Written by Clarckson Messias – PSTU
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 23:37
There were eight days of a national strike sparked on October 17. Numerous refineries paralyzed, the gates of Transpetro’s terminals were locked and several offshore platforms in the Bacia de Campos (RJ) halted production. In many plants, workers left the factory and delivered it to contingency operation groups, formed by managers, supervisors and coordinators.
In Revap in São José dos Campos (SP), the picket line made by the Oil Workers Union (Sindipetro), with the support of CSP-Conlutas, students and the Metalworkers Union generated an unusual scene: the company was obliged to contract helicopters to ensure the entry of strikebreakers in the plant. The refinery, which was in maintenance shutdown on the day the strike began, had its production delayed by two days.
In Cubatão (SP), outsourced workers of the Presidente Bernardes Refinery occupied the highway Cônego Domenico Rangoni. With the road taken by construction workers, a large meeting was held. All, without exception, decided to sit in. In Macaé (RJ), more than 100 oil workers working in offshore platforms occupied the city airport on the 23rd chanting “the strike continues.”
To the skeptics, the oil strike gave a categorical message: the June winds still blow in the country, forging new fights and putting on stage a strategic working sector. The demand for the suspension of the auction of the Libra Oil Field was the decisive factor for the mobilization, although the sector also mobilized for their wage campaign, converting the two fights into one. This combination ensured the realization of a historic strike, which represented a serious confrontation between the oil workers and Dilma Rousseff’s government (PT).
Strike faced the Workers’ Party (PT) government
This is undoubtedly the largest mobilization of the sector after 1995, when radicalized oil workers held a strike for 32 days, halting production and even occupying some plants. 1995 and 2013 show a fundamental similarity: just as in 1995, when the former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) intended to privatize the Petrobras, whose symbol was his attempt to change its name to PetroBrax, the fight was against the government’s privatizing agenda of the major state owned Brazilian enterprises. But with one difference: if the strike that year was against the neoliberal doctrine of Cardoso, in 2013 the fight collided with PT’s policy, which, in 1994, stamped on the poster of the election campaign: “State Oil Monopoly: only Lula can assume this commitment.”
It is true that the strike was not enough to stop the auction, but the oil workers action has a positive balance sheet. Rather, the mobilization of the sector put the auction of the Libra oil field – an almost invisible event until then – before the eyes of the society. It deepened the erosion of the government and its neoliberal policies, forcing Dilma Rousseff to speak on national broadcast, and put in motion a sector that, despite its fighting tradition, for many years didn’t lead such a big mobilization. Now, the oil workers learned, in practice, that it is possible to fight and win. And more, they advanced their experience with a government which, until the auction, they considered to be “theirs”. The speeches against the government and its privatization agenda were the most cheered in the assemblies and rallies of the oil workers.
This year, thanks to the strike, the workers won important demands in their wage campaign, such as health care for the Transpetro’s retirees and a guarantee fund for outsourced workers, who suffer with contractors’ defaults. Moreover, the mobilization achieved a bonus of R$ 7,200 and an adjustment of 8.56 % on wages for employees in active service. And it was successful on obliging Petrobras to withdraw a series of measures that it had tried to impose, such as the inclusion of targets for PLR (profit sharing) and shift arrangements that reinforced the logic of production at any cost.
The strike could achieve more
The largest oil workers mobilization since 1995 could achieve important demands, as the increase over inflation of the base salary, the end of the frozen scale of wages, the end of discrimination and benefits increase for retirees. But the leadership of the Oil Workers’ Federation (FUP), affiliated to the CUT, acted to demobilize the strike at its peak, on October 23. At its strongest moment, when there were real chances to win important advancements for the workers, the FUP backed the company’s proposal. The odd thing was that the FUP retreated just hours after announcing, on its website, the continuation of the strike.
The agreement with the company was made in the dead of night. As reported by the National Federation of Oil Workers (FNP) on its website, “the acceptance by the FUP was based on a lie: that Petrobras had guaranteed not punishing the workers on strike. The very agreement proposed by the company shows it is not true. What the company has ‘guaranteed’ is to ‘discuss with the unions’ before taking any action on possible excesses. Where is the guarantee? Nowhere.”
The oil workers have to learn from this betrayal of the FUP’s leadership. The strengthening of the opposition unionism, which was fundamental to build and strengthen the strike in the Norte Fluminense (RJ), Duque de Caxias (RJ), Unificado (SP), among other branches, is crucial at this time.
Lessons of October
The oil workers made an exceptional experience during this strike. They achieved economic advances, have given a step forward in the struggle against privatization and raised their level of consciousness. They held a historic mobilization against a PT’s government. This means that nothing will be as before. The strengthening of the oil workers is going to make the Petrobras and the government work hard.
Although the auction has not been suspended, the struggle continues. The goal of the sector and of all of the Brazilian society committed to the fight for national sovereignty is the revocation of the Libra oil field’s auction. In the streets, the mission is to continue fighting for the end of the auctions and for the state oil monopoly, under the responsibility of a 100 % state-owned Petrobras, while the government already signals further privatization of other oil fields, as the announced auction of 240 blocks planned for the end November.
Ignácio “Lula” da Silva was the PT (Workers’ Party) candidate for the presidency that year, and is the main PT leader currently.
Dilma Rousseff (PT) is the president of Brazil. She won the 2010 election with Lula’s support.