December 13, 2023
From The Real News Network
1,083 views


In this special international episode, we get the chance to talk to folks in Brazil about the farmworkers who are being trapped in slave-like conditions, and about a truly radical new government program that is trying to break the cycle of enslavement and exploitation. As Vitor Filgueiras, Professor of Economics at the Federal University of Bahia, writes, “Between 1995 and mid-2020, more than 55,000 workers were removed from conditions analogous to slavery by the Brazilian State, without any indication that there has been a reduction in this type of criminal exploitation of labour in the country. On the contrary, many workers are repeated victims of extreme exploitation.” As we discuss with Filgueiras himself in the second half of this episode, there have been numerous past efforts to liberate farmworkers from these slave-like conditions, but if workers don’t have other means or opportunities to economically sustain themselves, they are at high risk of falling right back into this exploitative system to make ends meet. And that is why the project “Vida Pós Resgate” (Life After Rescue) was created in 2017 through a partnership between the Federal University of Bahia’s Faculty of Economics and the Federal Labor Prosecution Office for the 23rd Region. The program is designed to take the fines that employers are forced to pay for violating workers rights and use that money to buy land, tools, seed, and other necessities for rescued farmworkers to develop self-sufficient farms that they own and operate themselves. While the program is still in its early stages, if it is successful, it could have wide-ranging implications for working people in Brazil and beyond.

In the first half of this episode, with Vitor Filgueiras translating, we speak with Marcos and John, two farmworkers who were rescued from slave-like conditions and are now among the Life After Rescue program’s first participants. In the second half, we speak with Filgueiras about where this policy came from, what it will take to make it work, and about the fight to return the land and the means of production to the people. Special thanks to Mike Fox for editing assistance.

Additional links/info below…

Vitor Filgueiras, Delta 8.7, “Slave-Like Labour in Brazil and the Vida Pós Resgate ProjectReuters, “Brazil Rescues Hundreds Held in Modern-Day Slave Conditions“Dom Phillips, The Guardian, “‘Fewer People Will Be Freed’: Brazil Accused of Easing Anti-Slavery Rules“Matt Sandy, Al Jazeera, “Heartache and Suffering: Slavery in Brazil” Working PeopleYouTube channel

Permanent links below…

Featured Music…

  • Jules Taylor, “Working People” Theme Song

Post-Production: Jules Taylor


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Maximillian Alvarez:

All right. Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.

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My name is Maximillian Alvarez and we’ve got a really special, really important, international episode for y’all today. I want to jump straight into our episode today, which I am incredibly proud and excited to share with y’all. I got a really special opportunity to talk to folks in Brazil about the slave-like conditions that many farm workers have been subjected to there and about a truly radical new government program that is trying to break the cycle of enslavement and exploitation.

As Vitor Filgueiras, Professor of Economics at the Federal University of Bahia wrote in a December 2020 article that we’ve linked to in the show notes of this episode, “Between 1995 and mid 2020, more than 55,000 workers were removed from conditions analogous to slavery by the Brazilian state without any indication that there has been a reduction in this type of criminal exploitation of labor in the country. On the contrary, many workers are repeated victims of extreme exploitation.”

Now, as I discuss with Vitor himself in the second half of this episode, there have been numerous efforts to liberate farm workers from these slave-like conditions. But, I mean, if workers don’t have other means or opportunities to economically sustain themselves, then they are obviously at high risk of falling right back into this exploitative system just to make ends meet for themselves and their families. And that is exactly why the project, Life After Rescue was created in 2017 through a partnership between the Federal University of Bahia’s Faculty of Economics and the Federal Labor Prosecution Office for the 23rd region in Brazil.

And so Vitor continues in this article, “To sustainably combat slave labor and allow survivors and their families the ability to resist exploitation, the Life After Rescue Project seeks to facilitate self-sufficient rural production. This production should be implemented preferably in survivor’s places of origin. The acquisition of land as well as purchase of other necessary tools for production and distribution can be carried out using funds from public civil proceedings or from the terms of conduct adjustment pertaining to lawsuits or extra judicial procedures related to inspection activities carried out by the Federal Labor Prosecution Office and the Secretariat of Labour Inspection.”

Now, your eyes may have glossed over on that last part, but I want to just take a second to underline it in bold red pen because it’s really important and actually really radical what this program is proposing to do. And what this program is designed to do is actually take the fines that employers are forced to pay when they break the law, when they violate workers’ rights, when they entrap workers in these slave-like conditions and they get fined for it, they get taken to court. This program is taking that money and using it to buy land, tools, seed, and other necessities for the liberated farm workers to own and operate themselves and to develop that land into self-sufficient farms. I mean, that is one hell of a program. And if it is successful, I mean just imagine what this kind of approach to labor and land policy could look like here in the US or in other parts of the world.

So, again, in the second half of this episode, you’ll hear my one-on-one conversation with Vitor Filgueiras about where this policy came from and what it will take to actually make it work and why it’s so important that it works. And in the first half of the episode, you’ll hear my conversation with Marcos and John, two farm workers who were rescued from slave-like conditions themselves and are now among the Life After Rescue program’s first participants. I got to record that interview with Marcos and John from across the hemisphere, and we were able to do it, thankfully, because Vitor was there with them sitting in this remote community center in rural Bahia using his computer so we could talk and translating between English and Portuguese for us.

Now, the audio from that first segment isn’t great, so I really apologize for that. But I am sure that you’ll all agree that the very fact that we were able to do this interview at all with Marcos and John after everything that they’ve been through is pretty incredible.

Without further ado, without any more from me, here are my conversations with Marcos, John, and Vitor about the radical and necessary fight in Brazil to liberate workers from slave-like conditions and to return the land and the means of production to the people.

