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Demonstrators block a route at a bus station in Rio de Janeiro on Friday (Photo:AP)

Brazil: Nationwide Strike Rebuffs "Disastrous" Austerity Measures

Labor reform proposal, just passed by lower house of Congress, would severely curtail workers' rights

Andrea Germanos

Nationwide strikes halted public transportation in several of Brazil's major cities on Friday as labor unions sought to show widespread opposition to the unelected president's austerity reforms.

"It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil," said Paulo Pereira da Silva, the president of trade union group Forca Sindical. 

AFP writes: "Major transport networks, schools, and banks partially shut down across much of Brazil." Bloomberg adds

Buses and trains were down in several major cities, including Sao Paulo. The access road to airports in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia were temporarily blocked by protesters but, barring some delays and cancellations, flights around the country continued to operate. Police cordoned off the main avenue crossing government quarters in the nation's capital Brasilia in anticipation of protests later in the day.

"Police clashed with demonstrators in several cities, blocking protesters from entering airports and firing tear gas in efforts to free roadways," Reuters also notes.

The strike comes roughly one year after the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff, when former Vice President Michel Temer assumed power in what some observers in and out of the country deemed a coup.

The New York Times noted this month that Temer's "government has limped from scandal to scandal with low approval ratings since taking power." Further marring his administration, this month new investigations were opened into scores of politicians, with the "president's chief of staff, foreign minister, trade minister, and agriculture minister" being on the list, the Washington Post wrote

The strike also comes two days after Brazil's lower house of Congress passed an unpopular labor reform bill. That bill, teleSUR explains, "would undermine workers' rights by eliminating payment for their commute from their contracts, reducing compensation for employer abuse, and most importantly, allowing employers reduce workers' salaries while increasing their work hours."

Explaining the motivations behind the strike, Ella Mahony writes at Jacobin that the

bill is part of a comprehensive attack on workers' rights that promises to wreck young workers' prospects for decades to come. In an effort to bring Brazil’s labor standards in line with the priorities of multinational corporations, Temer is also championing a bill that would allow companies to outsource any job; extend the maximum duration of temporary work contracts from three months to nine months; and end the eight-hour workday. If these reforms pass, young Brazilians would face a grim future of more precarious work, fewer benefits, longer hours, and dwindling hopes for retirement.

The "most crucial measure of the strike is whether it can stop Temer's disastrous measures," Mahony writes.

"Here in Brazil [the politicians] are robbing the workers' rights with these pension and labor reforms," said union leader Reginal de Souza, the Associated Press reports. "We are here to say this is enough and that we are against all this nonsense that the government ... is doing to the workers and to all the Brazilian people."

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