Brazilian unions flex muscle in attempt to lead protest movement

SAO PAULO Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:25pm EDT

A man wearing a mask depicting Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff waves from a bus during the National Day of Struggle, a march by unionists, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia July 11, 2013. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

A man wearing a mask depicting Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff waves from a bus during the National Day of Struggle, a march by unionists, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia July 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Union demonstrations snarled traffic in several Brazilian cities on Thursday morning as part of a one-day strike aimed at seizing the momentum of sweeping protests that shook Latin America's largest economy last month.

Bus drivers, metalworkers, stevedores and bank tellers were among the unionized workers who took to the streets in at least dozen of Brazil's biggest cities as organized labor sought to push workers' rights to the forefront of the national debate.

The disruptions, which began during the early morning commute, were limited compared to the mass protests that swept Brazil in June, culminating in its largest demonstrations in two decades and spurring President Dilma Rousseff to pledge reforms.

Union groups played a marginal role in those protests, which were sparked by outrage over higher bus fares and led to demands for better public services, an end to political corruption and more investment in healthcare and education.

Organized labor is now trying to assert leadership and provide direction for what has been a largely leaderless mass protest movement. Unions are asking for shorter work weeks and more generous pensions among other demands.

Leaders of Brazil's biggest umbrella union, known as CUT, which provides key support for Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party, aimed to channel popular discontent while allaying skepticism that they were late to the movement.

"We're not late, we've always been here. We're here to demand that Dilma follows through on her promises," said Adriana Magalhães, a bank employee and CUT organizer in Sao Paulo.

Demonstrators briefly blocked dozens of major roads around the country, setting tires ablaze on a freeway outside Rio de Janeiro and marching over an iconic suspension bridge in Sao Paulo's financial district.

Dock workers at Brazil's main shipping ports also joined the 24-hour strike, holding up a sugar vessel and several container ships at the port of Santos south of Sao Paulo, the busiest container port in South America.

But there were notable absences - Sao Paulo's subway and train workers voted to abstain from Thursday's walkout.

Union demonstrators demanded expanded labor rights for Brazilians while echoing the calls last month for greater investment in public health, education and transportation.

The growing list of grievances puts Rousseff, who is widely expected to run for re-election next year, in a tough spot as she tries to balance the demands for reforms with her government's renewed vows of fiscal responsibility.

Looser fiscal policy, rising inflation and weak economic growth have stoked investor concerns about Brazil's economy in recent months, triggering a broad selloff on the Sao Paulo stock exchange and warnings of a lower sovereign debt rating.

At the same time, the popular unrest nearly halved Rousseff's approval ratings in a matter of weeks to about 30 percent, casting a sudden shadow over the center-left president's political future.

Rousseff, who took over for the popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has faced criticism from mayors and defiant allies in Congress this week, even as she announced billions in new spending on public transport and other municipal services aimed at quelling popular discontent.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer in Sao Paulo, Maria Pia Palermo and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Comments (2)
baruck wrote:
Your headline is correct. President Dilma and former president Lula who articulated this unsuccessful attempt to mobilize their supporters from the labor party (PT) and corrupted labor unions to a negotiated protest was a shot in their own foot for two reasons: one, the mobilization plan had very low participation even though they paid R$50 (USD 25) to hired participants and two, they “forgot” they are governing the country now and protesting against themselves made no sense to say the least. The level of discontent is very high among those who voted for them as they failed their major campaign promises, to end corruption (on the contrary, they were protagonists to the worst corruption crisis in Brazil’s history), to make huge investments in education, sanitation, health, housing and infrastructure which they also failed. A host of problems which cannot be listed here. The other problem is the media such as the Globo TV which supports the government, transmitting biased pro-government news, and is not trusted by Brazilians. To make things worse, government and its political supporters insist in trying to mislead Brazilians with initiatives which were not requested and in fact dangerous such as a plebiscite to promote an opportunistic political reform in Brazil instead of fulfilling with what the population is demanding on the streets such as the immediate imprisonment of the many politicians sentenced to jail by Brazil’s Supreme Court and continue investigation of Lula’s corruption practices.

Jul 12, 2013 2:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Onomatopeia wrote:
Those news from Brazil are very hard to understand. First, it is not Dilma, Lula or PT the responsible for all bad things. Second, this is the first time in more than 20 years that we see people on the streets again, which is a good sign. Baruck told that people were paid for those manifestations, but we can’t say they were paid by PT. Why not paid by the opposition party (PSDB)? This party is trying to collapse PT government, especially in São Paulo, where the new mayor is from the Labor Party (PT), the same of the president. I agree that Globo TV has a huge influence on people, but for sure they don’t support the Labor Party. The reason for all those manifestations are the next presidential election that will be next year, and the PSDB really needs to spoil PT reputation so they can be back to power. I am not telling that PT is the perfect government, but it has made changes that the others couldn’t do while they were in power.

Jul 13, 2013 2:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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