Photo: Esquerda Diario
This article is a translation of an article originally published in Esquerda Diário in Portuguese on September 16, 2015.
Brazilian postal service workers (also known as ‘Ecetistas’) approved an indefinite strike in at least 20 state and local unions, stopping postal service in major cities and states such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. This huge sector of workers, more than 110 thousand throughout the country, has begun to fight for their rights. They deserve full public support. The postal workers are employed by the Brazilian Post and Telegraph Corporation (ECT), a state-run company that argues that they do not have the funds to provide workers what they need.
Working conditions for Brazilian postal workers are horrendous. Although conditions vary regionally, many postal workers take public transit with bags weighing up to 65 pounds and then walk from place to place to deliver letters. Some travel on foot up to 10 miles a day, in the rain and in the scorching Brazilian heat. It is not uncommon for workers to be chased by street dogs, to be assaulted and to suffer injuries from the difficult physical labor.
The striking workers demand a minimum wage increase (adjusted to rising inflation), better health insurance and the hiring of more employees. In addition to stagnant salaries, postal workers receive one of the lowest wages among workers of state-owned enterprises.
Prior to the strike, the Superior Labor Court (TST) submitted a proposal — later accepted by the Brazilian Post and Telegraph Corporation (ECT) — for a joint committee to attempt to resolve the postal workers’ demands through changes in the health insurance plan and inclusion of a salary bonus, rather than a wage increase. The proposal made no mention of hiring new employees.
In regards to health insurance, the corporation’s proposal was a new clause in future contracts offering a kind of private health plan with monthly fees. In other words, the company wants to charge workers for second-rate health insurance. This will probably worsen the current precarious health insurance coverage. Health insurance is a major necessity for postal workers because of the back-breaking and sometimes dangerous tasks that can cause health problems including injuries from dog attacks, severe back problems, etc.
In assemblies held in cities throughout the country, the postal workers rejected the Labor Court’s proposal and declared a strike. Unlike past strikes, this time the mail workers assemblies were held in all union units on the same day nationwide, which is a positive element for the workers. In the past, the unsynchronized calendar allowed union bureaucrats linked to the Workers’ Party (PT, governing party) and the Brazilian Communist Party (aligned with the government) to betray and divide postal workers. Each state or local post office union would call a separate strike, lessening their combined impact and strength.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government seeks to cut public spending by attacking workers’ rights and diverting money from health and education, while safeguarding the privileges of politicians and capitalists. In the meantime, the corporate board of the Brazilian postal service wants workers to shoulder the responsibility for the supposed drop in profits. However, workers did not work less in order to cause a drop in revenue. On the contrary, postal workers are overstretched, working harder than any person should every day. When the ECT and the government say there is a lack of funds, it is only a lack of funds when it comes to workers’ salaries and benefits. There was no lack of funds to invest in the company’s logo, mega events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, and to pay the high salaries of the senior directors. In fact, the ECT is one of the sponsors of the 2016 Rio Olympics, which is very expensive.
The strike takes place at a moment of intense political polarization that has workers questioning the government due to corruption scandals, inflation and all kinds of attacks on working people. Therefore, it is critical for the strike to be politically allied with the working class in search of an alternative that is independant from the government and the right-wing opposition; the strike should aim for unity with other sectors in struggle and the active solidarity of youth.
During packed assemblies across the country, postal workers have shown great potential to develop a strong strike. In São Paulo, the country’s largest city (40% of postal services flow) and the largest concentration of the category in the country (17 thousand employees) the assembly was packed. According to Sintect-SP (Postal workers’ Union of the State of Sao Paulo) in a note published on its website, 5 thousand postal workers attended the meeting. Members voted almost unanimously to reject the proposal put forth by the ECT and in favor of the strike.
Natalia Mantovan, a postal worker in Campinas (where workers also voted to strike) and contributor to Esquerda Diário, stated,:
“The ECT has totally questionable spending practices and claims it has no money. The priorities of the board do not involve the public or those who make the company run: its workers. The ECT is taking the same position as the government and the government’s right wing opposition: attacking public rights and services while maintaining the privileges of a small sector. We will face a tough challenge to organize and mobilize the union base on each unit and to not let the union bureaucrats connected to the government betray the category. I believe the ‘Ecetistas’ have the strength to fulfill this task and have demonstrated their willingness to fight on several occasions, such as when they maintained their strike for 28 days in São Paulo against the will of the union leadership. We must maintain the tradition of organizing ourselves via groups of delegates elected by the assemblies at each unit, so that the control of the strike remains in the hands of the workers themselves. Add the willingness of postal workers to the seek popular support and unification of their struggle with the struggle with other workers (such as the banking sector that is also in the midst of wage struggles), surely the strike will be victorious. It will demonstrate that workers do not have to pay for a crisis that is not theirs. In this sense, I invite all comrades to participate in the protest on September 18, along with workers, students and militants across the country who participated in the National March, where we were able to find support for our strike and begin to mobilize ourselves independently of the government, the bureaucracies, the bosses and the right-wing politicians.”
The Left Voice will be covering the strike with the aim of supporting the struggle. We call on workers from all sectors and industries to support this strike. We ask all postal workers to show solidarity by sharing news of the strike on your unit or with you local. Leave a message/contact on the Esquerda Diário facebook page or via Natalia Mantovan’s facebook .