Brazilian Companies Pressure Workers to Vote for a Fascist Presidential Candidate

Michael Fox

Fascist Brazilian presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party, Jair Bolsonaro, gestures during the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association's Unica Forum 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 18, 2018. (MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)

Just off the inter­state high­way near the Brazil­ian city of Flo­ri­anópo­lis is a large repli­ca of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty. Behind it the façade of the mega depart­ment store is mod­eled after the White House. Rows of columns beneath a tri­an­gu­lar roof. Inside busy shop­pers look for bar­gains on rugs, children’s toys, sil­ver­ware and every­thing in between.

This is one of 114 mega­s­tores in 15 states belong­ing to Havan, one of Brazil’s largest depart­ment store chains. Since April, Havan’s rough­ly 15,0000 employ­ees have been made to wear offi­cial green and yel­low t‑shirts, the col­ors of the Brazil­ian flag. The text, The Brazil we want depends on us,” is embla­zoned across the front in yel­low let­ters, beneath a small Brazil­ian flag and a com­pa­ny logo. Employ­ees were told the shirts were made in sup­port of the Brazil­ian team at the World Cup.

But we know bet­ter,” one employ­ee work­ing a cash reg­is­ter, who asked not to be named, told In These Times in Sep­tem­ber. They are in sup­port of one of the pres­i­den­tial candidates.”

That pres­i­den­tial can­di­date is the far-right can­di­date Jair Bol­sonaro, who hand­i­ly won the first round of the elec­tions on Octo­ber 7, and is now head­ed to the 2nd round against the left­ist Work­ers Par­ty can­di­date Fer­nan­do Had­dad lat­er this month.

Bol­sonaro, a for­mer Cap­tain in the Brazil­ian mil­i­tary, has sup­port­ed tor­ture and praised the country’s dic­ta­tor­ship, which ran from 1964 through 1985. He has been fined for racist, sex­ist and homo­pho­bic remarks, and recent­ly joked about killing Work­ers Par­ty sup­port­ers at a ral­ly in Acre. He promis­es to fight cor­rup­tion and vio­lence with an iron fist, which has won him over­whelm­ing sup­port. His cam­paign slo­gan, Brazil above every­thing, God above every­one,” is a nod to his deep con­nec­tions with the country’s grow­ing evan­gel­i­cal move­ment, which now makes up rough­ly a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion. Despite his incen­di­ary rhetoric, Bol­sonaro is ahead of Had­dad in the lat­est poll, and expect­ed to win the 2nd round.

The own­er of Havan, Luciano Hang, is an avid Bol­sonaro sup­port­er. In late Sep­tem­ber, an inter­nal mes­sage to employ­ees was leaked stat­ing that they could vote for whomev­er they choose, but if the left wins,” Hang would close stores and fire employees.

Six days before the first round of the Brazil­ian elec­tions, Hang assem­bled hun­dreds of employ­ees at the store’s head office in Brusque, San­ta Cata­ri­na. Clad in their green and yel­low com­pa­ny t‑shirts, the employ­ees were lined into order­ly rows. Hang stood on the stage before them — with a micro­phone and a yel­low shirt bear­ing Bolsonaro’s face — and led them in a 39-minute ral­ly in sup­port of the candidate.

They sang the nation­al anthem. He had them dance to one of Bolsonaro’s catch­i­er theme songs. He railed against the fail­ures of com­mu­nism, and said the Work­ers Par­ty was threat­en­ing to destroy the country.

Have you ever seen a Work­ers Par­ty mem­ber, a left­ist, do well in life, work­ing hon­est­ly?” He asked the crowd toward the end of his mono­logue. Either we change the coun­try now, in the first round, or we will become a Venezuela.”

Hang tele­vised the ral­ly live on his Face­book page. Two weeks lat­er it had 1.2 mil­lion views.

This was an extreme case, but it was not iso­lat­ed. Accord­ing to reports, in the lead-up to the first round, in two Brazil­ian states alone — San­ta Cata­ri­na and Paraná — the Pub­lic Labor Min­istry received 87 com­plaints against 23 com­pa­nies for attempt­ing to coerce their employ­ees to vote in favor of one can­di­date or another.

