Debate with the MRT on the Teamsters’ strike in Brazil


The conflict that confronts the truck owners (truckers/teamsters) with the Temer government (with strike and blockades against the rise of the fuel price) became the core of the situation in the country. Brazil moves towards a growing paralyzation and the Teamsters already forced the government to step back (at least temporarily and partially) regarding the fuel price increase and to offer additional concessions. The impact of this conflict is a consequence that, in Brazil, 68% of the goods are distributed by truck.[1]
By Alejandro Iturbe.
Big transportation companies accepted the government’s proposal and do not participate in the protest anymore. Several national associations that group them did the same, like ABCAM. In this frame, the government carried out a repressive operation. However, the conflict holds the support of thousands of “autonomous teamsters” (owners of one or two vehicles) that camp to the side of the roads even when the blockades are dispersed.
The demand expanded to other segments of small owners, like school transportation and taxi drivers. Besides, it acted as a trigger for the oil workers’ strike (who had already expressed support to the Teamsters’ strike) against the privatization of the Petrobras and its price policy (the Petrobras acts, in practice, like a private company).
Despite the major inconvenience that this conflict caused to the population in its already hard daily life, most of the population supported the Teamsters against the government: a survey carried out by the Methodus Institute in several cities shows that 87% of the Brazilian people supported the struggle.[2]
In this frame, the already weak government hangs by a thread, and it is a real possibility for it to fall. This reality posed the candidates of bourgeois parties before a very hard balance: how to sustain the government and, at the same time, differentiate from him to not clash against the opinion of their electoral bases.
It also tested the left organizations, their analysis and policies in Brazil. In general lines, three positions were defined. The first one supports the struggle against the government and aims to develop it by incorporating the working class, its organizations and methods: it is the stand of the PSTU, the CSP-Conlutas and the National Oil Workers’ Federation (FNP).
The second one is the PT, CUT, and other organizations’ (if we can still call them “left”) that kept a silence that posed them as accomplices of the government. Now the PT is divided into those who support the repression to the Teamsters, like Rui Costa, governor of Bahia,[3] and those who began supporting them (like Lindbergh Farias, Senator from Rio de Janeiro).[4]
The third is the “Neither Temer nor Teamsters,” as expressed by the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement (MRT, Brazilian organization from the international current Trotskyist Fraction, led by the Argentine PTS). Even if their concrete policy is “neither-nor”, the MRT uses in its favor some arguments similar to those from the Temer government and segments of the bourgeois media that want to defeat the Teamsters, and to it, break the support by the population.
In this article, we will approach this debate with the MRT. We do not do it because of the influence that this organization has in the country (pretty restricted, by the way) but because it expresses clearly the incorrect reasoning and conclusions common to a great part of the world left.

What does the Teamsters’ struggle represent for the MRT?

The starting point of the MRT’s analysis is: “The Teamsters’ blockades in the last week across the country brought to surface the disputes between several bourgeois fractions for parts of the State subsidies (which are, concretely, part of the gain extracted from workers) for their own profits, expressing two capitalist corporative interests: on one side, those who benefit from the liberation of the oil price (higher), and on the other, segments that benefit from the subsidised price (lower).”[5] [Our translation.] So, from the objective point of view, to the MRT this is just an inter-bourgeois dispute in which we must not take a stand.
In this inter-bourgeois dispute, the concessions given by the government to the Teamsters will turn against workers and the population: “Despite the movement leadership’s demagogic speech, what is proven with the agreement and general intention of the program raised is that their interest is based on the need for profit by the transporting and logistics companies. The tax exemption will take necessary resources from every worker, like unemployment insurance and public health, from where they will take most part of the subsidy to give to businessmen and capitalists from the cargo transport industry in Brazil.”[6] [Our translation.]
This argument is similar to the one used by Temer and the Globo Network to isolate the population struggle. The content is, more or less, the following: “It is an inter-bourgeois dispute, but in it, the Teamsters’ demand is a bit more reactionary, because it hits the workers directly.” Like if Temer’s fuel policy didn’t! The “neither-nor” balance, then, is not so balanced anymore.

