International Briefs

President Lula visits Africa

Late last year, the President of Brazil and ex-metalworker, Lula da Silva, paid a visit to several countries in Africa , including South Africa . While in South Africa , his delegation, which included six members of the Brazilian trade union federation (CUT), met with Cosatu leaders. Silumko Nondwangu was there.

Brazil ranks alongside South Africa and India as a country where poverty and malnutrition live side by side with extreme wealth. The country is rich in mineral resources and agriculture, yet poverty and crime permeates the “╦ťFavelaz’ – a term used in Brazil to describe township housing and squatter settlements. In his inaugural speech this year, Lula promised that no Brazilian would go to sleep without a meal. But there is more linking South Africa and Brazil than the inequality. Of Brazil ‘s population of 180 million, 76 million of these are of African descent. Unlike other African people in many parts of the world, people of African descent have been able to retain their culture since the 18th century when they were brought to Brazil as slaves. This can be seen in their annual cultural festivals in Porto Alegre , Sao Polo and many other cities. In the meeting that Cosatu held with President Lula and the CUT delegation, the foreigners related how they are consolidating ties with other countries, in particular Argentina and Venezuela . They stressed that developing countries have got to work together to bring a different world.

In the meeting, the Brazilian delegation raised the following issues:

The need to build a strong trade union movement that criticises a progressive government when it moves astray, but at the same time supports progressive development policies.
The need to strengthen the ties between Cosatu and CUT.
The importance of consolidating the ties between the G3 countries – Brazil , India and South Africa and extending this block to include China and Russia .

Stop unfair trade!

“Everyday we read stories of how the rich are getting richer, how cattle in the USA , Europe and Japan have subsidies much higher than many people in Africa have to live on. This cannot be right. This cannot go unchallenged,” Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, told African trade union delegates meeting in Maputo on March 1.

He warned that developing countries like South Africa “with high levels of poverty…. must manage trade to support key developmental goals”. In the South African context this meant reducing poverty and inequality through “more equitable, job-creating growth”. Trade agreement negotiators should beware that their agreements do not result in imports devastating labour intensive sectors, nor undermine governments’ abilities to provide free basic services and food security to the poor. Instead they should support job creation and “national ownership where necessary to achieve broader economic and social aims.” Trade agreements that undermine labour rights and conditions in their attempt to “attract investment and promote trade”, can only “hurt us all”, Vavi said. He urged all to continue to work together to ensure that trade agreements advance workers’ rights and the working class in the future. To achieve this, labour must be clearer and more united in its demands. A big obstacle to this was the continuing drive by countries in the North to make workers and the poor suffer the effects of making trade policies benefit the south. “Active labour market policies” were needed to build broader political support for fair trade agreements, Vavi said. Simultaneously, trade agreements must give developing countries the power to “defend crucial industries … and limit capital flows … so that they can adopt appropriate domestic policies, especially around fiscal and monetary policy and privatisation.” Cosatu’s general secretary called the deadlock at the WTO talks last year at Cancun a “partial victory”. But he cautioned negotiators to ensure that it doesn’t lead to major parties like the US , “simply walk(ing) away”.