Strike Waves in Brazil Signal a Still Kicking Labor Movement, Though Politically Ambiguous

In a stunning show of force, Brazil has been wracked by a historic strike wave carried out first by truck drivers and then by Petrobras oil workers. Since May 20th, the country has been crippled by an incredibly well orchestrated action that amounted to a seismic economic event that only ended yesterday when Petrobras workers announced an end to its strike, just three days after the truck drivers’ ended theirs.

The Workers Have Struck A Vein

The demands were simple: lower fuel prices for truck drivers and get rid of Petrobras’s CEO for oil workers. Lowering the cost of fuel by 46 centavos per liter got truck drivers to let go of the choke and a threat from the supreme court got the oil rigs back up and running.

As of yesterday, gas supplies to 70 percent of Brazil’s territory returned to normal and 95 percent of the Petrobras’s units reported a full workforce at the job, while Santos (Latin America’s largest port) was reported to be once more operational though far from normal.

Truck drivers blocked freeways and stalled transport vehicles at gasoline pumps, crippling logistical apparatuses, reducing fuel consumption, and sending shock waves across the economy as a whole. More than 550 road blockages were observed across almost 90 percent of the country’s states, while eight airports were forced to close, hospitals were forced to cancel non-urgent surgeries, and 13 states suspended university lectures.

In the first five days of organized action alone the Brazilian economy was estimated to have lost some $2.6 billion. Indeed, Petrobras shares themselves dropped 30 percent in value over two weeks.

But Lenin’s Not On Sale Again

However, what is most stunning is the political ambiguity of the strike. While certainly geared against Temer and his anti-labor policies of austerity, some strikers were also calling for a military coup in order to “cleanse” the country of corrupt government officials. While left discourses certainly are prone to be populist and anti-elitist, it is quite uncommon to call on the military (which in Brazil has historically been a radically right-wing force during its dictatorship) to intervene.

More disturbing still is that this development comes alongside a growing trend (fueled by the sweeping magnitude of the Operation Car Wash) within civil society that shows the military to be the most trusted institution of the government.

While such a strong and coordinated action certainly signals that the working class of Brazil still has a saddle, its not clear on whose side they’re riding anymore.

 

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