Ongoing Brazilian Federal Police investigations of construction companies involved in the billion-dollar Petrobras bribery scandal have predictably ruffled some feathers. Naturally, many who worry about the investigations wear white collars. However, according to the president of the Unified Workers Central (CUT) Vagner Freitas, if we put the suits behind bars, the biggest losers will be… workers.
In an interview (“Vagner: ‘O trabalhador já paga o pato da Lava Jato’“, Revista Brasil 24/7, no. 30, March 13), he says that the economic crisis Brazil is going through right now has been organized and thought out to allow for an “institutional disruption” and the “return of conservatism.” Additionally, he considers the destruction of the construction sector in Brazil as a result of the Federal Police’s Operation Car Wash “absurd.” For him, “the worker is already paying the price” of the investigations.
Freitas repeatedly attacks the bourgeoisie and highlights the stark “class conflict” we face right now. Moments later, in the exact same interview, he seems shocked and dumbfounded at the idea that some people might not be as happy as he is with the subsidies and privileges enjoyed by the construction sector’s bourgeoisie. Because of low journalistic standards employed by Brasil 24/7, Freitas is never challenged on his abrasive anti-bourgeoisie rhetoric, which is nothing more than a thinly veiled justification of the privileges of large corporations operating in tandem with the Brazilian state. Freitas, from one question to the next, drops his passionate denunciations of the employers and starts shedding his tears for the persecuted bourgeoisie.
While it isn’t surprising that CUT acts as a spokesperson for the government, they could at least have displayed a little self-awareness. Marx said that the state is the “committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie,” and there’s no case where that is clearer than here: large construction companies were buying favors from politicians. Their negotiations afforded them lucrative public works contracts from Petrobras and access to a slice of the money extracted from the populace by the state. When Freitas cries for the construction sector, he cries for corporations such as Odebrecht, Camargo Corrêa, Andrade Gutierrez, OAS, and Queiroz Galvão.
Those who defend the Brazilian construction sector owe the public the smallest amount of honesty. They should tell them flat out that they are for a cartelized, subsidized, and government-dependent industry. Standing up for the construction companies isn’t defending the workers, it’s quite the opposite: it means defending subsidies to the intensive use of capital in substitution of workers, the artificial elevation of specialization requirements of labor, and the exclusion of poorer and less skilled workers. It means, in a nutshell, not to defend all workers, just some workers. Not labor, but the interests of the bourgeoisie — their guaranteed profits and socialized costs.
Freitas’s ideas would be at home 50 years ago. They are an argument for quasi-state oligopolies — a system of “progressive” corporations large enough to provide stable jobs with benefits to unionized workers. The story never told is of the workers who are excluded from the feast.
It’s rather ironic that CUT is on the front lines of the defense of the construction companies — the same businesses that, as shown by Pedro Henrique Pedreira Campos’s work, became arms of the state during the military dictatorship from the 1960s to the 1980s. The Workers’ Party (PT) and their unionist minions have long made peace with the military’s economics. In 2002, former president Lula gave starry eyed props to General Médici’s economic prescience, and, in 2010, he went on to say that General Geisel led the “last great development period in this country.”
Thus, the debate needs to be recast in new terms. There are those who support bosses and the continuing privileges to Brazilian construction corporations. On the other side, there are those who support an end to subsidies for the rich and its logical consequence: a radical free market.
If we’re in a scenario of increasing class conflict, CUT has already chosen their side: they side with the bourgeoisie and with their largest domination apparatus — the state.