By Harry Glass
The Brazil Network and the Latin America Bureau hosted a public meeting on the Brazilian landless workers' movement (MST) on 19 October in London.
MST adviser Horatio Martins told the meeting that there were more than 200,000 families waiting in camps for land, and that so far Lula's government had only settled 13,500 families. He said he was pessimistic about the prospects for land reform. Martins explained that many urban workers have left the cities because of unemployment and violence to make a living on the land - so the number of land occupations has increased. He also described the growth of far-right paramilitary groups in the countryside, which attack the MST. This year has seen the highest number of assassinations of rural trade union leaders ever.
Carlos Guedes, a lawyer in the state of Para, also spoke about the assassinations. In the eight years of the last government, 272 trade unionists were killed - so far this year 28 have been killed in Para alone. He also said that the MST had found examples of actual slavery in the countryside.
Bernardo Manzano, author of a major history of the MST explained that the Brazilian worker's movement has been in retreat for many years. Unions, such as the metalworkers that used to organise strikes, now only organise demonstrations.
He said the impact of neo-liberalism had weakened the urban working class.
Manzano was more optimistic about land reform - saying the government may reach its target of settling one million families over the next four years. He said some landowners wanted their land occupied, so they could get compensation - and the World Bank was lending money for land reform.
The MST supports the government's land plan, but is sceptical about whether it will be implemented. They have vowed to continue with land occupations and to maintain their separate organisation. They are clearly an important force in reviving independent working class politics in Brazil.