São Paulo – It was an afternoon of reminiscences at the Volkswagen factory in São Bernardo do Campo, in the ABC region of São Paulo. Since a new repetition of the classic image by Juscelino Kubitschek, this time with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his vice-president, Geraldo Alckmin, driving along the production line. Both already starred in this scene, in 2003, when Lula was in his first term and Alckmin was governor, in opposing political-partisan camps.
There were many memories of assemblies, strikes and times of predominantly conflictual labor relations. This Friday (2), the president of Volks in South America, Alexandre Seitz, not only said that the company gives “clear signs of institutional confidence” in Brazil, but also attributed the announced R$ 16 billion in investments, until 2028 , to a labor agreement signed last year with metalworkers.
Country was dismantled, not governed
Lula said he learned to drive in a Beetle in 1970. And his first car, purchased in 1973, was a TL. For him, the announcement by Volks – and the automobile industry as a whole – shows that the world has regained confidence in Brazil, which “is once again taken seriously internationally”. The country, according to the president, was not governed, but “dismantled” under the previous administration. “Brazil was in a very degraded situation”, he stated, shortly after citing positive labor market figures, released this week by IBGE, with a drop in unemployment and the number of employed people and record mass of income. He also recalled that the investments announced by automakers exceed R$40 billion.
Lula said that the country has already recovered 80% of the public policies that had been abandoned. And, citing programs about the industry, he said that Brazil “will not throw away the opportunities of the 21st century”. He got emotional when talking about his origins and the importance of education: “You boys and girls need to qualify to face this crazy world of Artificial Intelligence”. And he added that he will be in Rio de Janeiro next Tuesday (6), to announce federal institutes in areas such as Complexo da Maré and Cidade de Deus.
Bet on collective bargaining
There was no shortage of references to football either. “The image of Brazil abroad was worse than the image of Corinthians in my head. (…) I have never seen as much interest in Brazil as I have now.” Previously, Corinthian Lula was provoked by São Paulo native Moisés Selerges, president of the ABC Metalworkers Union, because of the Tricolor victory this week. But he assured that change will be given soon.
For Moisés, the announcement made by Volks is an example for the country. And demonstration that it is necessary to invest in collective bargaining. “It’s the way for the country to succeed.” It was also, according to him, a message for the ABC region itself: “We have qualified labor, we have a road network, a railway, we have a port, a union that knows how to negotiate”. And he highlighted the implementation of plans such as Mover, aimed at the automobile segment, and the recently announced industrial policy.
Union director and Volkswagen employee, Wellington Damasceno noted that metalworkers have been drawing attention to the need to discuss topics such as decarbonization for years. And think of industry as a strategic sector for the country. “Here we discuss work and investment relations. It is an example to be followed. Long-term agreements provide predictability.” He handed over a shirt with the entity’s logo to Lula, who is honorary president of the Metalworkers Union – he was president from 1975 to 1981.
Factory was close to closing
Former employee of Volks itself, the Minister of Labor and Employment, Luiz Marinho, recalled the “hard” 1990s and said that the Volks factory in São Bernardo was close to closing. He cited executive Herbert Demel, who spent five years leading the automaker in the country, until 2002, as responsible for what would be “the biggest mistake in the history” of the company. At the same time, he praised the results of the current agreement between Volkswagen and metalworkers’ unions. For Marinho, it was a message to the business community: “Don’t be afraid of the collective contract, don’t be afraid of negotiation”.
The current president of Volks in Brazil, Ciro Possobom (who drove the car at the factory, alongside Seitz), stated that Volks is the brand “that grows the most, invests and believes in Brazil”. Thus, he highlighted “the great offensive of products on the market” and “the excellent relationship with the unions”. Now, there will be 16 new models by 2028, including flex, hybrid and electric. “It’s the biggest launch offensive on the market.” The executive recalled that, since the inauguration of the first factory, in 1959, more than 200 thousand workers have worked at Volks.
Company and union did not talk about jobs. But according to Alckmin, also Minister of Development, Industry, Commerce and Services, the R$ 16 billion represents “jobs in vein”. The ABC factory alone has approximately 8 thousand employees.
Furthermore, he added, the tax reform “will completely relieve investments and exports. The deputy recalled his visit to the factory in 2003 and repeated the joke from that period: “In my generation, we have great memories. How good it was to date in a Beetle.” Lula would respond by saying that the current models are more comfortable for this.