Brazilian Labor Unions Stage Nationwide Strike Against Temer’s Agenda

Updated on
  • Buses, trains, and schools shut down, flights continue
  • Protest comes as reform agenda reaches a critical stage

Millions of Brazilians were stranded without public transport and faced shuttered banks and schools on Friday as labor unions staged a nationwide strike against President Michel Temer’s reform agenda.

Groups of protesters clashed with police in Brazil’s major cities as buses, commuter trains and metro lines ground to a halt. Access roads to airports in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia were temporarily blocked by barricades and fires. But, barring some delays and cancellations, flights around the country continued to operate.

Protest in Rio de Janeiro on April 28

Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

The general strike comes at a delicate moment for the Temer administration. Its commitment to tackle Brazil’s rising budget deficit has drawn praise from investors and helped fuel a currency and stock market rally over the past year. Yet patience with austerity is wearing thin as there are few signs of growth and unemployment jumped to a record high of 13.7 percent, according to data released on Friday. While a general strike is a relatively unusual event in Brazil, it appears unlikely to weaken the congressional support base that Temer needs to secure approval for his labor and pension reforms.

Friday’s disruption could put pressure on the government to offer further concessions but it is unlikely to derail the reforms, according to Thomaz Favaro, an associate director at Control Risks. "This is a sizeable show of strength by organized labor," he said. "It may potentially have an impact on the calendar of the approval process."

Forca Sindical, one of the unions organizing the walk-out, said that around 40 million Brazilians did not turn up for work on Friday. But Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio called the demonstrations "negligible" and said that Brazilians understood the need for reform.

The real strengthened slightly to 3.17 to the U.S. dollar at the close of trading while the Sao Paulo stock exchange gained more than 1 percent. State-controlled oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, said the strike had no meaningful impact on output.

On Wednesday, the lower house of Congress approved a bill to loosen Brazil’s decades-old labor regulations. The bill now heads to the Senate. Next week, a special congressional commission is due to begin voting on a constitutional amendment that would overhaul the pension system. A survey published last month found that 72 percent of Brazilians opposed the pension reform.

At the end of the day, the president issued a statement noting Brazilians right to freedom of expression and lamenting "isolated facts of violence". He added that "work in favor of modernizing national legislation will continue."

As evening fell on Friday, protests in Rio de Janeiro became increasingly violent. Police used tear gas on demonstrators, some of whom set fire to buses and other vehicles in the city center.

In Sao Paulo, a group of protesters gathered outside Temer’s private residence where they clashed repeatedly with police. TV Globo transmitted live images of demonstrators hurling stones and security forces firing stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. A handful of bank branches in the city were also vandalized.

— With assistance by Vinicius Andrade, and Gabriel Shinohara

(Adds Temer statement, violence in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in eighth, ninth, tenth paragraph.)
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