Brazil’s largest labor unions took to the streets in major cities across the country Tuesday to demand more jobs and stronger workers’ protections as conservative legislators prepare to permanently remove the moderate President Dilma Rousseff from office and deepen punishing austerity policies.
The action disrupted the workdays at banks, factories and offices nationwide as workers articulated a comprehensive list of several demands in the face of government plans to “flexibilize” the country’s labor force. Those plans were introduced by a cabal of right-wing lawmakers who forced Rousseff from office on allegations that she spent public money to influence her 2014 re-election. Both Rousseff and the international community have condemned her ouster as a coup, but legislators insist on continuing with the effort, a vote on whether to permanently remove her from office is scheduled for later this month, just as the 2016 Olympic Games are concluding.
“We will resist, we are going to fight to stop increased exploitation and withdrawal of rights,” said CUT National President Vagner Freitas in a statement, adding that Tuesday’s national action is the first warning of a possible general strike. The CUT union alone boasts a membership of some 7.5 million workers, in South America's largest country, with a population of nearly 200 million.
According to information shared on the Twitter account of the Unified Workers’ Central, known by the Portugese acronymn CUT, the country’s main national union, the march’s demands focused on plans to disconnect retiree pensions from the minimum wage proposed by the “illegitimate government” of unelected interim President Michel Temer.
The list of grievances also include proposals for raising the minimum retirement age, outsourcing labor, cutting health care and education funds, opening up pre-salt resources off the coast to foreign companies, and privatizing more state industries and services.
The hot-button issues reflect the abrupt shift in social and economic policies that have sparked outrage since Temer was installed after Rousseff was suspended in May and his all white-male government moved swiftly to stall an investigation into government corruption involving the state-owned oil company, and roll back social programs adopted by Rousseff's Workers Party since it first won the presidency in 2002.
Many, including the iconic leader of Brazil's Landless People's Movement, Joao Pedro Stedile, argue that the proposed measures are in-and-of-themselves proof of the interim government's anti-democratic tendencies, as no elected government would ever risk the wrath of voters with such unpopular proposals, such as chipping away at the country’s cornerstone universal health care system.
The ongoing impeachment process against Rousseff, set to finalized in the coming weeks, has been widely condemned as a coup. Labor leaders have dubbed it a "coup against the working class."
“Business people financed the coup and now they are charging the account,” added CUT’s Freitas. “They think we are going to pay. They are wrong.”
The union has a close relationship to Rousseff’s Workers’ Party or PT. The suspended president’s predecessor Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, a longtime labor organizer before becoming president, was a founding member of both the CUT and the PT.
Marches bringing together seven other unions alongside the CUT took place in Sao Paulo and other cities. The union plans bigger marches later in the month to coincide with the scheduled August 29th vote in the Senate on whether to permanently remove Rousseff from office.