World

Nationwide Austerity Strikes Paralyze Brazilian Cities

| by Erik Kindel

Public and private services in several Brazilian cities ground to a halt on April 28 after unions across the country called the nation's first general strike in more than two decades. Police and demonstrators have clashed over protests following President Michel Temer's proposed austerity measures.

Public transport was shut down across the country, and schools, factories, banks and many other businesses were closed in every Brazilian state due to the demonstrations, reports Reuters. Police fired tear gas in several cities to clear roads choked with burning barricades and angry protesters.

The last general strike in Brazil took place in 1996 due to disputes over privatization and labor reforms under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

According to the BBC, Paulo Pereira da Silva, the president of the trade union group Forca Sindical, called Friday's strike "the biggest strike in the history of Brazil."

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The current strike, though a powerful show of solidarity and force across the country by unions and workers, is expected to have little impact on the current economic situation. Analysts and government officials predict the strike will have do little to prevent Temer from pushing economic reforms through the country's congress with support from the majority of legislators.

Marco Clemente, head of the radio and TV workers union in the capital of Brasilia, led a picket line outside the headquarters of the state broadcaster, EBC. He told Reuters "It is important for us to send a message to the government that the country is paying attention to what they are doing, taking away workers' rights."

Government spokesman Marcio de Freitas described the strike as "weak" and said reforms were past the point of "turning back."

Temer's economic reforms have not gone down well in Brazil. He has proposed raising the minimum age for retirement, meaning many employees would have to work longer to receive a pension. The lower house of congress also recently approved a bill that would weaken labor laws by relaxing restrictions on temporary contracts.

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The government has argued that the most recent string of austerity and economic reforms are necessary to jolt the country from one of its worst recessions, cut a crippling budget deficit, reduce unemployment, and bring the economy into the 21st century.

Opponents say that the lax regulations weaken workers' rights and the strength of unions within the country, as well as removing many social safety nets impoverished people in the country have come to rely on.

The 24-hour strike started after midnight on Aoruk 29, and was expected to continue into the weekend and culminate on Labor Day, on May 1. The strike was reported in all but one of Brazil's 26 states.

Sources: Reuters, BBC / Photo credit: Agencia Brasil/Wikimedia Commons

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