Well, Marcos, John, thank you both so much for joining us today on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it.

Vitor Filgueiras:

They thank you, too, for the opportunity.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, it’s really an honor to get to talk to you guys from so far across the world. And I know that our listeners really want to hear more about you and what you’re going through down there in Brazil. I wanted to just start by asking if you could introduce yourselves to the listeners here in North America. Tell us about your life, tell us where you came from and tell us more about the kind of work that you’ve been doing.

Vitor Filgueiras:

He’s saying good morning to the [inaudible 00:08:56]. He’s also said that he’s really happy to be talking to you as well.

He’s from state of Bahia, the name of the city is Conceição Do Coité, northeast of Brazil.

He used to work here, in the regional. He used to work the warehouse packing and dispatching bottles, different drinks. And then at some point he was called to go to Rio Grande do Sul, outside states in Brazil South, the most southern states of Brazil. And he went there.

John is also from here, he’s also from Conceição Do Coité, Bahia. And as Marcos, he was grown up in the rural area and he has always worked in the rural area, gathering and working with animals such as goats.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Can I ask if you guys could say a little more about what life is like in these rural areas in Brazil? When you’re born there and you grow up, how do you make a living and what are the economic prospects like for people like you?

Vitor Filgueiras:

He was saying that it’s normally a peaceful life and he works on a daily basis in casual jobs. For example, nowadays, he’s working helping truck drivers going around the cities on the northeast of Brazil.

He say that things are a little tough regarding the economics life because there are very few opportunities to work. Normally when you find something it’s like casual jobs or working on a daily basis one place, then the other place. There isn’t many corporations. The economic life here is hard.

John say that what Marco said that what happens in these, it’s very hard the opportunities here and the life here is normally tough.

There is a main rural production here, I mean product, it’s a root from Brazil that’s used for different purpose. It’s called sisal. I can translate it using Google here just in a second. But the production of sisal does not guarantee good living conditions, quite the opposites. And also, it’s a very dangerous working process, because they use old and unsafe machines process. It’s a root called sisal.

Maximillian Alvarez:

I want to talk about the conditions on the farms in a second, but I also wanted to pause really quick and ask if you guys could say a little bit about life outside of work, where you come from. Because on this show we try to really remind people that workers are not just the jobs we do, we’re human beings with families. So I wanted to just ask what you do, where you find joy and where you find meaning in life outside of work in these conditions.

Vitor Filgueiras:

He really likes to play soccer with his kids in the rest time or otherwise, they like to play video games at home as well.

He say that during the weekends, he really likes to go for a swim in the river and to drink a beer as well. [foreign language 00:14:53]

Maximillian Alvarez:

Let’s talk about the situation that rural workers are enduring on these farms, because that’s why we’re really here because I think the world needs to understand the slave-like conditions that you and others have had to endure. Can you just explain for people who didn’t know that this was happening, what the state of things is for farm workers in rural Brazil right now?

Vitor Filgueiras:

He was here in Bahia, northeast of Brazil. He was invited to go to a grape farm in Rio Grande do Sul, South Brazil.

When he was invited, they told him a story saying that they would have good conditions and so on, but when he got there it was completely different.

They said that they would have good accommodation and everything would be nice, but the place that they had to stay was terrible, no aspects, dirty.

The places that they had to go as a bathroom wasn’t separated from the other areas. Everything was pretty much at the same place, the place that they had to rest, the place that they had to eat, to go to bathroom, everything was pretty much just one area.

220 people at the same place.

They told them that they have a normal schedule because of time to work and rest, no days off and so on. But they got there, they had to work all day long from Sunday to Sunday.

They had to wake up 4:00 AM every morning and they had to leave to start working and had place 4:00 AM every morning.

They were obligated to work from 5:00 AM up to 10:00 PM every day.

They were told that they would be able to rest every Sunday, but then they have to work every day, every day without rest. The food was terrible, was disgusting.

Must colleagues of him were beaten there, beaten out. Some of them has broken arms, their arms broken.

Even when they had some work-related accidents or any kind of injury, they were forced to work, otherwise they would get beaten.

Everything that Marcos has said is true. They were together there, so he experienced the same thing.

There was no privacy, no privacy in the accommodation. They were all living at the same place, all 220 workers were eating at the same place. Everything was dirty. They didn’t have proper receiving to take a shower or to make their physical necessities.

The food was terrible. They were served like rice in very bad conditions. And it was exactly the opposite of what was promised for them.

They could only have something different when some of their relatives would send some money so that they can escape for a while from this accommodation place that they were held and buy something different. Otherwise, they had to eat the stuff.

They all had to work. They would be forced to work in every conditions, even if the weather was terrible or it was rainy. And we’re talking about the south of Brazil, so the weather is very different from here. It rains a lot, it’s much colder than here.

If one of them tries to use some kind of medical note, magical recipe saying that they would need to stay at the accommodation instead of go work, they were to be beaten up. So they would be forced to work. Even if they managed to meet a public doctor… In Brazil, you have this free public system. If they were able to attain a appointment and get a note from the doctor saying that they had to stay and get healed, they would be beaten up.

Maximillian Alvarez:

My God, this is horrifying to hear and I’m so heartbroken because I have heard similar stories even here in the United States where you have Guatemalans, Mexicans, migrants from Central America who are living like slaves at the farms where our tomatoes come from. Just for people who are listening to get a clearer picture here, can I ask if you guys could say a little more about the kind of people who end up working at these farms and who owns these farms? Who are the people who are beating and exploiting you?

Vitor Filgueiras:

Almost all of them are from Bahia, from this radio view. This city and other cities here, Conceição Do Coité, it’s called [foreign language 00:22:54] Sisaleira because it’s linked to this product that I was talking about, sisal root, and pretty much all of them, the 220 people are from around here.

