggesting Brazil would become bankrupt and crisis-ridden with the
Workers’ Party in office. Voters viewed Lula, an experienced union negotiator, as well-prepared, tough and willing to listen to their
grievances. Further, the Workers’ Party has successfully governed scores of cities and states.
As Lula told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a Sao Paulo victory celebration: "Hope has won out over