A social analysis of truck owners

The MRT and other organizations insisted a lot on the fact that the Teamsters’ measure is a “bosses’ lockout” and not a strike. To analyze this “semantic” debate (although with political consequences) we think it is necessary to analyze socially the truck owners segment.
In 2016, the total fleet in the country was 1,434,888 trucks, according to a report by the ANTT (National Agency of Ground Transport]. From this total, 811,916 belonged to “autonomous transporters” (56.6%); 615,481 to transportation companies (42.9%) and 7,591 to cooperatives (5.5%).[7]
The “transportation companies” segment includes small companies with 5 trucks; mid-size companies with some dozens or a hundred trucks; and big companies. The 10 top companies have fleets that go from 470 vehicles (Transportes Bertolini Ltda.) to 2335 (Centro Oeste Logística). Among these big companies, some dedicate exclusively to transportation and logistic, while others are branches or subsidiaries of business conglomerates like the mentioned Centro Oeste Logística (part of the drinks group Petrópolis) and the JBS Transportes (property of the homonymous group of meatpacking).
The “autonomous transporters” are 631,960, that means that in average, they own 1.3 vehicles each, whose value goes between 24,000 and 36,000 dollars (although some models can cost up to 60 or 80 thousand). A study from a specialized magazine informs that 60% of “autonomous teamsters” did not go to high school, works an average of 11.3 daily hours, and has a clear month income of 1200 dollars (a minoritary segment, 15%, has an income that goes from 1500 to 3000 dollars a month).[8]
So, among truck owners, there are sectors of the high bourgeoisie and others that are middle and small bourgeoisie. But the wide majority of this branch of the economy is “autonomous”. We should characterize them as a petit-bourgeois segment, with low capital and self-exploited to obtain an average income similar to a specialized worker from cutting-edge industries (and so, a similar living quality).
It is true that high and middle bourgeois segments encouraged the conflict and try to take advantage of it, but the base of the stoppage and blockades were the “autonomous”. So much that, after the government made the mentioned concessions and the companies withdrew, the process continued: the estimate is that there are about 600 blockades still (not counting the camps on the side of the road) and almost 300,000 “autonomous” are still in the conflict.
So, although appealing to a Marxist explanation, to qualify this struggle as an “interbourgeois dispute” or a “bosses’ lockout” is a total simplification that takes to completely incorrect policies. The core of the struggle is a small bourgeois sector: the “autonomous teamsters.”
Marxism studied that, in different circumstances, the petit-bourgeois segments can oscillate, in their consciousness and actions, towards the right (bourgeoisie) or the left (working movement). In the first case, we should fight them to defeat them, divide them or neutralize them. In the second, we must support their actions and call the workers’ movement to take part (with their methods and their own demands) and so achieve unity in struggle, led by the working class, against the bourgeoisie.

A movement in favor of military intervention”

To establish a revolutionary policy, the key is to define if the Teamsters’ conflict is progressive or reactionary. We saw that, for the MRT, it is a conflict encouraged by a sector of the great bourgeoisie against another one, that brought behind itself a petit-bourgeois sector.
This “structural” characterization of a “reactionary” conflict goes further in their political analysis: “The CUT and PT betrayal opens space for the right to channel the popular discontent. This is what allows it to be bosses’ sectors the ones that appear as those who want to give a response to the crisis in the country, encouraging Teamsters blockades that raise the figure of Bolsonaro and defend a military intervention (…). Before this situation, we need to say openly that the Teamsters’ movement has a reactionary nature.”[9] [Our translation.] Outside “The CUT and PT betrayal,” this analysis, allegedly Marxist, contains a compact amount of errors and confusion.
The errors begin with the definition of “reactionary wave” and “turn to the right” of the political situation, that according to the MRT sign the political situation in Brazil for a few years now, and that expressed in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and her replacement, Michel Temer, in 2016. The MRT, as most of the Brazilian left, characterized this fact as “coup” and the Temer government as “pro-coup,” through which the right wing took the power. Several articles published in the PSTU and IWL sites debated with this view of the Brazilian reality.
Now, the MRT considers that Bolsonaro expresses a sector of the bourgeoisie that wants to carry out “a coup to the coup,” and that it got the support of petit-bourgeois and masses’ sectors for this policy of replacing Temer government and the current political regime through a “military intervention”. The political situation [to them] is so “to the right” that the alternatives are between a “civil pro-coup government” and a classic military dictatorship (the Teamsters’ movement would be a play of the latest). According to them, we are trapped between the right-wing and the extreme right-wing. Although the MRT does not go that far, this alternative between “soft” and “hard” coup, by not having another alternative, leads a broad sector of workers and the people to choose the “lesser evil” of Temer’s government and support the repression to the Teamsters, as at least we will have elections this year. And other workers, more disgusted by the bourgeois political corruption, fall for the speech that “Brazil needs an immediate military intervention.”