They are saying that the farms are from big, actually huge national wine lands. Aurora, Salton, and he is forgetting about the other one, but we’re talking about huge players here in Brazil in terms of wine. They were working on the grape-

There are the main brands and they are also talking about intermediaries, the contracting, the middle guys, [foreign language 00:23:45] and so on examples. So the thing is there are three main brands there, corporations that they produce the grape and they make the wine and they were hired through intermediaries. They were talking about the name of the-

Vitor Filgueiras:

… Intermediaries. They were talking about the name of the intermediaries. And so, they were there working on the lodging, the dispatching of the box of grapes.

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:24:16].

Vitor Filgueiras:

Also in the gathering. They were gathering the grapes and loading the trucks and unloading the box with the grapes.

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:24:36].

Vitor Filgueiras:

They would pick the grapes, then put the grapes in the box, then load the trucks and then unload the plating that was supposed to go to make the ones.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, can I ask a little more about that? Because on this show we talked to workers about the work that they do and the labor that goes into that. Could I ask if you could just talk a little bit more about what a typical day on one of these farms looks like and how much do you get paid for that?

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:25:13].

Vitor Filgueiras:

We had to go to the place to start working at 4:30, and they would have a specific time to stop. They could grow, like you said, even up to 10 p.m.

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:25:40].

Vitor Filgueiras:

When they got there, there is sign-up contracts say that they would be paid once a month. But after the first month, they says that they only be paid when the service would be finished. They would just be paid after picking up all the grape that they were supposed to [inaudible 00:26:06] after the season.

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:26:12].

Vitor Filgueiras:

So they are saying that the working days were very similar. They would start working at 5:00 a.m, so they would start working on picking up the grapes, then they would fill the boxes, then load the box, put everything inside the trucks, then go on the trucks through the wine factories and unload the box there, and then starts the process all over again. On a daily basis, they working the… Doing this from 5:00 a.m up even to 10:00 p.m.

Maximillian Alvarez:

What kind of toll does that take on your body doing that kind of work day after day? Does your back hurt? Do your knees hurt? Are you getting sunburned or… I just wanted to ask a little more what doing that work does to you as a person?

John:

[foreign language 00:27:20].

Vitor Filgueiras:

All the body, he say that everything hurts. Everything hurts.

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:27:29].

Vitor Filgueiras:

He say that also they would take their mobiles, their cell phones from them in order to allow them to talk to their families.

Marcos:

[foreign language 00:27:48].

Vitor Filgueiras:

They couldn’t sit. They could not sit. They would have to stay up all day, so the back hurts a lot. Also the knees. But like he said, he was very stressed here that all their bodies would hurt.

John:

[foreign language 00:28:13].

Vitor Filgueiras:

They are saying that this box that they were talking about, it would be like 77 pounds with kind of 70 pounds in terms of… Because he’s saying kilos in Brazil, so kilos. 30 kilos is like a 70 pound box. So it would hurt a lot. It hurts a lot. They would feel a lot of pain on their backs, also on their necks. It hurts a lot.

John:

[foreign language 00:28:54].

Vitor Filgueiras:

He is saying that they works like machines because everything was hurting. Their ankles also hurting a lot, were hurt, and they would just get at the evaluation points and kind of taking a nap. And then 4:00 a.m., another day, wake up and starts all over again.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Man, I’m just… I’m so sorry that you guys have gone through this. And everyone listening to this I know is sending you nothing but love and solidarity, and we are furious that our fellow workers in Brazil are being treated like this. I want to talk about the efforts to rescue farm workers living in slave-like conditions in Brazil. Because I know there’ve been a number of efforts from the government to try to address this situation, and now there’s a new effort that’s more radical and that is going to try to address where the previous attempts have failed. So can you tell us a little more about these past and current attempts to rescue workers from these slave-like conditions in Brazil?

Vitor Filgueiras:

So in Brazil over the last three decades, actually, there’s been a public policy held out by a group of institutions, of public institutions, such as the minister of labor, the federal policy and so on, that they investigate and they go around the country walking and try to catch people being treated like slaves, people forced to work in slave-like conditions. And this public policy has faced many challenge, but it’s pretty stable in terms of working. So we have to admit that this public policy that troubles slave-like conditions is successful at some points in terms of reaching people, catching the situations and rescuing people from slave-like conditions. The thing is that those people, those workers that are rescued, they haven’t been graded, they haven’t been addressed in terms of what to do afterwards.

So the arrest schemes, what’s really important is some feedback, otherwise they keep doing, keep being treated like that. And they normally are from different parts of the country. So the [inaudible 00:32:19] go back home, big oil, big corporation is all obligated. They had to pay for them to go back. The workers normally gets their payments, everything that the company has to pay, they are obligated to pay. But of course it’s a temporary solution and there hasn’t been any other assistance that can deliver something for them in terms of going on in a sustainable perspective, in a sustainable point of view. So I was rescued, that’s very important. What now? What I’m going to do with my life? And what the Brazilian government’s trying to do now is a new public policy precisely trying to give alternatives, sustainable alternatives for those workers.

Maximillian Alvarez:

I think that’s great context. I think that that makes sense, right, that if you can still rescue people from these slave conditions but they don’t have another job that can sustain them, they might fall right back into another company that treats them like this. And so, for people listening, this new program is attempting to go a step further and help provide, not only to liberate workers from these conditions, but to then provide them with economic support so that they can live their lives, they can sustain themselves. And so Vitor, I wanted to ask if you could ask these guys to say a little bit about what it was like to be able to leave these terrible farms, leave those slave-like conditions, and where things stand now. What do they hope to get out of this program? What is going to need to happen so that these guys can live their lives?

