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Life | Geraldo’s Brazil

This Life programme examines the effects of globalisation through the story of Geraldo Da Souza, a worker at Ford in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In 1999, he was among 2000 workers laid off from his factory during the “international financial crisis”. Life filmed him then, trying to work out the connection between the financial crises in Asia, Russia and Brazil and understand the impact of globalization. In this film we will look at the effects of globalization over the past 5 years through Geraldo’s life and eyes. And we examine how institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have been dealing with a government which had in mind not to pay its external debt.

In 1999, Geraldo Da Souza, a worker at Ford in São Paolo, Brazil, was among 2000 workers laid off from his factory during the “international financial crisis”. Life filmed him then, trying to work out the connection between the financial crises in Asia, Russia and Brazil and understand the impact of globalisation. Today Geraldo has his job back but the big questions remain the same’¦ His employer Ford is the second biggest car manufacturer in the world, but it’s fighting a worldwide economic downturn in automobile sales. Geraldo’s life and livelihood still seems to depend on the fluctuation of the worlds financial markets’¦

Ford in São Paolo, Brazil,Kevin Tynan, an analyst at the Argus Research Corporation, explains to Geraldo that Ford is losing money worldwide. ‘The number one driving factor for everybody that puts on their Ford tie in the morning is what is the share price and what can we do to increase the share price. I just think that you have to take some of that emotional factor out of it and say, you know, ‘What’s gonna be the best thing for me going forward?”

But this doesn’t make a lot of sense to Geraldo. His friend Bulldog didn’t get his job back, and then his wife left him and he’s still unemployed.

It’s true, though, that Ford’s problems don’t just affect Brazil. A Ford plant at Edison, New Jersey is closing too, and the workers there aren’t happy either. ‘A lot of the morale around here is/has been kind of flushed down the toilet with no profit-sharing and with, you know, they’re saying our plant’s gonna close down and people aren’t excited to come to work, and people don’t really want to go the extra mile that a normal employee would when the company stands behind them.’

Geraldo also meets a worker at the Peugeot Citroën plant near Paris. A union activist tells him that global solidarity can help workers in Brazil: ‘Peugeot employees in Brazil need to be able to benefit from the same advantages we have in France. And I think this will happen through global committees.’

Brazil’s President, Lula da Silva, tells Gerardo that capital has become much more mobile, and it’s difficult to turn the clock back. ‘I think that globalization, as it stands today, cannot continue. This does not mean that we have to close our borders. No. The problem is that each country needs to care for the interests of its own people. And if you want to globalize capital interests, we must also globalize workers’ interests.’

That makes sense to Geraldo. French car workers are paid around 2,000 Euros, and while that’s only half what US workers can get, it’s a lot more than they get in Brazil. ‘If we created a global committee, it would be the best thing that could happen to us because with the same wages, there would no longer be any differences. Here in São Paulo, a worker is paid 1,000 or 900 reals, and in Bahia, he’s only paid 450 reals.’

Geraldo doesn’t just consider his pay packet – he worries about the financial situation of the whole country. Brazil’s external debt amounts to more than 270 billion dollars. It’s a massive sum that Geraldo is convinced will never be paid back. He questions Nobel Prize winner and former Vice-president of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, who says there is no easy answer.

‘The question of whether Brazil can pay its debt unfortunately turns out, to a large extent, to depend on factors that are outside of Brazil’s control’¦ When one hears the story from outside critics, they say, If countries only did the right things, things would be OK. That’s wrong because even with the best of policies you can find yourself hostage to the fickle international markets.’

Brazil’s President, Lula da Silva, tells Gerardo that capital has become much more mobile, and it’s difficult to turn the clock back. ‘I think that globalization, as it stands today, cannot continue. This does not mean that we have to close our borders. No. The problem is that each country needs to care for the interests of its own people. And if you want to globalize capital interests, we must also globalize workers’ interests.’

For Geraldo and others like him, the President is faced with a balancing act, of keeping the economy on track, keeping the financial institutions happy and honouring his election pledges on public expenditure, jobs and poverty alleviation. Because of the size of Brazil’s economy – it accounts for almost half of Latin America’s total economic output – it’s historic relationship with international donor agencies like the IMF and World Bank hasn’t always been easy. The President adds; ‘It is necessary for the IMF to adopt a language of resource distribution, It is necessary for the IMF, you know, to start to make the difference between economic investment and debt.’

Tom Dawson of the IMF says that things are starting to improve in Brazil. ‘In fact, we’ve already seen that Brazilian reserves have risen substantially, again a vote of international confidence in Brazil. But I understand that people like Geraldo, workers in Brazil, they can be frustrated that at times it takes a while for these sorts of results that show up in economic statistics to filter to individual people and workers. But we think the signs are there that it’s starting to happen. And I think 2004 will be a better year for people like Geraldo.’

Geraldo dusts down his camera, because everyone needs to diversify in this age of globalisation. ‘When globalization came to Brazil, we realized that we would have to do more studies, to specialize, because we realized that everything was electronics, technology, informatics. So if we don’t get ready, if we don’t do studies, it’s very difficult to enter this new globalization world. It can change. I think that people are able to change, but we also want to have our say in this globalization.’

RELATED LINKS:

InfoBrazil is a great site with all sorts of information and analysis about Brazilian social issues. Brazzil (News from Brazil) is an excellent e-zine about Brazil.

You can read the World Bank’s current assessment of Brazil and its economy, and download a recent report Attacking Brazil’s Poverty: A Poverty Report with a Focus on Urban Poverty Reduction Policies. See also the International Monetary Fund’s pages on Brazil and the IMF.

Rede Brasil, a network of Brazilian NGOs, opposes a new agreement with the IMF.

Visit the official Government of Brazil website (in Portguese), and read Lula da Silva’s article on his policies in The Guardian.

The Ford Motor Company are proud of their community involvement. Ford Brazil have their own commercial website (in Portuguese) showing the models made (or not) by Geraldo.

Kevin Tynan works for the Argus Research Corporation. You can visit Joseph Stiglitz’s home page, and read a review of his recent book, Globalization and its Discontents.

Read about the earlier Life programme about Geraldo – Geraldo Off-line, and two other programmes on Brazil: Brazil – Winning against AIDS, and The Posse.

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