President Joe Biden met with fellow socialist chief executive Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil on Wednesday to announce a joint initiative on “workers’ rights” intended to promote the restructuring of their economies to fight alleged climate change.
The press conference following their engagement, the second of the year, featured multiple awkward moments between the two leaders, including an instance in which Lula appeared to expect a handshake from Biden, who turned his back and walked offstage (Biden had shaken Lula’s hand earlier during the press conference).
The beginning of the press conference also featured a moment in which Biden walked out without Lula and stumbled into a Brazilian flag.
Biden delivered his remarks without incident, proclaiming his “the most pro-union administration in American history” and promising that the elimination of fossil fuels, gas-powered vehicles, and other staples of daily life in the name of combatting climate change would create more jobs and benefit workers.
“We will advance a worker-centric clean — a worker-centered clean energy transition. Folks, as I’ve told labor from the very beginning: When I think of climate change, I think of jobs,” Biden declared. “Jobs.”
Biden’s call to eliminate established conventional energy-based industries comes less than a week after the United Auto Workers (UAW) union launched a strike to demand fairer wages and worker contracts. The nearly 13,000 American automobile industry workers currently on strike are demanding significant wage increases of up to 40 percent, the return of contract provisions that ensure wages are adjusted according to inflation, and changes in the system that would allow new workers to make as much as workers serving longer but doing the same job, among other demands.
Pivotally, the workers seek protection in the face of Biden’s government dumping massive amounts of taxpayers’ money into electric vehicles and other “green” technology.
The demands for protection from inflation and “green” industrial reform are related: the $1.9-trillion “Inflation Reduction Act” provided millions in subsidies and offered preferential treatment for “green” energy projects, and, in spending so much money, significantly worsened America’s ongoing inflation woes.
UAW representatives have cited the subsidies and extensive bailout payments to major automobile companies as a reason they do not feel compelled to negotiate fairly with workers.
General Motors and Stellantis, two of the companies most directly affected by the strike, announced they would lay off over 2,000 workers on Wednesday as a result of the strike.
“Whether it’s your autoworkers or any other union worker, record corporation profits should mean record contracts for union workers,” Biden said alongside Lula on the same day.
When Lula took the podium to speak, Biden appeared to struggle to untangle his earpiece, meant for live translation of Lula’s comments from Portuguese to English.
The official White House transcript of their conversation shows Lula interrupting his opening statement and repeatedly asking Biden if he could hear his remarks:
PRESIDENT LULA: (As interpreted.) Well, first of all, I would like to greet President Biden and to say to President Biden —
Can you hear me, President Biden?
This is a historical moment for Brazil and for the U.S.
President Biden, can you hear me?
(President Biden nods.)
I — you can? Yes, good.
Technical difficulties ultimately solved, Lula used his remarks to condemn “neoliberal politics” for hurting the global labor movement and to enforce Biden’s claim that the elimination of entire core industries to resolve alleged climate change would result in a thriving economy for workers.
“This is the most pure truth, and we will make the energy transition an extraordinary opportunity to reindustrialize and maybe to make the jobs become quality jobs,” Lula claimed.
“All people that believe that weak wi- — unions — weak unions will make that the employer and the businessmen earns more in the country — well, they’re mistaken,” Lula asserted. “There is no democracy without strong trade unions because the trade union effectively is the one that speaks on behalf of the worker to advocate for their rights.”
Lula held up his government as an example for America to follow.
“It is very important for the United States to see what is happening in Brazil at this historic moment of ecological transition, of changing the energy matrix,” Lula said, “than the country has to invest in solar, wind, biomass, biodiesel, ethanol, green hydrogen, that is, there is an exceptional perspective of working together between Brazil and the United States.”
“It is a new time in the relationship between the United States and Brazil, a relationship of equals, sovereign and common interests,” Lula claimed.
Lula’s return to power after serving as president from 2003 to 2011 — achieved despite being convicted on multiple appeals of engaging in corruption while president — has rekindled Biden’s interest in ties to the traditionally friendly government of Brazil. Under Lula’s predecessor, the conservative Jair Bolsonaro, Biden engendered poor relations with Brasilia, threatening to destroy Brazil’s economy during a 2020 presidential debate if Bolsonaro did not take a $20 billion payment to “stop tearing down the forest.” Bolsonaro replied by threatening to declare war on the United States.
The international left regularly accused Bolsonaro of destroying the Amazon Rainforest, often with blatant misinformation. With the exception of actor Mark Ruffalo, none have similarly questioned Lula’s policies.
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