Vitor Filgueiras:

Just to add on the context, but if it helps, there are data that shows that many of the workers that were rescued, they are rescued more than once, precisely because there isn’t a public policy, a stable public policy to offer them something that’s sustainable, some alternative. And what you’re trying to do now, talking as part of the problem, is precisely to give the means of production for those workers in a way that they what rely on the function of the labor markets in other ways, other terms. As any capitalist societies, you don’t have the need of production, you have to sell your workforce. And when there is no jobs, the person, even if they are qualified for some job, if the job is not there, they’ll starve to death. So the main issue, the main role of this program is to giving the minimum of production for those workers. They can be by themselves without relying on the labor markets.

John:

[foreign language 00:35:50].

Vitor Filgueiras:

There wasn’t anything like that.

John:

[foreign language 00:36:02].

Vitor Filgueiras:

This working group that I was talking about, the federal police, the labor inspections, they got there, the accommodation place at 2:00 a.m. and liberated them, rescued them and he was so relieved.

John:

[foreign language 00:36:27].

Vitor Filgueiras:

It was a huge relief for them when the labor inspectors came and federal police came and told them that that situation was terrible and they wouldn’t allow them to keep standard that conditions, they were relieved. They were thinking about…

John:

[foreign language 00:36:55].

Vitor Filgueiras:

When his working group, federal police, the [inaudible 00:37:04] labor inspectors got there, the security guards of the company told them, all of them, to go to the basements to hide so that they working with the governments wouldn’t see them, but one of them was able to leave the place and this only worker told them that all the others were inside, hidden.

John:

[foreign language 00:37:29].

Vitor Filgueiras:

Which was just one guy. The guy was able to leave the place. They told the federal police, the inspector, that [inaudible 00:37:38] and because of this guy, he went there and found all the workers in the basement.

John:

[foreign language 00:37:58].

Vitor Filgueiras:

Even the police were terrified the situation that they had just found.

John:

[foreign language 00:38:00].

Vitor Filgueiras:

The situation was indeed completely terrible.

John:

[foreign language 00:38:07].

Vitor Filgueiras:

The police had to bodyguard them from Rio Grande do Sul up to Bahia talking about a 2000 miles street.

John:

[foreign language 00:38:27].

Vitor Filgueiras:

So they came in an airplane from Rio Grande do Sul to Sao Paulo, bodyguards by the federal police. Then the federal police arranged a bus to take them from Sao Paulo up to Bahia.

Maximillian Alvarez:

So where do things stand now, what happens now? What…

John:

[foreign language 00:38:56].

Vitor Filgueiras:

He is just expecting that with this project, he wants help to leave the city anymore to working for bad guys like these ones.

John:

[foreign language 00:39:18].

Vitor Filgueiras:

He saying that now that they have just found the association, they are very keen to be able to work by themselves without lawyers, without anyone telling them what to do. And hopefully with some support from the government through educating them and giving them tools, they’ll be able to live freely by themselves in a nice way, a good life.

John:

[foreign language 00:40:09].

Vitor Filgueiras:

He is trusting once again that he is expecting to have a good life and have term enough that he doesn’t need to live once again. And with this association, they’re seeking and they’re looking forward to produce, creates goods to produce milk and meat.

John:

[foreign language 00:40:39].

Vitor Filgueiras:

They are saying that they’re not looking forward to start working. Right now, they are looking for a farm, a place that the program can buy from the association. And when this place is arranged for the association, they are looking forward to create the groups not only for the milk and for the meats, but also to produce cheese and yogurt. They’re looking forward to do this. They really like yogurt and cheese, goat cheese and yogurt.

John:

[foreign language 00:41:30].

Vitor Filgueiras:

Working together without anyone telling the other what to do, [inaudible 00:41:38] not democratically without having us is something that we is really looking forward as well.

John:

[foreign language 00:41:50].

Vitor Filgueiras:

They are saying that they are very thankful for the program, expecting to start as soon as possible, and thanking you, Max, as well for the opportunity. It’s really nice talking to you.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Brothers, the pleasure was really all mine. And I just wanted to say again that all of us here in the United States are with you and we hope that you get that good life that you deserve.

John:

[foreign language 00:42:22].

Vitor Filgueiras:

He said that the same to you guys, and he is really, really happy to each of you. And like we say in Brazil, [inaudible 00:42:35]. It’s like, “We’re together.” That’s what he’s saying. Together.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Perfect. That was a great spot to end on, guys.

(singing)

Vitor Filgueiras:

Hello, my name is Vitor Filgueiras and I used to be a labor inspector on the minister of labor in Brazil, now I’m a professor at the Federal University of Bahia, a professor of economics. And currently I’m working on some projects and one of them is called Vida Pos-Resgate, or in English it’ll be like Life After the Rescue.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hell yeah. Well Vitor, thanks again so much for joining me, brother, from across the hemisphere. Really, really appreciate it. And listeners, just heard are the conversation that we recorded with these two incredible guys that you’re working with who were part of this really revolutionary program that we’re here talking about today. And I wanted to just make sure, before we ended this episode, that we gave listeners a chance to hear a little more about the deeper context here, and know what they need to know about what makes this current program so different, what challenges lie ahead, and where the program itself came from.

And you’re the perfect guy to talk to about this, so I really appreciate you hopping back on another recording with me. And I wanted to just sort of start there. We talked a little bit about this in the previous conversation that listeners just heard, but I was wondering if you could say a little more about the background here. Because this is not a new problem, workers getting trapped in slave-like conditions, and there have been multiple attempts by the state government to try to address that problem. I was wondering if you could just fill in, for listeners here in North America, some of that history. Tell us about how bad this problem is, how widespread it is, and what attempts have been made in the past to address the scourge of workers being trapped in slave-like conditions in Brazil.

