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Brazil in the short Strikes – the ultimate price of welfare

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]pril 28th will be a date to remember. Even though some of the great media claim that there were only demonstrations around the country, it is to assume that, by a consensus or not, what happened here was a strike. A general strike, the first in 20 years, one of the biggest in the History of the country, highly cited in the social media (figuring the trending topics in the whole world for hours), spread over the 26 states and the Federal District.

Barely any buses or trains in the city of São Paulo. Diverse unions like the teachers’ and the bankers’ and the two main popular fronts were not only present, but also organised the event.  

The reason for that? Not Mr. Temer’s government, specifically; not this time. But the new measures and reforms he has emphatically worked on since the end of last year, that happen to surprise and worry – to say the least – the average Brazilian worker.

The outraged atmosphere, however, comes way before today and takes a brief economic explanation to understand.

Old, but not gold

The last general strike happened in 1996, during Mr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government, another neoliberalist. One of the points in common is the fight against turning the workers’ rights more flexible. At the time, Mr. Cardoso even claimed that ‘strikes don’t create jobs’, as the protesters also manifested against the high unemployment rates.

It is natural that a moment of economic instability creates some sort of friction amongst the workers and the government. The late conjunction of that with a huge political crisis under the stigma of corruption is perfectly combined with strict measures from Mr. Temer and creates a dangerous mixture.

One of the most controversial acts proposed by the new president concerns the pension reforms. The initial project aimed to stablish a common age for retirement, being that valid for men, women, being them urban or rural workers – 65 years old, against the current 55 for women and 60 for men. Also, the minimum working time for retirements with a full pension (starting with 70% of its value and progressively evolving to 100%, according to the years of extra contribution) would be of 49 years, against the current 25 years for urban workers and 15 for the rural ones. It is needless to say that it was not accepted nor tolerated and some changes were made to be voted again in the Parliament – yet, the amount of people impacted by the reform will be enormous, and so will the time they need to work until they retire. The country, Mr. Temer says, cannot afford for the current system and some austerity must be shown, even in such a delicate matter.

It is clear as Malthus could foresee that times of prosperity and abundance do not last forever, but one must make no mistake and believe that any reform should be accepted. Indeed, the Brazilian pension system works as a pyramid – the ones who start working pay for those who have already stopped. This pyramid, following the global tendency, is becoming inverted and finding solutions for that is more than an obligation. Mr. Cardoso, and also Mrs. Rousseff created some formulas for calculating the ideal age for retiring and, until now, workers were to choose which one would fit them best. The clash came with a proposition of a questionable redistribution – which might have come as a demand from the president’s supporters – that would ultimately harm the Brazilian workers’ rights.

Work, work, work

Those, however, were not the only plans of the PMDB, Mr. Temer’s party, government. On Wednesday (27), a late voting session at the Lower House showed an articulation of a worried Mr. Temer for the approval of a reform of working laws before the pickets that would happen the next day. This reform would change some important aspects for workers, like the possibility to work as third parts, causing more instability; the prevalence of employer-employee agreements over the law, which may bring poorer working conditions, and the end of the obligation of yearly paying the union. The latter is clearly one of the reasons why the unionists were so heated: a union without its members is nothing at all, nor does it have the strength to fight for the working class.

The general strike was organised by the leftists, the same ones that call Mr. Temer’s rise to power a coup d’état, as we may see here. There were occupations, a typical manner in which the Brazilian left-wing acts. And, this time, there was hopefully some food for thought for all the citizens: those who do not work anymore, those who are to suffer the tough times to come and, especially, the most imminent political figure we have – who has kept almost silent during the protests, but has been watching it all very closely and already counts with a historic of ‘forced flexibility’, once he notices the people more dissatisfied than the usual rejection polls normally show.

Luísa Monteiro is a bachelor in Social Communication and is currently taking a Master's degree in Communication and Politics at PUC São Paulo. Her researches are closely linked to the studies of internet as a democratic agora and her latest academic production correlates the (offline) social movements and their exposure on the net.

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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