Ediane Maria Nascimento speaks with confidence, not born from grandeur but from gratitude. Wearing a broad smile, and with her arms behind her back, she thanks everybody who has gathered in Sao Paulo to campaign for Lula in the Presidential election. Ediane would have been forgiven for any smugness, since she did what Lula failed to do three weeks earlier: win an election the first time round.
2 October did not just mark the first round of the presidential election. It marked the general election, in which members of the National Congress and legislative assemblies were running for office right around the country. And it marked the first ever election of a domestic worker to Sao Paulo’s state legislature. A Black woman from the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, Ediane had worked as a housemaid her entire life while raising four children on her own. ‘My mother was domestic, I was domestic. My daughter broke the cycle, and now I broke it too.’
Ediane was one of several women from minority ethnic backgrounds to make history that day. Others included Sônia Guajajara—an Indigenous woman who, like Ediane, successfully ran as a candidate for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL)— and Danieli Balbi—a Black transgender woman representing the Communist Party of Brazil. Both PSOL and the Communist Party were two of ten political parties that had coalesced around Lula, including his own Worker’s Party (PT), the Green Party, and the Brazilian Democratic Movement.
Lula’s campaign was much more than a coalition of political parties. Standing in the Brazilian sunshine, Ediane was not wearing PSOL merchandise. Instead, her red T-shirt was adorned with a four-letter logo: MTST. Ediane is Leader of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto, translating to the Homeless Workers’ Movement. The group, founded in 1984, uses a variety of methods—from staging squatters’ occupations to lobbying legislators—to confront Brazil’s neoliberal housing model and increase the provision of social housing. MTST is one of countless social movements that, like the coalition of political parties, rallied behind Lula. Another is the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), or the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement, which fights for access to land for poor workers. Another is the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), which seeks to promote the rights, protect the lands, and strengthen the union of Indigenous peoples. Their leader is none other than Sônia Guajajara.
On Sunday, Lula was elected President of Brazil. Much has been made of his stunning political comeback. Indeed, the idea of Lula winning the 2022 election was unthinkable as recently as two years ago, when he was still serving an unjust conviction in prison for corruption. Lula’s courageous refusal to let the Brazilian state ‘bury [him] alive’ is remarkable. However, without the support of social movements like the MTST, MST, and APIB, his courage would have counted for nothing. As Lula himself recognised in his victory speech, this was not a triumph for him. It was a triumph for a ‘democratic movement that formed above political parties, personal interests and ideologies.’ Lula won with the support of a Left-led coalition of political parties, trade unions, and social movements—parties, unions, and movements that brought millions of workers, Indigenous people, and marginalised communities together.
This triumph did not happen overnight. Before Monday’s victory was the successful legal battle to restore Lula’s civil rights, waged by those who cared about due process. It is thanks to people like Geoffrey Robertson KC and John Watts that Lula was allowed to stand in 2022, successfully annulling his conviction the year before. Before this legal battle was the founding of the PT in 1980. Before that was decades of organised labour; the Brazilian Workers Confederation was created in 1906 in the wake of a 26-day garment factory strike in Rio de Janeiro. Lula may have been declared victorious on 2 October 2022, but he was soaking up the spoils of a campaign that had been winning and losing for decades.
In 2022, this campaign united around a transformative platform to defeat fascism, secure social justice, and save the future of our planet. Lula’s platform offered an alternative to impoverishment, hatred, and ecocide: wealth taxes, debt-forgiveness, equal pay for men and women, more affordable housing, an increase in the minimum wage, a mass poverty-relief programme, the protection of Indigenous land, language and rights, and an end to deforestation. These were commitments he re-iterated in his victory speech. Perhaps the most significant part in his delivery came at the end: Brazil, he said, would not be dragged into a new Cold War or an endless arms race. Lula would be a voice for diplomacy rather than war; under his leadership, Brazil would endeavour to foster good relations with all global partners, for the sake of international peace.
A Left-led coalition does not just deserve credit for the creation of Lula’s transformative platform. It will take charge of its preservation in power. After all, formal victory at the ballot box is just the beginning. As I write this, Bolsonaro has not conceded, and his supporters are blocking hundreds of roads to protest the result. Monday’s result was a victory for a popular grassroots movement, but it was a narrow victory nonetheless, and a narrow victory over a well-financed and deeply intolerant far right. Lula will not resist the oncoming tidal wave alone. He will require the continued support of those on the ground who have forged common bonds beyond the electoral architecture.
I hope, then, that those who are quick to jump on the bandwagon of Lula’s victory will pay attention to the source of his success. Monday’s result proves that the route to a greener and fairer future is not through triangulation, the marginalisation of the Left, or attempts to charm CEOs. It is through the mobilisation of a multi-racial working-class coalition, galvanised by the prospect of a government bold enough to do what is necessary to tackle the most important crises of our times.
As more and more people are plunged into debt, insecurity and alienation, there is an ever-growing coalition of activists, trade unions and social movements calling for a mass redistribution of wealth, power, and ownership. Some of these networks have been decades in the making. It would be a shame, to say the least, to waste their collective energy by siding with the status quo. As Lula’s success demonstrates: who needs focus groups when you have solidarity?
The global struggle for transformative change is waged by those whose names we may never know. We owe it to every single one of them—we owe it to each other—to win.