A truck drivers’ strike in Brazil has shown how repressive governments can be humbled.
The drivers forced the country’s right wing government, and president Michel Temer, to their knees after ten days of stoppages and blockades.
The O Estado de S Paulo newspaper estimated the strike cost the Brazilian private sector almost
£7 billion. In total, over 500 roadblocks were erected. The army was called in, but was largely ineffective.
On top of this, oil workers struck for three days from last Wednesday in support of the truck drivers. They shut down multiple oil refineries run by the state oil company Petrobras.
The strikes came after Petrobras hiked prices in an effort to make the sector more profitable and leave the door open for privatisation.
Petrobras CEO Pedro Parente had earmarked over £15 billion in assets to be sold off between 2018 and 2021. That agenda is up in the air after Parente was forced to quit on Friday of last week.
Temer was forced to offer truckers concessions on prices and other benefits to end the strike.
The truck drivers are not all workers, which complicated the strike. Most are self-employed, some are employees and some are owners of trucking firms. This meant the strike was open to pressures from across the political spectrum.
Some strikers wanted limited reforms, while others wanted to get rid of Temer’s government altogether.
Temer had tried to push division by suggesting that prices in other areas, such as cooking gas, would have to rise to keep diesel costs down. That had little effect on support for the strike.
The context of the strike is the liberalisation of the economy in the two years since the previous president, the left wing Dilma Rousseff, was deposed.
She was accused of corruption and impeached—Temer also faces corruption charges.
That process has been cheered on by the international ruling class as Brazil’s economy has been opened up to the markets. Those same forces reacted with horror to the truck strikes.
“Where were the institutions? Where were the security forces and the judiciary? It went far beyond what was acceptable,” pleaded Marcos de Barros Lisboa, president of Sao Paulo’s Insper business school.
The Financial Times newspaper moaned that the strike “threatened the government’s liberal economic reform agenda”. But there will now be a battle over what comes next.
Far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who idealises the military dictatorship in Brazil from 1964 to 1985, publicly backed the strike.
The far right used the strike to raise the possibility of a military coup to restore “order”.
The fight is on to beat back the right, reverse economic liberalisation and open the door to the possibility of a different kind of society.