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Biden and Lula launch initiative in defense of workers’ rights

The leaders of the United States and Brazil have formed a partnership aimed at protecting the rights of working families

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
President Joe Biden listens to his Brazilian counterpart, Lula da Silva, on Wednesday in New York.
President Joe Biden listens to his Brazilian counterpart, Lula da Silva, on Wednesday in New York.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — a former metalworker turned statesman — and Joe Biden — the most pro-union president in U.S. history — joined forces on Wednesday in defense of workers. On the sidelines of the 78th U.N. General Assembly, the two leaders presented an initiative called the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights. Lula — who is the leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) — knows a lot about protecting worker rights, but Biden too is a vocal advocate, as seen in his support for unions even in the midst of the autoworker strike, which could cripple the all-important auto sector.

“The two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere are standing up for human rights around the world and the hemisphere, and that includes workers’ rights, and I’m honored we’re going to launch a new partnership for workers’ rights,” said Biden, who pointed out that his father never went to university. “Growing up in my household, my dad used to have an expression. He’d say, ‘A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about being able to look your child in the eye and say, Honey, it’s going to be okay, and mean it.’”

Lula also used his personal experience to illustrate the importance of the joint initiative. “I worked 27 years inside a plant. I’ve seen unemployment. I’ve experienced unemployment,” he said. Switching into statesman-mode, the president pointed out how the association will benefit both countries: “I believe that the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil will improve and that we can behave as friends seeking a common objective: development and improving the lives of our people.”

The meeting on Wednesday was the second time Lula and Biden have met in person, and the third time that they have held an official conversation (they did so by telephone in August). When asked about the importance of the common initiative, senior officials from the Biden administration underscored that Brazil and the United States have many common interests. In a press call on Tuesday, these sources said the pact “highlights the fact that the U.S.-Brazil relationship is not just bilateral, it’s global in nature — the two largest exporters of food in the world, important leaders on climate, and on issues from food security to nonproliferation. The conversations that we had with Brazil are bilateral, regional, and global in nature.”

“The Partnership for Workers’ Rights is another area where there’s a clear affinity and complement between the United States and Brazil, but also between our two presidents as really this being one of the top priorities, making sure that working families have their rights protected,” they added.

The non-binding partnership, which may be extended to other countries, is aimed at addressing problems such as forced labor and child labor, investor liability and discrimination in the workplace. In recent years, the United States has seen a sharp rise in migrant child labor, even in large companies.

The initiative comes as Biden seeks to win over middle-class voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election. For the past month, the U.S. president has been in campaign mode, trying to sway the middle class with speeches and electoral policies directly aimed at them.

In Brazil, millions of people were lifted out of poverty thanks to the Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance) program that was implemented during Lula’s first term. Since taking office again, the Brazilian president has relaunched the program in the hopes of creating “a better life for all.”

The meeting between Biden and Lula took place in a hotel in New York at noon Wednesday. Lula was the first speaker to open the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, talking passionately about the imperative need to end hunger.

Relations between Brazil and the United States have improved since Lula returned to power, following his win over the far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro. “We have two presidents that are uniquely aligned in their common vision for how the economy should work for workers,” senior officials told reporters on Tuesday.

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