Pro-coup Bolsonaro?

In several articles and statements by the PSTU and the IWL, we stood clearly against any type of “intervention” or military coup in Brazil, and we exposed our disposal to fight against it (in the broadest unity of action possible) if such thing were to happen or be a real threat. At the same time, we permanently fight the influence that the speech of a necessity of “military intervention” might have among workers and the people, because of the crisis that the country lives in every level.[10]
The truth is that today, no serious or influent bourgeois sector (not either the Army command) bets to this type of “military intervention”. Not even Jair Bolsonaro, a former military, current deputy by Rio de Janeiro and candidate for the presidency in this year election. He is a disgusting person, a provoker, that diffuses an extreme-right, racist, male-chauvinist, homophobic ideology. Together with it, he has a hypocrite anti-corruption speech targetting all old Brazilian politicians. In the frame of the political crisis in the country and the growing disappointment with the bourgeois democracy, this allowed him to gain support not only by reactionary middle sectors but also workers’ and popular sectors disgusted with the system. But, although he has an extreme-right speech, his political action so far has nothing to do with Fascism or with support to a military coup: he developed and continues developing through the inside of the current democratic bourgeois regime, with no intention to modify it.
Thus, in 2016, Bolsonaro presented a bill project that proposes to punish with “up to 4 years of prison” all those that participate in blockades like the ones carried out by Teamsters currently.[11] Before the current conflict, he first tried to channel it demagogically, saying that if he were elected he would “annul any monetary sanction that Temer imposes to the Teamsters,” and then clearly aligned with the Temer government and most of the Brazilian bourgeoisie: “The Teamsters’ strike has to end. Neither I nor Brazil are interested in chaos.[12] [Our translation.]

Pro-Coup Teamsters?

