«Other sources are useless if society and its peoples are not respected and do not have access to this energy».

(Castellano)

Interview by A Planeta with Gerson Castellano, director of International Relations of FUP – Federação Única dos Petroleiros (Single Oil Workers’ Federation)1, federated to the CUT – Central Única dos Trabalhadores (Single Workers’ Union)2 and the Industrial Global Union.

A Planeta: As an oil union, what is your position on Energy Democracy and Energy Transition?

Gerson: FUP has 13 unions all over Brazil, from North to South (different unions per state). The FUP seeks to discuss this energy transition and the use of this energy in a democratic way so that all of society has access to it. This is a big discussion that is taking place within the FUP, in this international field of really discussing this energy transition that is going to be necessary and that is something that is already happening in the search for other sources (wind, photovoltaic), and the FUP wants to participate in this discussion with two objectives: to qualify workers so that they can act in other fields of energy, and to discuss with society, workers and companies so that this energy arrives in a democratic way. Because otherwise, other sources are of no use if society and its peoples are not respected and do not have access to this energy.

We participate together with other trade unions at the international level in TUED (Trade Unions for Energy Democracy), with support and also in the general debates, forums and meetings. Also with the Industrial Global Union. The most involved in TUED are the electrical workers, and the FUP has been involved more recently. I don’t know of any particular coordination for Latin America.

And also in other unitary platforms, together with the MAB (Movement of Dam Affected People) and other social entities, also as a way of carrying out this discussion on energy that is not treated as a simple commodity, but that is at the service of society as a whole. Energy democracy means that the energy generated should be for the whole of society; that it should not be concentrated like any other capital good; that it should really be accessible to everyone and that everyone should have access to it and be able to enjoy it.

We are holding this discussion with other agents such as the MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams), discussing the impacts that this energy is going to have on flooded areas, areas of reservoirs. We have to take into account how photovoltaic energy is going to occupy large areas, the huge impacts it is going to have on the people who live in that environment, and we still have no idea of the impacts it is going to have on the people who live in that area. Or wind power, which produces a lot of noise and has a big problem, now we are learning about the risks of accidents and so on.

The FUP is carrying out a strong discussion on this path of seeking the energy transition, with the workers and with the government. Although today the government unfortunately does not give any space. But we hope to change government as Chile has done now and that we can once again have a government as an interlocutor, which we do not have now. We put pressure on the companies so that they have an influence to relocate the workers in other energies and that it is mainly respecting society and everything, so that the energy is for society.

Nowadays, workers are not yet able to convince themselves of their role in migrating to renewable energies when they have been working for 35 to 50 years and they don’t see it as feasible, while young people understand that their future relationship will be with renewable energy.

Petrobras is not for sale

A Planeta: I am very interested in your role, the role of the union in a public company like Petrobras. It seems to me that the union is one of the few tools that society has to monitor a company like this. Does the FUP have any mechanism to monitor Petrobras and ensure that rights are respected in addition to labour rights, in terms of corruption, environmentally and socially unacceptable projects?

Gerson: FUP plays a very strong role within Petrobras. It is the federation that has the most trade unions within Petrobras, and in the past we had a stronger influence in other governments. Unfortunately, today we no longer have access to anything. We have not been able to establish more dialogue. Petrobras is no longer looking for dialogue. Unfortunately, Petrobras is now treated only as a market company, without worrying about what it was created for, which was to serve the Brazilian people.

Very recently there has been a big debate about Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company, for abandoning some key sectors for the energy transition. It closed some of its companies and production plants. We criticise that this is the wrong way to go, and we are trying to reverse this, this government that has been in front of us for the last few years and that does not get our support.

FUP trade unionists with MAB activists

The FUP has an institute, INEEP5, the Instituto de Estudos Estratégicos de Petróleo, which studies strategic questions about oil, gas, and also talks about energy transition. So, the FUP finances this institute. It has several researchers to help us in social analysis and also to help big business.

A Planeta: One of the biggest threats with the current government, and I understand that one of the reasons for machinations such as the impeachment against Dilma Roussef or the imprisonment of Lula, is the desire of big capital to privatise the big Brazilian public companies, as Petrobras . How does this affect you as Petrobras workers?

Gerson: As for privatisation, unfortunately it is happening within this Bolsonaro government. The congress is aligned with him. Petrobras is leaving several sectors aside, such as biofuels, fertilisers, petrochemicals, to be left only as an oil extraction company and focused especially on Pre-Sal3.

This privatisation also affected the fertiliser company where I worked (Araucária Nitrogenados4), which was closed and I was fired, even though I was a union leader. So, the fascism of this government has no limits, and it’s aligned with the congress and part of the judiciary that helps this government so that more jobs are lost as mine was. Petrobras closed its agrofuel units that used vegetables to produce biodiesel.

But now the FUP is mobilised against these privatisation attempts. After appropriate assemblies, the workers affiliated to the FUP are currently on strike to try to repel privatisation.

We’re 200 milion oil workers – for a Petrobras 100% public!

A Planeta: Going back to Petrobras, one of the biggest scandals of recent years in Brazil, Lava Jato, had the company at the centre with allegations of corruption that included the former president etc. but then it was also discovered that it was a set-up. And although the case was closed, to what extent is there no corruption in a company like this?

Gerson: Lava Jato was a big set up by lawyers, very biased, serving the interests of people who we still don’t know who were. I think people will understand it better over the years. The process is not clear for the whole of Brazilian society. The only thing that is clear is that it was a big set-up that prevented a president, Lula, from running in the elections. With corruption, the FUP has a very firm position: we must not just punish corruption, but we must keep the whole enterprise functioning and producing for society. Not to do what they did, which was to demoralise and discredit Petrobras along with the whole society.

A Planeta: At the level of the energy transition you have already commented that the current government does not facilitate the debate, but how does such an authoritarian government like Bolsonaro’s affect trade unionism?

Gerson: In terms of trade unionism, Bolsonaro implemented a whole series of measures to weaken the entire trade union sector, from laws that prevent workers from joining trade unions, to placing people linked to employers in the justice system for trade union matters. One of the strongest reasons for this is within state companies, in the sense of persecuting those who are unionised. For example, at Petrobras, many workers in charge of supervision and management had to leave the union in order not to lose their jobs, something that had not happened until then. When Bolsonaro came to power, he closed down the Ministry of Labour and dismantled all oversight that existed within that ministry, thus weakening the movement as well, as he prevented all the complaints that the union could make.

MiShell Temer, the sell-out 6

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Footnotes:

1 The FUP was created in 1994, as a result of the historical evolution of the oil union movement in Brazil, since the creation of Petrobras in 1953.

2 Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) is a Brazilian trade union representative body (representing part of the trade unions), founded in 1983, in the last years of the military dictatorship. It currently has thousands of affiliated unions and dozens of federations and confederations.

3 The Pré-sal («under the salt») deposits are located offshore, off the coast of Brazil. They contain an estimated 50 billion barrels.

4 Its name comes from the city of the same name, Araucaria, in the state of Paraná.

5 Actually its full name is Institute of Strategic Studies on Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels Zé Eduardo Dutra (Ineep) – it was created in 2018.

6 Michel Temer was named president as a result of the impeachment against Dilma Rousseff. He was therefore Bolsonaro’s predecessor, from 2016 to 2018, and the initiator of privatisations in the energy sector.

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