Marcha das Margaridas - 2007 RAZÕES PARA MARCHAR


The unyielding, joyful and firm strength of organized women



Nearly 50 thousand women gathered in Brasilia to achieve what many describe as the world’s largest female mobilization in recent years. In favor of women’s access to land ownership, against hunger and sexist violence in rural Brazil, in favor of agrarian reform, and in defense of women’s labor and social rights, the Margaridas of the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers of Brazil (CONTAG) shook the very foundations of capital, evidencing with each step they took a friendly, open, all-inclusive, joyful and vigorous strength.



There are several reasons behind the resounding success of the Third Marcha das Margaridas*: one unquestionable reason is the painstaking and thorough efforts of CONTAG’s Women’s Commission to prepare the event, under the coordination of the also vice president of the United Workers’ Federation (CUT), Carmen Foro, and a team of almost 30 regional coordinators who mobilized the organization’s rank-and-file throughout the country. The women that marched in the morning of Wednesday, August 22, forming a three-kilometer-long procession that moved down the wide avenues of Brasilia and flowed into the monumental Congress square, came without a doubt from “deepest” Brazil, from rural Brazil, an essential part of the cultural wealth of a country with the responsibility of having the world’s largest biodiversity and fresh water reserves.


The success is also due to the forging of a smooth, solidarity-based and intelligent relationship with other social organizations of women, both national and international, such as the World March of Women, and dozens of institutions of Brazil’s feminist and urban labor movements. This attitude of unity, openness and inclusion is certainly another of the essential reasons that, besides adding in quantity by swelling the numbers, contributed a unique quality to this March, a special visibility from many social and political arenas of Brazil.


From yesterday to today


And we cannot lose sight of the historical perspective, the constant efforts made by CONTAG over the last 40 years, to arrive at its current status of 27 Federations and 4 thousand Trade Unions representing 20 million rural workers. That was how Manoel José dos Santos, president of CONTAG, recounted the organization’s history in his speech at the Marcha das Margaridas before the National Congress. Manoel remembered the hard days of the dictatorship, which “sought to wipe out leaders, unions, federations, and even CONTAG itself, whose internal organization was constantly watched by official controllers.”


He told of heroic events and actions that kept CONTAG alive as the dictatorship tried to take over the Brazilian social movement and deviate it towards a comfortable and inoffensive standstill. He recalled several fellow workers, men and women who in the “years of lead” upheld the values of the organization, mentioning in particular “Zefía, who was an advisor to CONTAG over the period of the military dictatorship, and who was the first voice that rose to defend the idea that women needed to organize at the municipal, state and national levels. During those years, our labor movement was sexist, refusing even to accept that women had a right to be heard. Who can forget how back then women were only allowed to appear at the foot of their husbands’ worker’s card? So, today, we have to be fair and tell it like it was; our fellow worker Zefía deserves to be remembered as the first warrior in this process of discussion.”


Manoel stressed that “Today, women have moved forward, organizing from their communities and municipalities. We cannot forget to mention our fellow worker Hilda, of Pernambuco, who was the first coordinator of CONTAG’s Women’s Commission. She was followed by Raimondinha Celestine, of Ceará, who was the first woman to be elected Women’s coordinator, in a Congress of our organization. These victories, these advances, were no gift from the government or from male labor leaders. They are victories obtained by all you women workers, through your courageous struggle.”


The president of CONTAG also pointed out that “This story has a beginning, a continuation, a present, and a future, which we’re building; but we will never hide the contributions of the men and women who began the struggle. How many of them are not here today because their lives were taken away by violence? The absence of justice in this country brought many people down. But, fellow workers, we are building the history of this Brazil, organizing ourselves in unions, in federations, and in CONTAG, making our demands, pressuring all the governments, from the municipal to the federal. At a certain point we realized that that was not enough, that we had to change the national government, and replace it with one committed to the working class. Until, together with many other men and women, we were able to put our fellow worker Lula in the Presidency. And nobody can forget the huge contribution that came from rural Brazil, from our country’s laborers, from our people. But this is still not enough –Manoel continued–, we can’t go back home and lie back, contented, because in spite of having broken the taboo of the irremovability of Brazil’s ruling classes, we still don’t have the power, because the House of Representatives and the Senate are still not on the side of workers.”


The future must belong to the people


He went on to reflect on the agricultural model that has always prevailed in Brazil, throughout every previous government; a model based on large landed estates and an extensive production system that has no need for people and that drove out thousands of families from the countryside and into the cities. “And today –Dos Santos warned–, President Lula has the great mission of furthering the agrarian reform and consolidating family-based agriculture as a way of ensuring the country’s development. We’ve made great progress, but credits are not enough; we need technical assistance to use these resources. The size of properties must be limited, because we cannot go on in this situation, where anyone with enough money can just buy up the entire country. We must put a stop to the foreigners who are coming into the country to buy land for ethanol production, with the argument that it’s a source of energy which is clean from an environmental point of view, losing sight of the fact that nothing can be clean if it’s based on social injustice. We cannot allow sugar cane to take over the lands of family-based agriculture. We won’t be fooled by the promise of more jobs! That’s a lie! Single-crop agriculture expands on the basis of mechanization, and the development it produces only benefits a few political groups, distributing no income to the people.”


“So, fellow workers: you must unite! –Manoel dos Santos exclaimed–. You, who have come all the way to Brasilia, must unite with other millions! Let’s call on the men, so that they too will join the struggle. Call your boyfriends, your husbands, your brothers, and let’s fight, because only by struggling will we be able to change this country! Before I leave I want to reach out and touch the hearts of the men and women of this March and call on them to move forward, now that we are so near the end of the road.”


This moving speech was the finishing touch of an extraordinary celebration, which was filled from the very first minute with the joy, the lightness, the calm and friendly enthusiasm that springs from every CONTAG mobilization, be it the Grito da Terra or, in this case, the Marcha das Margaridas. To participate in these mobilizations, to walk side by side these rural men and women workers is to be involved in a discipline without threats or vertical hierarchies, without officers or foremen. The Marcha das Margaridas was also a march of smiles, of trust, of a clear understanding that the time is now, but that there’s also tomorrow, and thus all of us, men and women, deserve to be cared for. That is why, more than just walking, this March with female imprint soared forward with lightness and pride, with firm step and steady course, and ended embracing the future, knowing that the Fourth Marcha das Margaridas will find them better organized, greater in number, stronger and with new demands and claims, but always with the joy of being where they want to be.


Long live the Marcha das Margaridas!


Carlos Amorín, from Brasilia

© Rel-UITA

August 27, 2007





* The March is named in honor and vindication of Margarida Alves, president of the Union of Rural Workers of Alagoa Grande, state of Paraíba, who was murdered on August 12, 1983, as she returned home with her ten-year old son, who witnessed his mother’s dramatic death. Of the five large landowners identified as the “intellectual perpetrators” of her murder, only two were brought to trial, and they were both absolved.


Fotografías: CONTAG | Rel-UITA


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