The MRT might argument that, beyond Bolsonaro’s electoral real intentions, the “autonomous teamsters” took his agitation for real and now mobilize in favor of a “military intervention.” Hence, their movement is still reactionary and we have to fight it. Let’s analyze this possible explanation.
We have said that, with a hypocrite speech, Bolsonaro channels the regime crisis and gains the electoral support of working and popular sectors (the surveys show over 20% of vote intention). Among those who vote, it is possible that there is a sector that believes that “only a military intervention will save Brazil.” Ultimately, it is almost certain that this vision expresses also among the “autonomous” Teamsters’ sector.
To us, this sector is visible and real, but because of the reception we’ve had when we manifested our support in different pickets and blockades, plus the reports we’ve received from others, as well as the journalistic articles and videos on the Internet, we think that this sector is a minority. At the same time, it is clear that the influence of the “pro-Bolsonaro” and pro-military intervention militants has been exaggerated by the government and the great media (like the Globo Network) to try and isolate the conflict and so, defeat it. From the “left” and with a “Marxist language,” the MRT ends up contributing to that. In any case, there is a central question we need to ask: is the movement defined by the pro-Bolsonaro and pro-coup nature? To the MRT, this is evident, and so the “autonomous” Teamsters’ struggle is the “main enemy.”
To us, on the contrary, this is a very progressive struggle by middle and low petit-bourgeois sectors, attacked by the government and great part of the bourgeoisie (and whose living condition is worsening) that confronts Temer with a demand that touches all popular sectors (the reduction of the fuel price). In this confrontation, they act like a trigger of a broader social process that, if it moves forward, it can overthrow the government through the struggle.
This is the same analysis that more lucid bourgeois sectors do: “In midst of a generalized discontent with the government, the Teamsters’ protests that stopped Brazil gained the support of several social sectors. And this is despite the inconveniences that the strike against the diesel price increase caused – from fuel and food shortage to [lack of] busses [and problems in] ports and airports, the mobilization is supported by the population. In several spots in the country, people take food, water and blankets to the Teamsters. The movement involved the citizens, app drivers and school transportation drivers. It even involved companies from the private food sector. There was also broad support in social networks.”[13] [Our translation.] Appart from the elements already mentioned in this analysis, there is also the oil workers’ support and the strike called for a 100% State Petrobras.
It is clear that this is a growing struggle against the Temer government, that threatens with overthrowing him. To the MRT, this means that we have to turn the “red light” on, because what is in course is a process that moves towards a military coup, that won the support of most part of the Brazilian people, and so we need to fight it with all our strength. To us, on the contrary, with all its contradictions, this is an extraordinary process that we need to support and encourage, from a class perspective. Thus, the PSTU militants encouraged the support to pickets, and we were part of the construction of the oil workers’ strike, as well as of partial strikes in metal factories in San Jose dos Campos. Certainly, the MRT will accuse us of “functional to the right-wing” and “pro-coup,” as it has done already in the past.
Until the Teamsters’ strike, the MRT used to say that the main task was to fight against the “pro-coup” government of Temer. Now, that it began a mass process that might overthrow him, the MRT entered a labyrinth with no way out with their thesis of a “reactionary wave” and the “turn to the right of the political situation in Brazil,” to which they add their stand of “coup against the coup” (the danger of a “military intervention”.) The truth is that the real “military intervention” is the one ordered by Temer to repress the Teamsters. It is against that intervention that we need to struggle and unite strengths, not against the “ghost” presented by the MRT.
In the middle of such labyrinth, the MRT raises the following proposal: “The CUT needs to initiate, immediately, the oil workers’ strike for the reduction of fuel prices and the privatization [of Petrobras].”[14] [Our translation.] The demand for the CUT to call an oil workers’ strike and the goal are correct, the in the frame of the MRT policy it implies some issues.
The first and main one is that they raise this task ignoring, or better, standing against, the real process in which this fight is already happening (from the Teamsters’ conflict on).
Second, they forget that the CSP-Conlutas has been calling all Federation to call a general strike and their response has been negative. Instead, the Federations launched a communicate posing themselves as “mediators” between the government and the Teamsters. In other words, they do not want a general strike against Temer, and they work to end the Teamsters’ struggle.
Third, the MRT “forgets” that the FNP unions (National Oil Workers’ Federation, not part of the CUT) already launched the strike.
Basically, the MRT policy only serves to “cry in the shoulder” of the CUT and the PT (although they criticize them with words), not to the real struggle in course. And worst, it opposes the real struggle directly and so delivers it to the pro-Bolsonaro right-wing that claims to be fighting Temer.
We want to end defending the PSTU policy before the process: “It is necessary to surround the strike and mobilization of Teamsters and oil workers with active solidarity. It is necessary to fight for 100% State Petrobras under workers’ control instead of corrupt ones. Only like that the fuel and kitchen gas prices will reduce.
We need to organize demonstrations and stoppages where we can, uniting the struggle for reduction of fuel prices and nationalization of Petrobras to all other struggles. It is time for a General Strike to unify the struggle of workers and the poor population in the country, for the reduction of fuel and kitchen gas prices, but also against massive unemployment, to revoke the labor reform, and against any attempt to touch our Social Security.”[15]
It is with this program and in the frame of a strong criticism for their policy before the conflict, that the PSTU proposes: “These leaders should change their shameful stand and follow the call made by CSP-Conlutas to declare a General Strike, taking the government down together with this corrupt National Congress.”[16]
This stand before the Teamsters’ conflict is part of the permanent policy of the PSTU: to call for a Brazilian workers’ and people’s rebellion that overthrows the Temer government and takes the workers to the power. In other words, the beginning of a socialist, workers’ revolution that changes the capitalist socio-economic roots of the country and starts resolving the substantial problems of our exploited, oppressed people.
[10] For example,
[16] Ibidem.


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