Orlando Hill reports from the launch of the London campaign for Lula, the Brazilian left-wing candidate taking on Bolsonaro
According to the ONS's most recent figures there are 119,000 Brazilians living in the UK, almost half of them in London. The Brazilian Consulate estimates the number at 220,000 and Rodrigo Correa, founder of the Brazilian Cultural Centre in London (CCBL), estimates the Brazilian community (those born in Brazil and their children) at 400,000.
Last Saturday, Committee Lula 13 UK held an event to launch Lula’s presidential campaign in London. The event was held at Tia Maria, a Brazilian restaurant in Vauxhall, South London. Supporters from all parts of London filled the restaurant. While they waited for the live screening of the Lula’s rally in São Paulo, Brazil, they worked their way through plates of feijoada (bean stew), bolinhos de bacalhau (salted cod fish croquettes) and other Brazilian specialties.
The rally marked the official launch of Lula’s presidential campaign and Fernando Haddad’s campaign for governor in São Paulo. It was held in the same place where in April 1984, 1.5 million people rallied to demand direct presidential elections and the end of the military dictatorship.
The large screen brought the rally in São Paulo to Tia Maria. Flags of all colours were waved, the Workers Party’s (PT) red, the LBGT rainbow and Brazil’s green, yellow, blue and white. Slogans and songs were shouted out. It was as if we were among the 70,000 attending the rally.
Lula began his speech by thanking the trade unions and social movements for organising the rally. He then went on to thank everyone for the greeting Dilma Rousseff received from all those present. He explained how the establishment will invent lies to prevent any progressive movements from going forward. That was done in the past and is carried on today.
Lula emphasised the importance of education for all and not just for a few as the elite would like to see. Education must be seen as an investment and not as a cost. Europeans arrived in 1500, but Brazil would only have its first university in 1920. Why? Because the Brazilian elite did not want “the poor to learn anything”.
Lula was very critical of the Brazilian elite. He reminded everyone that Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery, the last to gain independence, the last to grant the right to vote to illiterates and to women. The consequence is that women are still not respected and there has been an increase in femicide. Seventy two percent of women are in debt because they have been forced to use their credit cards to buy food for their families. Most of the breadwinners in Brazilian families are women. Lula was very staunch against violence against women. He told the story of how his mother left his violent father and brought up eight children on her own.
In the third part of his speech Lula defended the secular state. “The state cannot have a religion. All religions have to be defended by the State.” He criticised the involvement of churches in the campaign stating that they “do not have to have a political party, because they have to take care of faith and spirituality, not the candidacy of false prophets and Pharisees who deceive the people”.
He ended his speech by saying that different from what many people thought, the left is not dead. The ideals of independence, sovereignty, democracy and dignity defended by the left are alive. We want to live in dignity in a country that likes to party, that likes carnaval, that likes everything that is good. The working class will not be satisfied with second-class goods. We want the best. We want to be able to gather our family and friends for a feijoada and caipirinhas on Saturdays.
Brazil is the third largest producer of animal protein in the world. However, there are 33 million people who have not got enough to eat. Lula ended his speech by giving a lesson on socialism. If there is only enough for a glass of milk for each, then each one gets a glass of milk. However, if someone is ill, that person gets a bit more. The role of a government is not to look after the wealthy and the bankers. The role of the government is to look after the working class. He promised to make a tax reform to increase the tax on the rich and lower it for the poor. Profits should be taxed, not wages. He told the crowd that he had made a promise at the gates of a factory to increase the minimum wage above inflation on a yearly basis.
He sent a message to Bolsonaro. Lula is not going to remove you from the government. It is the Brazilian people. You will be forced to hand over the government because the people will demand it.
After the rally, some of us in the restaurant made small speeches. Tomás Fares from the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) explained why they decided to back Lula already in the first round and not have their own candidate as they did in the previous elections. Lula’s victory is a matter of survival for the left. Diogo Costa, Labour councillor in Lambeth, spoke in Portuguese reminding everyone of the common struggles in the UK, Portugal and Brazil. Nara Jararaca, one of the organisers of the event, pointed out that there were 69 LGBT candidates running for congress in the main states. The Workers’ Landless Movement (MST) has 15 candidates.
I was invited to speak and introduced as “o professor” (the teacher). I said a few words on the importance of Lula’s victory not only for the Brazilian working class, but for the working class in all countries, including the UK. Lula’s victory shifts the international correlation of forces to the left. It represents a blow to the neoliberal narrative of the belief in market forces. It strengthens the idea that the economy should serve the people and not the other way around. If Lula wins in the first round all the better.
However, talking to people it was clear that electing Lula and defeating Bolosonaro was just the first step. We can expect future attacks from the extreme right as Lula pointed out in his speech. As was previously mentioned, “first, we have to defeat Bolsonaro and then we have to defeat Bolsonarism because violence, no matter how much Lula wins, will persist.”
Furthermore, to defeat Bolsonaro, Lula made the decision to build an electoral front which includes some figures from the right as is the case of his vice president Geraldo Alckimin, former governor of São Paulo. The decision was not a popular one with activists. Alckimin was booed at Tia Maria when it was his turn to speak at the rally. Some would argue that it was necessary to have Alckmin on the ticket, and that it is better to have him near than on the other side plotting.
However, it is a dangerous decision as seen with Dilma and her vice president Michel Temer. Once elected the pressure to compromise with the elite will be intense. For both these reasons it is essential that the left, the unions and the movements back Lula but also organise independently in the workplaces, favelas and the streets. As Marissol Aparecida da Silva who went to the rally to hear what Lula, said, “If we don't come to the streets, we can't win, because it's hard for the government to listen if we don't stir things up.”
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Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.
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