Landless Workers Movement
Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra
Just for a minute imagine digging through a pile of trash is some side street in the city of Rio de Janeiro hoping that you will find a pair of old flip flops, sunglasses or other such items that you will be able to clean and sell to tourists. Or what if you were living somewhere outside Brasilia working the fields of some wealthy landowner who will be exporting the produce that you labored over in exploitative conditions. You go home at the end of a physically exhausting day, starving and unable to feed your starving family. You have no bank account, no voice in society, and no money.
These are conditions that are not by choice , you have either been born into them or the system is such that you just cannot seem to get a break. Then imagine choosing a lifestyle of very similar living conditions with your day-to-day life relatively unstable as violence and hardship is at every bend. Yet, you are part of an empowered social/agrarian revolution known as the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers Movement, MST).
Brasil is a country with one of the most prevalent contrasts between the rich and the poor. It was in the 1970's, while still under a military dictatorship that urban jobs became scarce and the slums began to swell with unemployed, poor and starving families. In rural Brasil people were being thrown off leased or owned land and families lost their farms to wealthy syndicates based in the United States , Japan or Europe . Banks began to neglect those who grew poorer by the day in favor of the wealthier entities. Currently, three percent of the population owns two-thirds of Brasil's arable land; 25 million peasants are starving, working temporary and exploitative agricultural jobs while sixty percent of Brasil's farmland lies fallow, untouched. It is this uncultivated, useable farmland that is the most vital cause of both rural and urban poverty and hunger in Brasil.
Undergoing the transition from military dictatorship to democracy in 1985 brought with it a revised constitution, more specifically a social law that would make the movement legally acceptable. The law includes that at least eighty percent of rural land is to be made productive, while twenty percent is to be preserved. It is a social law that should be ensured but is sorely neglected due to economic ties and foreign relations. The Landless Workers Movement: Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) uses this law as the political legitimization, seeking to make land fill a social function through Constitutional Law. Thus, the MST holds that the government must comply with workers rights laws as evident in the constitution. It is offered to rural and urban poor as an alternative to starvation and movement for dignity and the goal of self-sufficiency and no more hunger.
"Occupy, Resist and Produce!"
As anticipated, the direct resistant attitude of the movement has led to fierce counter attacks from the large landowners one of the most reactionary groups in the world, also whose land they occupy. All possible means to stop the movement have been used such as direct attempts on the lives of the settlers, workers and leaders; hired gunmen and state police to throw peasants off the land; imprisonment, torture and murder; unfounded accusations against people who had not even been present at the scene; murder of the Christian leaders and agents devoted to the struggle for land. Despite all the attempts to ignore, repress, isolate, economically destruct and slander through mass media the MST has continued to resist, grow and develop into a mighty and successful movement.
Members of the MST have strong political ideas and are seeing to it that these ideas are made clear to the wealthy landowners and the government. It is a well-planned and organized movement that is often rewarded with successful occupations and able to move on towards cooperatives and economically sustaining communities. The MST is a mass of people grounded in the belief that there is an alternative to the capitalist system. They are holding stead fast to these beliefs with dignity and pride in spite of the sometimes, grave conditions. I feel so strongly about the movement because I feel it will generate awareness that it is not one's fate to live on the streets or be exploited just to feed your family. The statement they are making and the success that the MST has reverberates through all systems of structured inequality and will hopefully lead to a larger movement against the socioeconomic injustices all over this world.