Going on strike is a common occurence in Brazil; every week, you're bound to see headlines of one group or another declaring a strike and organizing a protest march. Sometimes, though, like this week, strikes sweep across the country.
In greater São Paulo, train workers went on strike, demanding higher salaries and food benefits, and leaving 2 million passengers without transportation for two days. In Paraná, Volkswagen workers and the metal workers union of greater Curitiba marked 34 days on strike yesterday, causing the company an estimated loss of R$806 million. Education and health workers went on strike in Osasco, greater São Paulo on Monday. In Mato Grosso, civil police in the state capital went on strike this week, demanding salary increases.
Meanwhile, there's a nationwide university administrators strike, in certain public federal universities in Acre, Amazonas, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso, Pernambuco, Bahia, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Tocantins, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, the Federal District and São Paulo. Due to the strike at affected institutions, certain services are unavailable, like the libraries, cafeterias, and labs. In Bahia, public university professors maintained a strike this week that first began in April, leaving 60,000 college students without classes. In Fortaleza, despite a salary increase granted by local officials yesterday, public school teachers maintained a strike that began over a month ago, leaving 230,000 students in 420 schools without classes since the beginning of the school year. And just yesterday, public school educators at state-run schools in Rio announced a strike of their own.
But the strike that's making headlines is the Rio de Janeiro firefighters strike.
Firefighters are not legally allowed to strike in Brazil, but over the weekend, 2,000 firefighters and their families, including wives and children, marched in protest and then broke into and occupied the main firefighters headquarters. After a twelve hour standoff, the state government sent in BOPE (Rio's SWAT team) with tear gas, and 439 firefighters were arrested. Along with responding to fires and car accidents, the Rio firefighting service includes the city's lifeguards, which meant besides limited first response to fires, the strike also left the city beaches without lifeguards for a day. Now, the government is trying to negotiate as more protests have broken out, as firefighters are protesting the treatment of those arrested and injured during the BOPE sweep. Plus, they're still fighting for a salary increase, since Rio firefighter salaries start at R$950 a month, or around US$600. Meanwhile, those who were arrested could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison.
As I've written about before, there's more to Brazil's economic "miracle" than meets the eye, at least if you're paying attention. And now, with more prosperity to be had, people are continually demanding their fair share. There are more strikes to come, which will unfortunately leave more citizens at the behest of strikers and negotiators.