Vitor Filgueiras:

Sure. So, the first thing that we had to keep in mind is that this problem, which means very, very bad conditions for workers, very harsh conditions, like similar to slavery or close to slavery, it’s not an issue that’s particular from Brazil. Any capitalist societies can face and may face this issue if there is no regulation or if the protective regulation. This weak… I’m talking about labor law, I’m talking about labor movements and so on. Because of the disparity between labor and capital, if there is no protective regulation, very bad situations can be seen, and tend to be seen, tend to be registered in the workers’ lives. That’s one main thing that I need to stress. So it’s a potential situation for any capitalist society.

Having that said, in Brazil particularly, we have this terrible background of slavery, a lot of state-based slavery. Our capitalism was based on slavery for over three centuries. So because of that, we have a culture of exploitation that’s maybe even deeper in other countries. But look, it’s not only the rural areas, this program is focusing the rural areas, but it’s a widespread problem. Like I said, if there is no protective regulation from the states or if the labor movement is not strong enough, capital can do whatever its will. And it’s not about money case. It’s not about being bad or being good, it’s just part of the process of seeking profits. There’s a reason in itself. But anyhow, going outside to Brazil, we had this very traditional weak protective regulation by the states and very bad situations…

Vitor Filgueiras:

It’s very bad situations, which we call slave-like conditions, are spread that it’s very hard to estimate how many people are being subject to this kind of exploitation situation. But what I want to say is that for the last three decades, almost three decades, there is a state-based group that is supposed to tackle the problem, making inspections in the fields and the corporations, also taking the case to the criminal courts, to the labor courts, trying to make this kind of practice, so limiting people to slave-like conditions, something that not attractive to the corporations. And this group and this state-based public policy of trying to impose fines, eventually taking lawyers to jail, have faced challenge, but also have been doing some important work in terms of regulating the demands of labor force, regulating the employer.

But there wasn’t any program to give alternative to workers. That the main points. Workers have been rescued from slave-like conditions at least since the beginning of the ’90s [inaudible 00:49:48] in Brazil. But after their rescue, in other words, after that they released from the slave-like conditions, there wasn’t a program to address the problem in terms of, so you are free now, what are you going to do? What are you going to do with your life? So the Vida Pós Resgate program that we announced here is exactly trying to address this problem of the alternative for workers that have faced slave-like conditions and needs for having an alternative for their lives.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, and this is such an important development that I think countries around the world can learn from, especially the United States because the progression here is like you said, over three decades, there have been efforts by the state to intervene in this terrible problem of workers being trapped in slave-like conditions. And so the first step is to liberate people who were trapped in that situation, which has happened. Like you said, a lot of people have been rescued. We talked to those guys in the previous conversation about how they were rescued and it was a terrifying story. So, that’s the first step, and that’s an important step of course. But then like you said, if workers don’t have another option to make a living after that, a lot of them are going to get trapped again in a similar situation.

And so I know that one of the steps that was taken after that was to try to give workers some professional training and try to help them improve their stock on the labor market, and then that didn’t work. That wasn’t sufficient enough either. And this is why the program that we’re here to talk about today is so vital and revolutionary because then the next step was, okay, we need to provide material resources for these workers who have been liberated from slave-like conditions so that they can build their own self-sustaining farm. They can live and work off the land. And in fact, we’re going to take the fines from the employers who are trapping these workers. We’re going to take the money that we’re taking from them and give it back to the workers. That’s incredible. Do I have that right? Is that the progression here?

Vitor Filgueiras:

Yeah, Max. Perfect. During the last 15 years, there were some attempts, and there were people that honestly were trying to address the whole rescue problem. In other words, words what should we do to help people that were rescued? And these attempts were linked to the so-called qualification of the workers. So if we qualify them, if they had some training, they can go back to the labor market, everything is going to be all right. And once again, it’s not a specific situation in Brazil, it’s a neoliberal approach to the problem. All over the world, there is the psychological concept that if you train the workers, they will get jobs on the labor markets like-

Maximillian Alvarez:

Sorry to interrupt, but there’s a really funny… I mean, it’s really annoying and it pisses me off, but it’s almost become a joke here in the United States because one of the areas where we see this happen is in the parts of the country that used to employ a lot of people in the coal mining industry. And so obviously as the world transitions away from coal energy, a lot of these areas in Kentucky, West Virginia, they don’t have those jobs anymore for people. And so it’s been a question for decades of, what do we do with the people who are living here? And the neoliberal response is like, “Oh, why don’t we train these 50-year-old coal miners to code on their computers so that they can get different jobs?” And it’s like, that’s a nice idea, but that’s going to work for five people. That’s not a systemic solution to the problem.

Vitor Filgueiras:

Yeah, exactly. And it lies on a theoretical points of view, it’s the neoclassical economy. It’s not something new. It’s something very old that suppose that if workers are trained enough, the jobs will appear. So it’s all on the workers, that’s the main issue. It’s like if the supply of labor force, the workers themselves are prepared, they will find some job. And of course it’s at least like it because there is a social monopoly from the capital to decide if the job will exist or not. The investment creates the jobs. If there is no investment by the companies or by the states, there is no job, no matter how qualified, how trained the person is. So in this case, in Brazil, there were some attempts, like I said, in some states because it’s been very, very wide, very comprehensive. It was specific states and they made some trainings and so on.

And we made a research… Actually, Max, we made a research here at the University of Bahia to see how it’s to an extent whether labor markets was in a good situation. When the economy was growing, people that were trained were getting jobs, and people that weren’t trained were getting jobs as well. Even with the crisis then again in 2015, everybody was unemployed, both people that weren’t trained, people that were trained, so something we very expect. I want to stress that some people that were involved had good motives. They were honestly trying to do something. It’s important to try and work this, of course it’s important, but it’s not the main issue that we’ll create the jobs. And it has been an ideological tool in the hands of corporations and neoliberal ideologues all over the world. Anyway, just try to be more direct here, considering also these events here to try to solve the problems from what are these people going to do now after their rescue?

