"Protests retake the streets as a place for making politics”, states Stedile

Monday, July 1, 2013

protestsby Eduardo Scolese, of Agência Folha

João Pedro Stedile, 59, economist and leader of the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST),  says that it is necessary to take advantage of the protests to create new mechanisms for popular participation in the destiny of the country.

If this doesn’t happen, he says, “the mobilizations will return stronger and more radical”.

According to him, the fact that young protestors are rejecting the existing parties is normal. “Whoever sees the way that the parties act becomes outraged.”

Following are parts of the interview, carried out by email at the request of the leader of the landless workers.

Folha - What’s your analysis of the protests?

João Pedro Stedile - They were very positive because they brought young people back into the streets. They are breathing new life into politics including the presidential Palace and the Congress. At first they were motivated by the anger of some young people and the cleverness of the Free Pass Movement, which took advantage of this feeling to mobilize. The mediocre vision of the Alckmin government helped since it is accustomed to repressing the population as it has done in other evictions, and it succeeded in throwing gasoline onto the protests.

Is this a watershed moment? What changes after this?

Ever since the movement for “Rights Now”, we have not had such powerful mobilizations throughout the country. For this reason, they are in fact a retaking of the streets as a place for making politics. However what happens from now on is in question. The right just wants to delay the issues or focus on irrelevant issues so that no change can occur and Dilma’s government will be worn down and they can reap the fruits in the 2014 elections.

The working class needs to come into the streets and put economic and political reforms on the agenda--reforms that the Lula and Dilma governments were not able to carry out due to the weird party alliances within a political system that is in need of a profound reform.

Which actors are going to win and which are going to lose in these protests?

The losers were those who engage in traditional, conservative, reactionary politics. Globo Network, which thought itself all-powerful, lost because the only slogan that unified youth in the whole country was Globo Network--Out! since the youth are being informed by the internet and social networks and don’t pay attention to television.  The winners were youth and the Brazilian people. Hopefully the Dilma government will wake up and align itself increasingly with the people’s interests.

How do you analyze the protests that ended up in violence?

No one in their right mind goes to a march to engage in violence. These episodes always occur with a combination of various factors. First, the lack of preparation of the Military Police, which always treats the people as the enemy despite the fact that each soldier is an ordinary poor person. Where there was dialog between the Military Police and the protestors, there was no violence. Second, there were fascist groups in São Paulo and Rio who planned and went to the marches to create chaos and panic.

Do you believe that in the middle of the riots there was an ingredient of the revolt of the most excluded population and not simply the actions of vandals?

I don’t believe that the angry population uses violence. The people like to curse and use ugly names but is against the use of violence, smashing and looting.  In these situations the people respect public property.

How do you analyze this rejection of parties in the midst of the protests? Is it a rejection of all parties or specifically of  the parties in power?

This youth was born during the implementation of neoliberaism in the 90’s and they reject the way of doing politics from that period. They are not apolitical nor against party organizations. But anyone who watches every day the way that the parties act becomes outraged about the parties’ submission to big business, the vote-buying, the disputes over positions, the parties’ internal disputes.

We urgently need to change the way of doing politics in Brazil and bury these practices. Therefore, political reform is essential. It is essential, in the midst of these mobilizations, to create new mechanisms for popular participation in the destiny of the country. If there are no changes in that regard, I'm sure the mobilizations will return stronger and more radical.

Social movements, indigenous movements and unions have complained about the lack of dialog with the Dilma government. Has the government failed? Why?

The Dilma government is made up of various classes. Unfortunately during the most recent period the government has prioritized only the interests of the bourgeoisie and minimized the interests of the working class. Just look at the agenda that the government prioritizes. On the one side, it proposes oil auctions, release of grants of mining rights for big capital, outsourcing of labor rights, BNDES money for large companies. For the working class: bread and water.

Land reform is paralyzed, the legalization of indigenous and Afro-descendant areas are paralyzed and in some cases, these disputes are met with repression, as the Federal Police in Mato Grosso do Sul did.  Of course at this time, this class contradiction erupts in government or in the streets.

This dialog got worse in relation to the Lula government?

It’s not a question of dialog. You can have dialog the whole time. The problem is the clash of class interests and the strength of each class to pressure the government. Until now, the businessmen had more strength in the government. Now I hope that the voice of the streets represents a popular force that makes the government implement policies in favor of the working class.

Does the MST support the “return Lula” movement?

The governments are only the mirror of the correlation of forces in society. We support a popular project for the country. What Brazil needs is a discussion in society about a projec that  represents national and popular sovereignty to resolve the problems of the people. We can no longer accept a rich country, the seventh largest economy in the world, with so much social inequality. With wages so low, without democratizing the land and the media.

The people live in housing with terrible conditions, spend 40% of their income on rent, do not have quality public transportation, healthcare, suffer in long lines for the national health service and their children are not learning in the public schools. While this is going on, foreign capital comes here to exploit our oil, our minerals, our ethanol and our agriculture. They are allied with a submissive Brazilian bourgeoisie which never thought of Brazil as a nation.

The cities are boiling and the countryside seems to be sleeping, with the exception of the indigenous people. What are the reasons for this?

In the big cities, there is an urban crisis caused by housing speculation that raised the prices of properties and land 150% in the last three years. There is no quality public transit and poor quality health care and education. There is an enormous crowd of people in this daily hell so the youth decided to face and slap the devil.

But the working class has not moved. In the countryside we have been suffering the ebb of the mass movement since 2005, because of the hegemony of capital, which took charge of agriculture and imposed the agribusiness model. But its contradictions and consequences are beginning to appear. That is to say the concentration of the ownership of land, of mills, of production of only three products (soy, sugar cane, and cattle) begins to appear. Soon other sectors of the population in the countryside will begin to get involved.

As an economist, how do you see the recent actions of the government relating to inflation and the stagnant GDP?

What is happening is the result of an economy increasingly dependent on international capital. Brazil is increasingly hostage to the policies of central governments and the action of international capital on the economy. On the other hand, the federal government and its class composition does not have the strengths and sufficient unity to implement nationalistic economic policies that protect our work and our wealth, because it also does not have a clear project for the country.