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Eric Ehrmann

Eric Ehrmann

Posted: March 25, 2011 04:21 PM

Brazil Unions Flex Muscles as Obama Afterglow Fades


Sao Paulo

Brazil is getting back to its own economic reality in the afterglow of president Obama´s rock star visit. With enough unionized high tech workers to fill the Meadowlands, the powerful Sao Paulo data workers union went out on strike to get higher wages and benefits. Another 80,000 public works construction workers, allied with the Forca Sindical, are also on strike for higher wages as working Brazilians feel the pinch of creeping inflation.

Even without calculating the 11.6 percent pay hike the sindicatos want the quest to churn out profits is already driving up the cost of data, outsourcing and customer facing services in the market.

The data workers union website reports that negotiations have become tense and that Sao Paulo state public works minister Dr. Laura Martins Maia is proposing a compromise wage increase of 8.6 percent with implementation of incentive programs for programmers and analysts. Obama and Dilma met with the head of the data industry coalition and nine other key business leaders in Brasilia but those talks did not create enough political consensus to stop the hardball and avoid the strike.

In a show of solidarity,president Dilma and former president Lula did a photo op with leaders of the data workers on the eve of the strike vote. Obama's handlers canceled an outdoor speech in Rio where protesters sympathetic to strikers and favela activists were expected.

The Dilma government has been less enthusiastic about the construction workers action since it impacts work on hydroelectric plants and projects linked to the 2014 World Cup.

Use of countervailing power -- the strike -- leaves the sindicatos with an image problem.

Today, they are rebels without a cause. Globalization and its flat, malleable world has made the likes of powerful, confrontational labor leaders like Lula, Hoffa, Scargill, Walesa and Marchais obsolete. Neto, leader of the data workers is a calculating technocrat, not a populist or socialist. And Paulo Ferreira da Silva, the leader of Forca Sindical, is also a legislator and a member of the traditonal Workers Party clique that needs to modernize its manifesto to promote the more even income distribution that Brazil needs to grow beyond the pathology of underdevelopment.

Running in the background of the strikes, and Obama's call for a new economic partnership, are the high level Bush holdovers who seek to mediate the interests of China and Russia in South America.. And neo-conservative social media assets propagating the notion of a new pink revolution help recycle the Cold War tradition of running divide and conquer politics in Latin America in a soft power wrapper.

Fidel Castro, who is on the record saying the communist economic model has failed, remains the superstar of this bogus Latin Evil Empire that includes Hugo Chavez , Daniel Ortega and the FARC, who use Marxism as the glue to hold together the remains of a movement that has been unable to successfully manage transgenerational change.

And in lusophone Brazil, which is a radically different culture than those operated by its Spanish speaking neighbors, the Marxist economics that once drove the labor movement have long disappeared.

No more Gramsci, no more Togliatti. Former Marxist professor Fernando Henrique Cardoso flipped over to the neocons and went on to become president. Marxist educator Paulo Freire stopped talking left when he got his big grant from the World Council of Churches.

Too new to be driven by an ism or class struggle politics,the only issues the data workers have revolve around money, the same motivation that drives the accountants and C-suite executives to want to give them less. Except that the workers are decked out in Che Guevera t-shirts, Bob Marley hats and lack a thorough undertanding of Brazil´s place in the world economic order.

Brazil's economy has won praise from the likes of Goldman Sachs. But neither foreign investment nor its own political class have narrowed the gap beween haves and have nots that remains deeply embedded in the structure of Brazil´s society. Economic concerns and globalist lobbying recently caused Team Dilma to postpone a highly publicized program to provide working Brazilians with low cost broadband.

As the afterglow of the 36 hour Obama social media blitz wears off, Brazilians need to ask themselves just how much they want to adopt- and pay the price for- the US style business-to-business lifestyle and economic model that he was selling. So far President Dilma's social communication team has been slow to get on top of and frame that issue, letting Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair and Obama fly in and paint the picture.

While PR agencies and billboard advertising promote Brazil as a nation that includes everybody, the debate over just how American Brazilians want to be is causing the social fabric of the world's fifth largest economy and the second largest black population after Nigeria to show signs of strain. The current wave of strikes are examples of that.