Paraná’s Con­dor super­mar­ket chain was one of them. The com­pa­ny has 44 stores and 12,000 employ­ees. Five days before the first-round elec­tion, own­er Pedro Joanir Zon­ta sent a let­ter to his employ­ees high­light­ing his sup­port for Bol­sonaro and ask­ing them to trust him and Bol­sonaro to put Brazil on the right track.”

The Pub­lic Labor Min­istry quick­ly ordered him to retract his note, and pub­lish a clar­i­fi­ca­tion, or face a dai­ly fine of rough­ly $27,000.

Hang was also forced to desist from pres­sur­ing his employ­ees to vote for Bol­sonaro, after a judge from the 7th dis­trict labor court of Flo­ri­a­nop­o­lis threat­ened a rough­ly $135,000 fine. On Octo­ber 5, Hang pub­lished a mes­sage on his Face­book page com­ply­ing with the court order and cer­ti­fy­ing that his employ­ees were free to vote for whomev­er they choose.

Echoes of the Past

There is a long his­to­ry in Brazil of pow­er­ful indi­vid­u­als attempt­ing to sway the vote of others.

In the ear­ly years of the Brazil­ian Repub­lic, in a sys­tem known as the Cabresto Vote, feu­dal strong­men forced elec­tors to cast their bal­lots for them or their candidates.

What’s at the root of this is a pro­found dis­re­spect for the indi­vid­ual,” Ernesto Sei­dl, polit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the San­ta Cata­ri­na Fed­er­al Uni­ver­si­ty, told In These Times. There is a con­cept that is cen­turies old in Brazil, and held by the pow­er­ful, the boss­es, the own­ers, the rich, the employ­ers, that their employ­ees, are prac­ti­cal­ly their followers.”

Employ­ers today — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the coun­try­side — are known to attempt to intim­i­date work­ers to vote for their can­di­date. But nev­er so bla­tant­ly and vis­i­bly as this year. The ever-per­va­sive pow­er of the Inter­net is one factor.

The San­ta Cata­ri­na-based labor lawyer and uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Pru­dente Mel­lo also blames the 2016 impeach­ment of pres­i­dent Dil­ma Rouss­eff and the pas­sage of the 2017 Labor Reform — which weak­ened unions, and gut­ted labor rights and work­ers’ abil­i­ty to resolve griev­ances — for empow­er­ing busi­ness­es to take actions like those by Havan and Condor.

Employ­ers are feel­ing total­ly free to do these types of things. In the world we are liv­ing in today, work­ers today have become mer­chan­dise. Mer­chan­dise which the employ­ers feel free to use, and to impose what they want, how they want it, or else they are thrown away,” Mel­lo told In These Times.

Mel­lo said that intim­i­da­tions like these against employ­ees are a clear vio­la­tion against Brazil­ian law, inter­na­tion­al labor con­ven­tions, and the dec­la­ra­tion of human rights.

But Hang has denied that he has done any­thing wrong.

You can tell them who you think they should vote for, but you can’t ever force them to vote for any­one,” he told the Fol­ha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

The mea­sures tak­en by the Labor Min­istry have barred Hang from using his employ­ees to cam­paign, but it hasn’t slowed down his activism in sup­port of Bol­sonaro. From his Face­book page, where he has almost 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers, he holds dai­ly Face­book lives where he ral­lies for the can­di­date. The week after the first-round elec­tion, he was joined by none oth­er than Bol­sonaro himself.

It’s life or death [for the 2nd round elec­tion] on Octo­ber 28,” said Hang. It’s a ref­er­en­dum. Either you vote for Bol­sonaro and you are for Brazil. Or you are against Brazil. There is noth­ing else to say.”

Michael Fox is a free­lance reporter and video jour­nal­ist based in Brazil. He is the for­mer edi­tor of the NACLA Report on the Amer­i­c­as and the author of two books on Latin Amer­i­ca. He tweets at @mfox_us.
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