While workers won’t manage to regain the rights that have been taken away from them in recent years overnight, there was, nonetheless, a distinctly different atmosphere on May 1. The increase in the minimum wage from 1,302 to 1,320 reais, touted by Lula on Labor Day, hadn’t gotten the unions excited at all when it had been first announced back in February: the Workers’ Central had been quite critical, saying that the increase was below what had been expected – namely 1,382 reais – and that it was not enough.
“It’s a small but real increase, relative to inflation, for the first time in six years,” Lula insisted, also announcing he had sent Congress a bill “so that this achievement becomes permanent,” making it mandatory for the minimum wage to be readjusted every year above the rate of inflation, “as was the case” during his previous presidential terms.
“You can be certain,” he continued, “that the minimum wage will once again become the great instrument of social transformation that it has been in the past,” when it saw a 74 percent increase and enabled “millions of Brazilians to move out of extreme poverty and into a better life.” Especially since, he added, it benefits the entire population as a whole: “with more money in circulation, trade increases, industry produces more, the wheel of the economy turns further and new jobs are created.”
As part of his quest to raise the purchasing power of the poor and middle class – his workhorse issue since 2003 – Lula also emphasized another important measure: the income tax exemption for wages up to 2,640 reais, a significant rise from the exemption bracket of 1,903 reais that remained frozen for eight years, which will help 13.7 million Brazilians, 42 percent of those who paid income tax in 2022.
Brazil “will return to growth with social inclusion and the creation of new jobs,” Lula gave assurance, despite the obstacle to economic revitalization represented by the interest rates kept very high by the ultra-neoliberal Central Bank President Roberto Campos Neto. Lula added that May Day, which “has always been a day of struggle, will once again become a space of conquest for the working people.”
Among the measures announced is the reintroduction of the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor, in the face of an increase in the number of people in a slavery-like situation, especially in the fields, where 837 people were rescued from such a condition during the first quarter alone, particularly in the harvesting of rice and sugarcane.
However, slave labor is hardly the only problem in rural areas, according to the Pastoral Land Commission’s 2022 report on violent conflicts in the fields, which grew by 4.61 percent from the previous year. There has also been an increase in homicides (no less than around 30 percent), death threats and invasions of indigenous areas.
The Lula government is being pressured to act on these issues by the main social forces that support it, and April 28 marked a step forward, at least in relation to indigenous peoples: at the end of the Terra Livre Encampment, the most important mobilization of the country’s original peoples, the president signed the decrees approving six new indigenous areas, for the first time in six years. The number also fell below expectations – 14 had been expected – but was accompanied by a commitment to delimit “as many as possible” from now on. Not least because, as Lula told the indigenous representatives, “if we want to get to 2030 with zero deforestation in the Amazon, we need you as guardians of the forest.”