The May Day event drew a million people in to Avenida Paulistia, the heart of Sao Paulo, for the event organised by CUT, Brazil’s Trade Union Congress under the banner Jobs and Income, Our struggle, Our Challenge.
A further million turned out for the younger rival trade union, Forca Sindical, which attracted crowds with bands and even a chance to win a car.
The president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is 15 months into his four-year term, avoided the crowds and attended mass in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the neighbourhood where he led the biggest strike of the 20th century and became a household name in Brazil in 1979.
“We are never going to have 100% employment but we will in the future have more people in work than we have today,” he said. “We are preparing all possible investments we can to generate jobs.
“We don’t have the right to criticise anyone [unemployed],” he said.
But his words were not without their detractors.
“The president talks well, but he doesn’t govern well,” said the president of the Supreme Federal Court, Mauricio Correa, in the latest attack to afflict the charismatic Workers’ party this week.
Lula’s administration is coming under fierce pressure from all sides in the domestic sphere.
The rot began in February when a political scandal was uncovered involving kickbacks taken by an adviser to Lula’s right-hand man and chief of staff Jose Dirceu.
Troubles mounted in April with a massacre of more than 30 diamond miners in the northern state of Rondonia.
Violence also flared in the largest favela in Rio, Rocinha, which left 12 dead and the favela occupied round the clock by more than 1000 police.
Questions were then raised about bringing in the army, or building a wall around the favela.
Gilberto Gil, the minister of
And the landless farmers movement, MST, the largest organised body outside the political parties, stepped up occupations of land in a month-long series of actions it called Red April.
Unemployment has reached record levels, with more than one in five without jobs in Sao Paulo. In other states, it is worse. In the Amazonian city of Manaus, a queue, allegedly 6km long, formed for just 147 temporary jobs.
“I’m not disappointed with Lula’s work up until now,” says Gilberto Gil, minister of culture and a legendary musician who performed to the crowds on 1 May.
“On the contrary, I am very excited to be working with the president.”
The people’s view
But watching security guard Anderson de Souza, 30, was not so impressed.
“I’m disappointed with Lula, because he promised jobs but there are less jobs than he promised. The minimum wage has just gone up but our bills are a lot more than this,” he said.
In March, the minimum wage rose by R$20 to R$ 260 ($87) per month. According to CUT, it should be nearer to R$1400.
“Lula is a trickster.
“Lula is a trickster,” said Luciano Perriera, 25. “Most of the people here are unemployed. He hasn’t done anything, just travelled abroad a lot. But he hasn’t travelled to meet us unemployed. I was made unemployed a week ago, like all my friends here.”
Others felt it was too early to criticise the party, which is governing for its first time.
“I think that Lula has everything ahead for him. Why? It’s the first year of his mandate. He’s inherited a system of 50 years of bad government,” said Emerson da Silva, 31, a commercial director.
“I am happy because he is competent. It’s a big difference from the last government. You need to make the economic changes he is making with a lot of care,” agreed publicist Jandier Diniz, 43.
More than a million people turned
“I’m content. I’m hoping things will get better. There are a few people who have a lot and a lot of people with little,” said bank clerk Veronica Mello.
The president of CUT, Luiz Marinho, outlined the problems.
“The crisis of unemployment has resulted in the stagnation of the national economy, high interest rates, and a fall in income. As a consequence, 33% of the population is today living in conditions of poverty,” he said.
“We believe that Lula has the intentions to put Brazil back on the road of growth and social justice.
“But we also think that it is necessary to provoke a strong acceleration in the politics of employment and incomes, commitments that have been made that haven’t been carried out by the government.”