‘Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra’ (‘Landless Workers’ Movement’)


Since Trevor talked in last lecture briefly about how subsistence farmer in Brazil were being pushed off their lands I want to introduce to you to a counter movement:

The Brazilian social movement MST, which stands ‘Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra’ (‘Landless Workers’ Movement’). It follows a philosophy that is based on the phrase ‘land for those who work on it’. The MST views it as is mission to carry out land reform, which in it eyes is long overdue, and to transform society towards one with a more equitable land ownership thru empowerment of the landless poor. Even if its official founding at a landless rural workers meeting in the state of Parana just dates back to 1984, it was already an active social movement prior to that year. The birth place of the MST can be traced back to the southern state Rio Grande do Sul, were “on October 7, on 1979, landless farmers (…) occupied the Macali land in Ronda Alta.” (MST, 2003) Nowadays the MST is active in 23 out of 27 states, and its approximately 1.5 million members, make the MST the largest social movement in Latin America. (Brandford and Rocha, 2002)

The key element of the MST work is the mobilization and preparation of the rural poor for the direct action strategy of land occupations. According to Meszaros (2000) it carries out occupations on lands that: “are unproductive and thereby subject to expropriation by the state”; “are productive of food but also of low wages, lack of employment rights and poor environmental practices – whose current ownership is, therefore, of at least questionable legality under the social provisions of the Constitution”; “should be taken by the state in lieu of the millions of dollars owed by their owners to the government”; “are devolved lands belonging to the state but illegally occupied by large landholders through chains of corruption stretching back generations”. (p11.)

After an occupation it pressures the government to redistribute the land and to issue land titles to the participants of the occupation. However, from my understanding of a documentary that I watched and one camp I visited, it is up to the individual camps to decide if they share the land and work it in common.

The MST’s success lies in its ability to mobilize and empower its members. They organize and educate their members in different ways. For example, it “has created 60 food cooperatives as well as small agricultural industries. Their literacy program involves 600 educators who are presently working with 7,000 adults and adolescents. The movement also monitors 1,000 primary schools in their settlements, in which 2,000 teachers work with about 50,000 kids.” Furthermore, it has achieved to secure land titles for 350,000 families in 2000 camps. (Global Exchange, 2006)

I remember that we were once wondering how new commons can come into existence. Well, one might argue that the MST is successfully following a radical way in doing so.

According to a Frontline/World (2005) documentary, that was broadcasted on PBS, ( http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/12/brazil_cutting.html# )two thirds of the Brazils arable farm land is owned by 3% of the population. This makes Brazil the “country with the second most unequal land distribution in the world” (Global Exchange, 2007) Is anyone aware of other movements that carry out land occupations and/or do you think that this approach would also work in other countries that have highly unequal land distribution?

Best wishes,



One Response to “‘Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra’ (‘Landless Workers’ Movement’)”

  1. Kawsu Ceesay Says:

    The principle of ‘Land for those who work on it’ sounds great but we have to see if it can be universally applicable. In many parts of Africa, there are huge areas of farmland owned by people who have virtually no capacity to produce the best out of the land. In such cases, what about the idea of allowing the powerful companies to use the land to boost food production on a sustainable basis in order to meet the growing food needs of the world population. Can this idea work well? We need more and more food every day.Can we brainstorm on this today?
    By Kawsu Ceesay.

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