1664722423 Lulas metallurgical union waiting for victory in the face of

Lula’s metallurgical union waiting for victory in the face of decline

When the baton hits, you better curl up. Moisés Selerges thought the same after receiving the call. They had just issued an arrest warrant for former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Make? Selerges had only one possible plan of action: “Bring Lula here immediately. The union is the only place where it’s safe.” And there was the former president. Along the way beeps, shouts of “thief!” and TV helicopters fly over the caravan as if it were a criminal on the run. At the deepest point of his political life, the ABC Metallurgical Workers’ Union of São Paulo, origin and heart of the Lulista movement, was back to give him sanctuary.

For three days that month of April 2018, Lula grew strong in this union in the São Paulo suburbs, which he led in the 1970s. They brought their clothes from home and spread a mattress in the basement dining room for her to sleep. In the narrow street-level windows, the feet of hundreds of unionists could be seen shouting, “No surrender, no surrender!” Inside, opinions were divided between those who thought it better to surrender and avoid an escalation with the security forces and those who suggested resisting to the end or taking him to an embassy to seek political asylum apply for. In the end, Lula chose not to tighten the rope any further and turned himself in to the police.

The union that served as his home back then is celebrating today. Lula has returned after judges overturned his corruption convictions due to procedural violations. Nobody expected it. If Selerges had been told he would run for the presidency again in 2022, he wouldn’t have believed it. “Nobody thought his return was possible. We thought he’d stay in jail there,” says the current union president, a 56-year-old bald man with a hoarse voice who still works at the Mercedes-Benz plant because he “finds it comfortable .” “Lula was for A father to us, but he was also our son in 2018,” he says. “We had to take care of it.” After that, they expect him to take concrete action to stop the area’s industrial decline.

Selerges runs the metallurgical guild in a purpose-built building with a gray marble floor and low ceilings in São Bernardo do Campo, the industrial municipality of São Paulo. Although there were renovations a few years ago to add a new grand piano, the spirit of Lula permeates everything. In fact, the office he used as a ladder still survives as a museum piece. “Presidency,” reads the sign on the dark wood-veneered door. Inside you can breathe the 70s: rotary landline phone, narrow zig-zag parquet floor and lime-yellow plastic sofas. Here Lula became Lula.

Gijo’s blood boils when he remembers those days. In 1979, under the threat of the dictatorship’s batons, Lula gathered thousands of workers at a local stadium to call a strike. They had no sound equipment and the union leader’s words had to be repeated orally: “Compañeros and compañeras… again the bosses want to eat up part of our salary…” he said. Since there was no stage either, Lula spoke of a few flimsy plastic tables. “This shit is gonna collapse,” recalls Gijo, one of the men holding her from below, thought.

Junior Rodrigues Silva, known to all as Gijo, is now a 79-year-old man, short and with a few days white beard. He stopped being a metalworker 40 years ago because he was fired from the factory for his union activities. He has since run a restaurant in São Bernardo specializing in chops served piping hot on a platter with fries, rice and beans. However, he never stopped being a metallurgist. Whenever he can, he attends gatherings to applaud or whistle, depending on the circumstances. “The police often beat us up, but we also beat them up,” he recalls of the trade union movement during the dictatorship.

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And his loyalty to Lula, whom he met in 1969, remains just as strong. “Here he is eating the chop,” says Gijo, pointing to a table near the kitchen. On the shelves are dozens of bottles of Marcon red wine, cheap and Brazilian, the leader’s favorite. Although there are no Labor Party red flags in the dining room to avoid clashes with the Bolsonaristas, half of their clientele, the place is something else. In addition to the sacks of potatoes, he has bundles of propaganda to hand out. “He always told us, ‘The fight goes on.’ And that continues to this day.”

Moisés Selerges, President of the ABC Metallurgical Union.Moisés Selerges, President of the ABC Metallurgical Union Avener Prado

Industrial decline in São Bernardo

Despite Gijo’s boundless energy, the union isn’t what it used to be. Ford left the company three years ago. Toyota will leave the community in 2023 to go somewhere else with more land available. Industry in São Bernardo is in decline due to lack of space and tax incentives offered by other Brazilian states to attract factories. More generally, Brazil, which has been surviving consecutive economic crises for eight years, has seen a decline in the weight of industry, which has fallen from 23% of GDP in 2011 to 19% in 2021.

Every factory that leaves the community is a stab in the side of the union. Since peaking in 2011 when there were 108,000 employees and 68,000 of them members, the number has fallen to 70,000 metalworkers and about 42,000 members. Selerges accuses Jair Bolsonaro’s government of forgetting to prioritize industry to massive agricultural production. “You only think of soy. They want to turn Brazil into a gigantic farm, but we shouldn’t just export melons, we have to process the pulp to export a value-added product,” he says, giving another example: “Car factories have been shut down due to semiconductor shortages during the pandemic.” Why don’t you do them here?

With Lula’s victory, the metalworkers hope to bring back the industry and São Bernardo, because one cannot be understood without the other, to the place of bygone times. The fact that the candidate chose the nearby Volkswagen factory as the starting point for his campaign is a good sign. But if the gestures don’t translate into policy, the union is poised to take to the streets again, even if it opposes one of its own. “The union is there to confront the boss and the government,” Selerges asserts seriously, but later clarifies: “We won’t shout ‘Lula out’ at the first opportunity, but we will demonstrate.”

At his steakhouse, Gijo trusts that “la Ford” will return to the community if Lula wins. You have already chosen the shirt you will wear this Sunday. Red of course. He will also carry a Brazilian flag to the electoral college where he will vote, just like Lula’s. He will be waiting for you there early in the morning. When he arrives and gets out of the car, he will pull out the banner and say, “Mr. President, the nation is in your hands.” So was the union that created him and protected him in his darkest hour decades later.

The union yard, covered with tarpaulins of leftist leaders, including Lula. The union yard, covered with tarpaulins of leftist leaders, including Lula. Aven meadow

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