And we saw that it wasn’t working. We developed this idea that [inaudible 00:57:31] works perfectly or is presented. So the idea is very simple. It’s to say, look, why these people facing so bad conditions? It’s simple because they don’t have the news of prediction to carry on with their lives, to have these things and amounts of material sources to live [inaudible 00:57:56] because they don’t have the means of production that they have to sell their labor force on the labor markets. The labor market by definition is who has more power or who has the power inside by definition of the corporations? In other words, if you send back people to the labor markets, even if they get a job, they can face once again very hard situations. It is very bad conditions if the labor market is not well-regulated. If you give them an opportunity to work by themselves through all the means of production, to organize themselves in a democratic way, in other words, without bosses, the employees, without any hierarchy between people, maybe they won’t need to go to the liberal markets anymore.

So the main point of this program is to take people out of the labor markets. It’s to give the opportunity for them to organize themselves and to produce in a democratic way and to emancipate themselves from the liberal markets. So what we do, it’s very simple. Theory, it’s very simple, of course. It’s very complex to implement, but as you get the fines, that it’s companies themselves, corporations pay for labor courts when they are sued. They have to pay fines and reverse these fines for rural associations to produce the healthy food in the original places that the workers come from. Most of the workers rescued here in Brazil, they go from one place or another. They have some kind of local migration.

Not only, but normally they go from the northeast of Brazil to the south of Brazil, so the idea is to get this money from the fines the corporations themselves have to pay and to give not to the workers directly, but to arrange the facilities to help them to build the local, the cities that they belong from, rural associations to produce healthy foods. And from now on, we have dozens of different variables for organizing to make it work. But the main point is exactly what is said, is to let people like the workers to have the means of production, let the workers organize themselves in a democratic way to produce specifically healthy foods, and I can also explain why the idea is to produce health food.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Let’s talk about that a little more. I want to ask about how you got involved in all of this and what it’s been like for you to see this program coming into existence? Because it is a radical program and it does say something about a different approach to the question of governance, like what is a state supposed to do? How is it supposed to serve the people? Like we were saying, I think that in our respective countries, we’ve been dominated by this neoliberal bullshit for so long that we’ve forgotten that there are other ways to organize society. There are other ways that the state can serve the people.

And what is happening over there, it reminds me of things in the 20th century, like the New Deal here in the United States or Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico, like land reforms and expropriating the oil industry in the 1930s. That was radical stuff, but it’s like you guys are hearkening back to that. And so I wanted to ask a little more about how you got involved in all of this and what this program says about the current approach to government in Brazil, and what do you think other countries can learn from that?

Vitor Filgueiras:

Yes, Max. It’s almost sensed in Brazil, it’s one of our main historical problems. For our society, is precisely because Brazil has never faced land reform or an agrarian reform. If it’s more specific, I don’t know… How normally you say it in the US? It’s lands reform or agrarian reform?

Maximillian Alvarez:

It depends if you’re in a university or outside of a university, but they very much mean the same thing.

Vitor Filgueiras:

Okay. Anyway, there is a huge, huge concentration of lands in Brazil in the hands of very, very few people, and it explains a lot of bad things that have always happens in Brazil. And regarding slave-like conditions specifically, there are many studies also coming from the state saying that one of the main reasons that explain why slave-like conditions is still very common in Brazil. It’s because there has never been land reform in Brazil. And of course there have been many attempts in many different governments, many different contexts, but it never happens besides very specific situations, but not [inaudible 01:04:31] comprehensive approach. Anyway, so to try to explain how it’s happens and how it’s working. I was a labor inspector, like I said, from the Ministry of Labour, so I used to carry out these rescues.

I had been over Brazil doing it and it was clear, not only visually, while I was lively seeing the stuff happening, but also the data show that many workers are submitted to slave-like conditions, many times the same workers. So as a labor inspector and as a [inaudible 01:05:20] person as well, I was very disturbed with the situation and I was always thinking how we could do something different. And it was very obvious that the lands reform was something that must be done, but it’s very hard to be done because of many reasons. Of course the main thing is political, but regarding law, regarding bureaucracy. And so the idea of the Vida Pós Resgate, this program that we’re talking about [inaudible 01:05:53] came from this very specific spots where I was, then I led the labor inspection and I started to be professor of economics. And actually, I had the idea to make a partnership between the public Minister of Labor. It’s an institution here that it’s a public attorneys regarding labor law so when they sue companies, they take the case to the court and they can direct the resources, the science.

And I was like, well, we could use this money to benefit for this, to make some kinds of land reform. So the main point here, Max, is that Vida Pós Resgate, the program started trying to be in a short scale, of course, some kind of land reform. Exactly that was the idea, that we’ll take the money from their own corporations to facilitate, to make it feasible, the organization of workers to hand them enough productions especially, but not only the lands. So all we did, we made an agreement between the public Minister of Labour and the [inaudible 01:07:16] of the Federal University of Bahia in which we will first make a research regarding the existing public policies that addressed labor conditions and then try to organize and propose actually this program. So that’s what we did. We made the research. We took like four or five years doing this research, and during this research, we started and we developed this program, this idea in how it would work. Of course, everybody can imagine how many variables are inside this kind of program, this kind of researching. And we started 2021, two years ago.

