Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians struck and demonstrated on Wednesday of last week against unemployment and recession caused by the government's free market policies. The strike and protests were organised by the CUT union federation and involved students and landless farmers as well as workers.
The aim of the action, said Sandra Cabral of the CUT, was 'to send a message of popular dissatisfaction to the government'. The government, she argued, showed 'total disregard for education, health, housing and other social issues like land reform'.
In the state of Rio Grande do Sul some 200,000 people joined demonstrations. In Rio de Janeiro about 160,000 teachers struck. In the north east of the country landless farmers blocked roads and clashed with police. According to Sandra Cabral, 'At least 1.5 million people participated in one way or another in the protest.'
This marks a growing swell of anger against the free market government of president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Cardoso swept to election in 1994 promising to end chronic inflation and 'modernise' the economy. The reality was that he pushed through privatisation and free market policies, opening Brazil to the world market.
Last year Brazil was badly hit by the financial turmoil which swept round the world's money markets. The government was forced to devalue the currency to placate the rich and speculators. The result was to plunge the economy into recession. Last week's protests show the growing anger at workers being made to pay the price for market madness, and the potential to fight back.