Brazil in the short Strikes – the ultimate price of welfare

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]pril 28th will be a date to remember. Even though some of the great media claim that there were only demonstrations around the country, it is to assume that, by a consensus or not, what happened here was a strike. A general strike, the first in 20 years, one of the biggest in the History of the country, highly cited in the social media (figuring the trending topics in the whole world for hours), spread over the 26 states and the Federal District.

Barely any buses or trains in the city of São Paulo. Diverse unions like the teachers’ and the bankers’ and the two main popular fronts were not only present, but also organised the event.  

The reason for that? Not Mr. Temer’s government, specifically; not this time. But the new measures and reforms he has emphatically worked on since the end of last year, that happen to surprise and worry – to say the least – the average Brazilian worker.

The outraged atmosphere, however, comes way before today and takes a brief economic explanation to understand.

Old, but not gold

The last general strike happened in 1996, during Mr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government, another neoliberalist. One of the points in common is the fight against turning the workers’ rights more flexible. At the time, Mr. Cardoso even claimed that ‘strikes don’t create jobs’, as the protesters also manifested against the high unemployment rates.

It is natural that a moment of economic instability creates some sort of friction amongst the workers and the government. The late conjunction of that with a huge political crisis under the stigma of corruption is perfectly combined with strict measures from Mr. Temer and creates a dangerous mixture.

One of the most controversial acts proposed by the new president concerns the pension reforms. The initial project aimed to stablish a common age for retirement, being that valid for men, women, being them urban or rural workers – 65 years old, against the current 55 for women and 60 for men. Also, the minimum working time for retirements with a full pension (starting with 70% of its value and progressively evolving to 100%, according to the years of extra contribution) would be of 49 years, against the current 25 years for urban workers and 15 for the rural ones. It is needless to say that it was not accepted nor tolerated and some changes were made to be voted again in the Parliament – yet, the amount of people impacted by the reform will be enormous, and so will the time they need to work until they retire. The country, Mr. Temer says, cannot afford for the current system and some austerity must be shown, even in such a delicate matter.

It is clear as Malthus could foresee that times of prosperity and abundance do not last forever, but one must make no mistake and believe that any reform should be accepted. Indeed, the Brazilian pension system works as a pyramid – the ones who start working pay for those who have already stopped. This pyramid, following the global tendency, is becoming inverted and finding solutions for that is more than an obligation. Mr. Cardoso, and also Mrs. Rousseff created some formulas for calculating the ideal age for retiring and, until now, workers were to choose which one would fit them best. The clash came with a proposition of a questionable redistribution – which might have come as a demand from the president’s supporters – that would ultimately harm the Brazilian workers’ rights.

Work, work, work

Those, however, were not the only plans of the PMDB, Mr. Temer’s party, government. On Wednesday (27), a late voting session at the Lower House showed an articulation of a worried Mr. Temer for the approval of a reform of working laws before the pickets that would happen the next day. This reform would change some important aspects for workers, like the possibility to work as third parts, causing more instability; the prevalence of employer-employee agreements over the law, which may bring poorer working conditions, and the end of the obligation of yearly paying the union. The latter is clearly one of the reasons why the unionists were so heated: a union without its members is nothing at all, nor does it have the strength to fight for the working class.

The general strike was organised by the leftists, the same ones that call Mr. Temer’s rise to power a coup d’état, as we may see here. There were occupations, a typical manner in which the Brazilian left-wing acts. And, this time, there was hopefully some food for thought for all the citizens: those who do not work anymore, those who are to suffer the tough times to come and, especially, the most imminent political figure we have – who has kept almost silent during the protests, but has been watching it all very closely and already counts with a historic of ‘forced flexibility’, once he notices the people more dissatisfied than the usual rejection polls normally show.

Luísa Monteiro
Luísa Monteiro
Luísa Monteiro is a bachelor in Social Communication and is currently taking a Master's degree in Communication and Politics at PUC São Paulo. Her researches are closely linked to the studies of internet as a democratic agora and her latest academic production correlates the (offline) social movements and their exposure on the net.