Brazil's Radical Plan to Fight Slave-Like Working Conditions (w/ Marcos, John, & Vitor Filgueiras)

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December 11, 2023

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.