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  Issue No 106 Official Organ of LaborNet 10 August 2001  




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Postcard From Brazil

The CFMEU's Phil Davey reports on a rural movement that puts our National Farmers Federation to shame.


Phil Davey

Brazil has a long and proud tradition of mass social movements that we in Australia hear little about. But the 16 year old, several million strong MST (Movimento dos trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra literally Landless Peasants Movement) will not remain unknown for much longer- even in far away Australia.

The MST has generated massive media interest, featured on the front cover of TIME magazine and electrified the Americas with its militant land occupations. These occupations have rocked Brazil to its foundations -and provoked a brutal reaction from authorities.

In Brazil 50% of the farmland is owned by just 2% of the population. Often this land is unused by the big landowners, left idle whilst millions of landless rural Brazilians literally starve, or work as modern day serfs for the big landowners.

It is this outrageous situation that spawned the MST. They have pioneered a radical tactic which directly challenges notions of property MST affiliated communities simply move en masse onto farmland not being utilised by the rural elite, take it over, build a co-operative based community and farm the land.

In their 16 year history the MST has settled over 200 000 families on land previously owned by one person or family. They have "liberated" areas equivalent to 7 million hectares.


This achievement however has been at a terrible cost. Brazil's Police, infamous for brutality against the poor -even to the extent of wholesale murder of street children in Brazils big cities- have massacred MST communities several times.

The most infamous caes was in the Northern jungle state of Para, where on April 17 1996 Police surrounded MST families participating in a march on the state capital, Belem, killing dozens and summarily executing 13 wounded who could not escape.

A trial of the 155 police involved in this massacre is still to take place.

Hopes are high however that this time, with international scrutiny very strong, some measure of justice may come from Brazils notoriously corrupt judiciary.


The MST today continues to evolve to confront present realities. The MST, perhaps more than any other social movement in the Americas, has invested heavily in national, regional and global alliance building. They were one of the drivers of the recently concluded and hugely successful World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. MST is developing relationships with progressive elements within the churches as well as small farmers whose interests often run parallel with landless peasants.

MST is also developing relations with Brazils rapidly growing Green movement. The common cause in this relationship is opposition to Genetically Modified Food, which mobilises Greens because of its health and environmental implications, whilst concerning rural workers because it challenges the economic sustainability of traditional farming methods.

The MST has also recognised that their is a need to educate rural workers in the rapidly changing nature of global capital. The multinationals that control global agriculture are rapidly moving into Brazil, and so an ambitious plan has been launched to train 20,000 militants nationally to better understand the nature of the beast they are increasingly confronting.

The MST in their history have provided a measure of hope to Brazils landless poor. Their radicalism can be seen as reflective of the reality in Brazil, perhaps without many lessons for Australias farming sector.

Then again, perhaps the working poor of the Australian bush shunned and written off in the cities as Hansonite rednecks- could gain from employing a little MST radicalism against the agro-monopolies that dominate the industry in Australia...

Keep an eye out for the MST. They will be around for a while yet.


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*   Issue 106 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: In Exile
Burmese's government in exile's Minister for Justice U Thein Oo talks about a struggle for democracy that has become a test of international solidarity.
*  Politics: A National Disgrace
Labor's IR spokesman Arch Bevis gives his take on the workers entitlements issue and its mismanagement by the Howard Government.
*  E-Change: 2.2 The Information Organisation
Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel look at how network technologies will change the way organizations operate in the Information Age.
*  Media: The Fine Print
Mark Hebblewhite looks at how the major dailies handled the Tri-Star dispute and finds that the story really does depend on the telling.
*  Human Rights: A People Besieged
Labor MLC Janelle Saffin, an active supporter of the pro-Democracy movement in Burma, sets out the issues behind the ILO sanctions.
*  International: Postcard From Brazil
The CFMEU’s Phil Davey reports on a rural movement that puts our National Farmers Federation to shame.
*  History: Indonesia Calling
They needed no resolutions. Soldiers and workers who did not know one another moved together, the black ban started to reach out across the harbour from the noisy, smoke-filled room.
*  Solidarity: On the Frontline
Australian trade unionists are providing practical help for the Burmese through projects funded by APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad.
*  Satire: Skase 'Too Ill' to Fly Home for Burial
Spanish authorities have deemed Christopher Skase too ill to return to Australia for his own funeral.
*  Review: Living Silence
In these extracts from her new book, Christina Fink goes inside Burma to find a world where military repression is slowly crushing a people.

»  Revealed: ABC Censors Industrial Reporting
»  WorkCover Revisited – Public Sector Laws Rammed Through
»  Bras First in Burma Boycotts
»  Tri Star Only the Start of Entitlements Push
»  New Spying Tactics Hit Work Cars
»  Howard’s Secret Anti-Worker Plans
»  Direct Action to Increase Nurses' Worth
»  High Court: Courier Was Employee
»  Victory for Academic Freedom
»  Put A Stop To Acoustic Shock
»  Builders' Bucks: Payroll Tax Evasion Rife
»  Tassie Workers Brew Up a Storm
»  HIH Collapse Hits Arts Industry
»  Labour for Hire Not Entitlements
»  Rail Inquiry Into Treatment of Homeless
»  ACTU Awards To Reward Union Excellence
»  Activist Notebook

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  The Soapbox

Letters to the editor
»  Botsman Goes Crosby
»  Left Right Out
»  Belly's Shout
»  Ode to the New Serfs

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