teleSUR | April 27, 2017
As daylight broke in Brazil on Friday, scores of labor unions and grassroots organizations began what is expected to be one of the biggest general strikes in the country’s history against President Michel Temer’s neoliberal reforms, bringing the country to a standstill.
In Brazil’s biggest city and economic hub, Sao Paulo, only one metro line was operating, 70 major routes were blocked off as was access to the city’s major airport. Before daylight, a number of protesters clashed with police while trying to occupy a vacant building. Further south in Santos, police reportedly used tear gas in an attempt to clear roads leading to the city’s port.
Other cities across Latin America’s largest country are expected to have a similar fate. People are setting up road blockades, burning tires in the streets, and protesting the unelected government and its neoliberal labor reforms and austerity programs, with many holding signs of “Fora Temer!” (Temer Out!).
In preparation, authorities have already boarded up state buildings in the federal capital of Brasilia and local Brazilian media is reporting that taxi’s and rideshare applications are offering people discounted fares to help keep cities running amid the strikes. In rural areas, locals were seen blocking off streets in protest using tractors.
The strike was largely organized by Unified Workers Central, the largest union federation in Latin America, and the Workers Party of Brazil, former President Dilma Rousseff’s political party. “Temer does not even want to negotiate,” said Vagner Freitas, national president of the union federation.
Dozens of other unions, grassroots organizations, teachers, and church leaders have also thrown their support behind the strike.
“It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil,” said Paulo Pereira da Silva, president of trade union Forca Sindical.
“The idea is not making an action, but getting people to the streets and squares, stopping all production and services; transform cities into ghost towns” said Vera Paoloni, director of communication of the Single Confederation of Workers, in the state of Para, Vera Paoloni.
“Reforms of such importance can not be implemented without extensive discussion,” said Leonardo Steiner, the auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, in an interview published by the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops.
The strike was called immediately after Temer’s administration pushed through a controversial labor reform bill on Wednesday in Brazil’s chamber of deputies.
The reform would undermine workers’ rights by eliminating payment for their commute from their contracts, reducing compensation for employer abuse, and most importantly, allowing employers to reduce workers’ salaries while increasing their work hours.
The bill, which proposes to end mandatory union dues, must still be approved by the Senate. It was approved by Brazil’s lower house by 296 votes to 177.
Temer is also proposing a 20-year freeze on public spending and cuts to pension protections.
The general strike comes amid a dismal disapproval rating for the Temer administration — a staggering 87 percent, according to the latest Ipsos poll. The mass mobilization of workers and civil society also comes on the heels of ongoing protests, such as the five-day encampment of Indigenous peoples and a police union protest, both occurring in front of Brazil’s Congress.
“I invite all of you to participate in the strike, in an orderly fashion without chaos,” Bishop Flavio Giovanele, a strike organizer, told Brazilian news site Plus 55.
“Because if we want a peaceful Brazil, we need peaceful protests. But we also must protest steadfastly our position in regards to the pension and labor reform.”
The strikes also come on the back of record unemployment figures, which topped more than 13 million people, adding to the country worst economic recession in history. Temer’s coup-imposed government, however, claims that it had inherited the problem and is working to change the situation
Conservative leaders around the country have condemned the strike and threatened unions and striking workers with fines and wage discounts.