Millions of Brazilians were stranded without public transport and faced shuttered banks and schools on Friday as labor unions staged a nationwide strike against President Michel Temer’s reform agenda.
Buses and trains were down in several major cities. Access roads to airports in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia were temporarily blocked by protesters but, barring some delays and cancellations, flights around the country continued to operate. In the nation’s capital Brasilia, the number of security officials protecting government buildings outnumbered protesters who mixed with cyclists enjoying a sunny, traffic-free day downtown.
Photographer: Sebastiao Moreira/EPA
The general strike comes at a delicate moment for the Temer administration. Its commitment to tackle Brazil’s rising budget deficit has drawn praise from investors and helped fuel a currency and stock market rally over the past year. Yet patience with austerity is wearing thin as there are few signs of growth and unemployment jumped to a record high of 13.7 percent, according to data released on Friday. Temer retains a strong support base in Congress, but a large turnout during the strike or at scheduled marches on May 1 could weaken lawmakers’ support.
“If the turnout is huge, more than a million, and the protests focus on the reforms and attracts the population at large, it could complicate the reforms,” Lucas Aragao, a partner at Arko Advice said. But he added that, if the demonstrations were clearly dominated by labor unions, they would not have much of an impact on the government’s plans.
The real was little changed against the U.S. dollar in early afternoon trading while the Sao Paulo stock exchange gained more than 1 percent. State-controlled oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, said the strike had no meaningful impact on output.
On Wednesday, the lower house of Congress approved a bill to loosen Brazil’s decades-old labor regulations. The bill now heads to the Senate. Next week, a special congressional commission is due to begin voting on a constitutional amendment that would overhaul the pension system. A survey published last month found that 72 percent of Brazilians opposed the pension reform.
In expectation of widespread support for the strike, Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities have made contingency plans to ensure public servants can make it to work. Yet protesters blocking roads made it difficult for many commuters to get to work. In some areas police used tear gas to clear the way.
Globo TV showed images of a fist fight that broke out between unionists and workers who decided to break the picket line at Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airport.
Back in Brasilia, a handful of national guardsmen flanked the entrance of the finance ministry, while civil servants used the back doors to get to work. At Congress an aide says the plenary is closed because the doormen and other staff didn’t show up to work.