The first two [inaudible 01:08:08], I would say, two different cities of Brazil, this partnership, University of Bahia, public Minister of Labor, and we always have to make some kind of partnership with the local mayor because many specific situations in the local areas have to be carried out by public authority, the municipal, the local authorities. So we got the fines from companies in the labor parts, these two different cities here in Bahia, and the two first projects started, like I said, almost two years ago. Now we have five different projects. The idea is at some point, Max, try to make the program something that will address every situation of slave-like condition. Every rescue we plan, at some point, to propose to the workers if they are interested, if they had the backgrounds that can relate to this kind of public policy, then the idea is that at some point, it’s going to be a comprehensive program that will give the opportunities for organizing workers in rural associations in every rescue.

It’s not happening yet. Today we have five projects, but that’s our plan. And the five projects that we are carrying out right now in this program, in five different cities, are giving us loads of sources, materials to think about in terms of the difficulties, in terms of the problems. I’m talking about the relation between the workers, bureaucracies, training. But here, Max, we’re talking about training for themselves. They have been trained to work for themselves, not to work with other people. And while the program is being carried out, turns out, like I said, we are learning a lot to try to make it more comprehensive. That’s the main idea.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, let’s talk about that real quick because I know you’re super busy and I can’t keep you for much longer, but I just wanted to end on that note because like you said, the concept is simple. We’re going to sue these exploitative employers in labor court. We’re going to take those fines and we’re going to redirect that money to help the workers who have been freed from these slave-like conditions to buy their own land, to have the tools or training that they need to cultivate that land, to produce healthier food for their local economies and themselves. That’s a beautiful and simple concept, but making it happen is the difficult part, and we’re very much in the early infant stages of that. And I just wanted to ask if you could say a little more about the challenges that y’all face in terms of making that program a broad reality, but also the hopeful things, the hopeful signs that you’re seeing and where you think things go from here? We should do another one of these episodes in a year and talk about how it’s-

Maximillian Alvarez:

… do another one of these episodes in like a year and talk about how it’s going. But I guess what do you see that… what path lies ahead? What struggles lie ahead to make this program successful in the coming months and years?

Vitor Filgueiras:

Perfect. Well, I think first I have to try to draw, to illustrate, in a very superficial way how the program works so that you can have a more concrete idea of how it works. So the workers, we talk to the workers, that’s where we rescued to see when some rescue happens, we talk to them to see if they are interested to go back home, to work there, to live at their homelands, if they have a rural background, what they produce there, how the economy is built there, how the climates, the ecosystem, environment’s ecosystem is there. You know? Try to see if it’s feasible… feasible to carry it out via the process pose that it’s… we’re on the case. So if we think that it’s feasible, that we can do it.

The second part of the program is to make as many meetings as possible to know better the workers, and to make them know better the program, the proposition, the proposal for what’s going to help them. If everything goes well, we help them to organize a rural association with two main assumptions. There are just two assumptions, obligations that cannot be developed in this program. They cannot use wage work. They ought to be part of the association. They cannot use wage work between them, or bring somebody from outside to make someone to work as an employee. Everyone has to be at the same level in the association. And second, they cannot use any kind of chemical products like Monsanto and so on. We call it Brazil poisons. We cannot use any kind of poisons. It has to be sustainable, at least an organic approach. But if it’s feasible, try to go for our [inaudible 01:14:59] approach. So the idea to be sustainable in a social point of view and democrats way of work, and also in environmental points of view, low use of poisons in this store.

So the association is created and many different things starts to be done at the same time, so simultaneously. First of them of course is to get the money. All the money from the fines, it go to the association. It’s not for the individual, it’s for the association. Of course, the very basic thing here is to buy lands, which is a very hard task because most of the lands in Brazil are not legal in terms of the documents that they state consider to be necessary to make some ways legal. So it’s very hard to buy a farm, a legal farm, in Brazil. In the countryside, it’s very, very high. So it’s one of the main complexities, difficulties of the program, is to buy land. And we have done it. We have done it.

Also in many situations might, it’s interesting, the workers or their families, they have the lands, but these lands are very small and they are not keep it. They need capital if you wish to be productive. So in some cases, what we’re doing is to invest in equipment, facilities, machinery, everything needed in the lens of these earth, these people, these workers.

So well in the beginning, [inaudible 01:17:00] and we had two very different situations. In one situation, we buy the lands and we also will deliver everything that is needed for that land that we bought in terms of seeds, machineries, facilities, whatever it’s needed, products and so on for the production be carried out. In other situations, we make the lands that were already owned by the workers to be productive. So we used the money to capitalize, I don’t know if it’s the right word to say English, but to make these lands productive enough so that they can use their own lands to make in a decent way.

Simultaneously, so we’re talking about getting the money, about getting the lands, or use the lands that already from them, owned by them, and we have to prepare these workers to work for themselves. Now makes… there something also interesting. Because I’m pretty sure in the U.S., there is also this ideological parity of the entrepreneurship. Am I wrong? I’m pretty sure that same fact. It’s all out to everyone.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Oh, we’ve got that here.

Vitor Filgueiras:

Yeah, everyone can be a boss, everyone can be rich. It just depends of your efforts and your view. And of course, it’s completely false because of two main reasons, very basic reasons. First, you can only make you living, I’m not talking about being rich. You can only make now living if you have the means of production. This fair system matures to make that living. You cannot take from nowhere. You know? From nowhere. And this means of production.

And second, what makes capitalism very productive in terms of improving the productive forces, if you will, is that capitalism works through… it functions through collective work, it’s wage work, but it’s collective work. As long as one by one, each one works optimizing the different and not dialoguing with each other. Exactly the contrary. The contracts can be automized, can be individual.

The formal way that corporations are organized, they seem to be fragmented, but by definition what makes capitalism productive and the labor, the workforce to improve is the cost. The production is collective by definition. The centralization of capital is just one very strong evidence of what I’m seeing, of what I’m seeing. But it’s very obvious that we are talking about 300 million company economy. We’re talking about high definition economies that are strong where they have collective arrangements.

