In 2012, measures were taken to ensure that female trade unionists would achieve parity in the biggest trade union in Brazil and Latin America, the CUT (Central Única de Trabajadores), in a country where women’s representation in parliament, for example, is amongst the lowest in the world, and the lowest in South America.
The measures, implemented in 2015, were “the result of a long process of building power,” according to social worker Didice Godinho Delgado, the first coordinator of the CUT’s National Committee of Working Women (CNMT). The CUT is the largest trade union centre in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world, bringing together 30.4 per cent of all unionised workers in Brazil, according to a study headed by Godinho. “We understand that working women are even more exploited than men, working the same if not more and earning less,” the CUT president, Vagner Freitas, said in a recent declaration. Many trade unionists like him supported the principle of parity from the beginning.
But not all of them. “There was some resistance from men, because the initial idea was that, in order to establish parity, a number of men would have to be excluded from the leadership,” points out Janeslei Aparecida Albuquerque, the CUT secretary of relations with social movements.
“The solution found was to increase the number of secretariats to include a parity of women, without excluding any of the men. But there is still a long way to go to ensure more women have political prominence and hold decision-making roles,” she adds. For Godinho, parity has been “decisive in building institutional power for women” and has strengthened the internal democracy within the trade. But can men not defend women’s interests? “They can and they must,” says Junéia Martins Batista, who heads the National Women’s Secretariat of the CUT. But it is not enough. “It is essential that women also hold power, that they go from having influence to having real power.” Parity has proved successful in placing issues such as childcare facilities, collective launderettes and shorter working hours. But as Godinho explains, it tookthirty years to secure it.
The building of networks was essentia during this long struggle: all the bodies related to women built a network, the women’s collective, and held regular meetings to converge positions andshare strategies.
“Not all of the women trade unionists in the CUT are feminists, although their number is on the rise and they are fighting against all forms of discrimination, based on a feminism that linksgender, class and race,” maintains Godinho. Since its foundation in 1983, the CUT has been responding to the ‘new trade unionism’ .model, engaging with social movements in working class neighbourhoods and with women’s movements, for example.
With regards to black women workers, the CUT established a secretariat to combat racism in 2009. Its secretary, Maria Júlia Reis, explains: “When you are a woman and you are black in this country, the situation is all the more difficult.” Gender and racial inequalities “are structural pillars of the inequality in Brazil,” explains Godinho, so they have to be addressed in tandem. “Sexism is cultural and has to be tackled on a daily basis, in the everyday practices of the trade union movement. Sharing domestic and care tasks equally is still a challenge
for us,” says Martins.
The challenges for the trade union are even greater in the current political climate. The CUT regards the government of President Michel Temer with mistrust, considering it to be illegitimate and the consequence of a misogynistic campaign against the first woman to reach the presidency of the country, Dilma Rousseff.
“The coup we experienced here has all the hallmarks of machismo, misogyny and patriarchy,” says Albuquerque. “The reforms this government is imposing are particularly damaging for women,” adds Albuquerque. “The PEC 55, which limits public spending, will mean an end to many public policieslinked to equality” says Martins, who is confident that these reversals can be overturned through social struggle.
This article was sourced from and published by Elitsha, Workers World Media Production (WWMP)’s news platform (www.wwmp.org.za/elitsha/home/), on 4 October 2017.