“No matter how many roses the mighty kill, they will never manage to stop spring.”
Since early April, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former socialist president of Brazil, has been sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment in solitary confinement with limited access to the outside world. Throughout the period building up to his incarceration, he had – and continues to face – a trial-by-media, as part of an organised smear campaign directed by Brazil’s ruling elites against the labour movement that seeks to take their privilege from them.
Lula’s sentence is wildly disproportionate to the charges held against him, which are hardly overwhelming. The chief accusation, based on plea bargains from businessmen facing their own corruption charges, is that he was offered an apartment (that he never lived in). The real reason for punishing Lula is that in the coming days, Brazil will face an election set to have profound importance for the future direction of the country.
In this election, the preferred candidate of all Brazilian reactionaries is Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right ‘anti-establishment’ candidate. Bolsonaro, who openly admits to sympathising with Brazil’s former military dictatorship, vows to continue the neoliberal policies of President Michel Temer, who was involved in the ‘soft coup’ against socialist Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
After cancelling the democratic will of 54,000,000 Brazilians by removing Rousseff, Temer set out his austerian political stance: he has imposed a 20-year freeze on public spending, and has stated clearly his intention to privatise Brazil’s state-owned oil company. Paulo Guedes, the Chicago-trained economics mastermind of Bolsonaro, intends to continue this trajectory, his declared solution to the ‘chaos’ prevalent within the Brazilian economy being to ‘privatise everything’.
Every opinion poll shows Lula was by the far the most popular of any candidate. As a non-university educated former worker, a trade union militant and a senior indigenous political figure, Lula would have represented the resistance of the Brazilian people to the ugly political future offered them by the political establishment. Lula has been imprisoned because he symbolises dignity and progress to the workers, peasants and dispossessed of Brazil.
This is why we are making him the honorary president of Young Labour. Here in Britain, the labour movement will not stay silent. Practically all of our major trade unions have weighed in firmly behind Lula and our sisters and brothers in the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT).
Young Labour hopes that this small, symbolic act of solidarity will add to the wave of support the PT have already gained from across the global workers’ movement. We also hope that it will help add to the international pressure heaped upon the Brazilian government to free Lula. We extend our friendship to all progressive forces in Brazil, and wish the best of luck Fernando Haddad, who we are all firmly hoping will claim victory in the election and begin to reverse the neoliberal onslaught Brazil is facing.
Our fight for a socialist world is never just about great men or inspiring individuals. But be it Marcos Ana in fascist Spain, Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa, or Lula in twenty-first century Brazil, our struggle for human dignity can be reflected through them. Lula is a towering figure of the working class movement, and an attack on him is an attack on every socialist and democrat across the planet. He must be released.
Venceremos! Lula Livre!
Marcus Barnett is writing on behalf of the Young Labour national committee as Young Labour International Officer.