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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July 2003, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
Lula: The shoe-shiner's journey
Brazilian president Lula
Lula is committed to pushing through economic reforms
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's election victory in 2002 was the end of a journey - from abject poverty to the presidency of Brazil.

As head of the Workers' Party, his convincing victory - at the fourth attempt - put a left-wing government in power in Brazil for the first time in more than 40 years.

Some thought he would take Brazil radically to the left.

But the former peanut-seller and shoe-shine boy has defied their expectations, quickly swapping leftist rhetoric for the moderate voice of the political centre.

Road to pragmatism

Lula only learned to read when he was 10-years-old.

He went on to train as a metal worker and found employment in an industrial city near Sao Paulo, where he lost the little finger of his left hand in an accident in the 1960s.

Lula was not initially interested in politics, but threw himself into trade union activism after his first wife died of hepatitis in 1969.

Elected leader of the 100,000-strong Metalworkers' Union in 1975, he transformed trade union activism in Brazil by turning what had mostly been government-friendly organisations into a powerful independent movement.

Protestors in Brasilia
Lula has had to contend with strikes against his reforms
In 1980 Lula brought together a combination of trade unionists, intellectuals, Trotskyites and church activists to found the Workers' Party (PT), the first major socialist party in the country's history.

Since then the Workers' Party has gradually replaced its revolutionary commitment to changing the power structure in Brazil with a more pragmatic, social democratic platform.

Before this election victory, Lula previously lost three times, and he began to believe his party would never win power nationally without forming alliances and keeping powerful economic players on side.

So the coalition which fought the 2002 election included a small right-wing party, and Lula carefully courted business leaders both in Brazil and abroad.

Popularity maintained

Despite initial worries that he might fail to win the backing of the middle classes while alienating the poor, Lula won a convincing electoral victory.

Since coming to power he has staked his personal success on reforms to cut state pensions and simplify the tax system, and as such his rule has to date shown strong continuity with the old order.

In order to pass these reforms, he has carefully wooed the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party - a large right-wing opposition party, to the unease of the more left-wing elements of the PT.

In July, the man who transformed trade unionism was hit with his first major strike. Public sector workers walked out in opposition to the pension reforms which Lula is so keen to enact.

But he nevertheless enjoys widespread public support.

A recent poll put his approval ratings at 70%, and found the public increasingly optimistic about Brazil's financial future.

Brazilians, it would appear, still believe in Lula's election promises of economic prosperity, fairly distributed to all.

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