Anyway, what’s [inaudible 01:20:41] trying to do about it, is to make this demagogue narrative, this theological narrative of future entrepreneurship, something real. Let’s use this narrative against them and say, okay, let’s promote the entrepreneurship of these workers. Let’s give them lands, let’s give them capital, let’s give them the machines and everything they need to be entrepreneurs. That’s the real idea, if you will, of the program.

So parts of this challenge, if I can say this way, is to prepare them to be in fact, indeed entrepreneurs. But not this individual entrepreneurship, you know, but a collective one. Say, look, you are going to work by yourselves, you’re going to work together. And it’s very hard to do it, as you can imagine. We are talking about people that came from social movements. They’re talking about people that used to live and are living in very difficult situations in a very individualistic society so it’s hard to make bonds between them, for them to create bonds, to create honest links between them. Normally, they’re thinking about the surviving on a daily basis. So it’s hard to make them trust themselves, trust the initiative. It’s hard to make them have this ideal that in this way of I will grow and get things done. It depends on me. Because normally, it doesn’t depend on the person. So there’s a very specific case. It depends on the person, the person, the people, the world, they have still to be the protagonists of the program.

The program is not going to do everything for the workers. It will facilitate. So a very hard challenge is to prepare them, to help them to assimilate, incorporate the idea that they can do it together, that they work together, that everyone will benefit if they work together. We try to do this in many different ways, both building meetings, trainings, courses. We try to and gather as many institutions as listening, to prepare them, to talk to them, and it’s very hard. In other words, I think that it’s most challenge an aspects of the program. It really, of course, also embraces, also reach the technical training. Of course, they’re talking about different stuff. Sometimes, Max, some of them are working with books because of many resource regarding weather, regarding climates, regarding the economic framework of the cities, other are producing cocoa. So depends on the city, on the region, what they will produce.

So the training depends on, of course, what’s going to be produced. And of course, then we have many differences, variables regarding what the equipments will be used, what kind of preparation, what kind of inputs will be needed. And everything has to be added. Otherwise, even if everyone is very engaged, it’s not going to work. Like I said, what the program tries to do is to facilitate this organizations, these associations to produce healthy food. What’s the idea here, Max? It’s not only… Of course, it’s not only this idea of sustainability, this generic stuff that’s normally used by corporations themselves. It’s precisely the opposite.

The idea is producing healthy foods. First of all, you can secure healthy food security so that at least they can exist with healthy foods, but also to try, and that’s a very important aspect of the program… The program starts in the moment of the rescue and it goes back to the moment of the distribution of the products. Because in Brazil, we have a national public policy that makes schools, public schools to buy meals for… the food for the children in public schools, from the small producers, from rural associations. So it’s so called institutional markets. And we are linking the production of these associations to this public policy. So making contracts with the local authorities so that the schools can buy food from these associations. And it’s very important not only because the children will get healthy foods, but also because it can give some income, [inaudible 01:26:31] pay. We won’t rely on markets. You know? Open markets in so on, trying to sell the products.

On contrary, having contracts with public authorities, public local authorities, they can have a regular income that can provide some… It’s going to be easier to sell. Even at these so-called fair trades and so on. But that’s something that we’re thinking ahead and maybe it still happen, but at least this institutional markets, we are looking to get it done as soon as possible.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hell, yeah, baby. Well, building a new world out of the ashes of the old is never easy. But I hope in a year, when we talk again, this program is flourishing and more people are involved in it because it’s so important. And I hope that governments around the region, around the world take notice. I hope people listen to this and are inspired by what y’all are trying to do over there. And I’m so grateful that I’ve learned about it, and that our incredible friend and mutual comrade, the great Vina Dubal put us in touch so that we could talk more about this.

So I just wanted to thank you again, brother, for talking with me about this, for setting up the conversation that folks heard in the beginning of this. And like I said, I want to stay on this. I want to check back in and hear how the program’s going. And I guess to kind of round us out, any kind of final words that you had for folks listening to this about why this is important, and what you think they should be on the lookout for in the coming year?

Vitor Filgueiras:

Oh, Max, I truly appreciate the opportunity, the space. I’m willing, looking forward talking to you next year and tell about the failures and the success and what has gone well, what hasn’t. And I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be interesting. And the main point that I want to make here is that the [inaudible 01:29:06] we try to materialize things. You know? And one of the main things that seems to be natural in our society is the wage work organization of production. It seems that corporations are the only way that we can organize ourselves to produce our material needs. And it’s not true. It’s just parts of contexts of humanity.

And some centuries ago, it seems impossible for society to have democratic ways of organizing ourselves. So choosing our leaders, democracy itself was for many centuries putting doubts or horizons like it’s impossible to help. Democracy is an anarchy. We need to have a king, we need to have a spiritual leader. We need to have someone that tells us what to do. And it’s part of democracy, as everybody knows, the construction of democracy was hard, and well, the main difficulty was to convince people that sharing participation in society’s decision was something not only possible, but something that it was good. It was something to be seeked, that everybody has to fight for this, it’s important.

And nowadays, I think that in many parts of the world, people agree that democracy is good. So why not start talking about democracy at the workplaces? Because we decide about our leaders in the political arena once in two years, four years, but we spend most of our life working. Why can’t we decide how the work is going to be done? [inaudible 01:31:22] to be done in a democratic way? Everybody choosing, everybody discussing, debates, and carry out to the production in a democratic way. I think that this kind of project aims bring those debates. It’s not going to be easy. Democracy was not easy to be carried out. It still isn’t easy, but it’s the right way to go. And I think that we can and we need to impose this idea to debate and to incorporate this idea for the workplace as well, for the production of our material needs as well. That’s what we’re trying to propose and to simulate in this program.

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