BRAZIL: General Strike Against Pension “Reform” Mobilizes 45 Million Across 350 Cities

By Jakob Stein

Friday June 14 marked the largest mass demonstrations against Bolsonaro’s government yet, with an estimated 45 million people participating in over 350 cities across Brazil. The General Strike was originally called for by the major trade unions in Brazil, in response to the government’s plan to “reform” Social Security in the country by raising the age of retirement and increasing worker’s contributions, making it much more difficult for working-class people to retire.

Mass demonstration in São Paulo, banner reads “Out with Bolsonaro”

As the government also announced plans to cut funding for federal public universities and high schools by thirty-percent, triggering mass demonstrations and strikes among students and education workers, the movement against Bolsonaro has become larger and more combative. During the first two waves of strikes and protests on May 15 and 30, the more militant factions of demonstrators raised the slogan “Prepare the General Strike of National Resistance!”

Agitation brigades from revolutionary newspaper A Nova Democracia, Popular Revolutionary Student Movement (MEPR), and the Worker’s League took great efforts to propagate the strike among students and workers and spur them into action. In the days leading up to the strike, major cities were covered in posters and stickers calling for workers to observe and participate. Despite the fact that some central unions tried to abort, a multitude of other unions announced their plans to participate in the General Strike, over forty-five in Rio de Janeiro alone, most notably the workers in public transport.

A Nova Democracia agitation brigade in Central do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro
Worker’s League agitation brigade in Belo Horizonte (MG)

Bourgeois media from the beginning sought to minimize and ignore the General Strike, instead choosing to focus on the Copa America soccer tournament, at which Bolsonaro planned to attend the opening game between Brazil and Bolivia. However, after the events of Friday, even the mainstream press was forced to acknowledge the resounding mobilizations across the country, although some still tried to minimize the events, referring to “some services” being paralyzed in “several cities” during the strike.

Due to the sheer size and profundity of actions and demonstrations across every state in the country, this article will only highlight some of the most notable. For more comprehensive coverage, follow A Nova Democracia.

Road Barricades

At dawn there were flaming barricades set up across major roads all over the county. In Rio de Janeiro, a barricade was set on Avenida Brigadeiro Trompowski, blocking access to the island of Fundão. Another was set by the Worker’s League and Class Movement of Education Workers (Moclate), blocking the entrance to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. In the Caju neighborhood in Rio outside the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics, demonstrators blocked Avenida Brasil until Military Police unleashed flash bang grenades.

In the state of Minas Gerais, workers in Congonhas blocked BR-040, a major highway leading to the state capital, Belo Horizonte – where there were also multiple flaming barricades set outside of the Federal University of Minas Gerais on Avenida Antônio Carlos and on Anel Rodoviário in the Pampulha region.

Congonhas, Minas Gerais

In addition to these there were numerous blockades set up in other areas of the country, including several in São Paulo and Campinas (SP) as well as at least fifty created by peasant farmers throughout the countryside.

São Paulo
Rodovia Anhanguera, São Paulo
Florianópolis (SC)
Barricade in Bebedouro neighborhood, in Maceió (AL)
Blockade of the BR-290, in Porto Alegre (RS)
Blockade in the district of Oitizeiro, in João Pessoa (PB)
Barricade near the garage entrance of the bus company Guanabara

Transportation Shutdowns

At least sixteen states across Brazil saw shutdowns in public transportation during the General Strike of National Resistance. In Belo Horizonte (MG), one of the largest subway stops in the country, at least nineteen stations were shut down. In Salvador (BA) transportation workers completely paralyzed bus and train systems, the government tried to get around this by using school buses and charging the workers fees.

In the State of Paraná, buses did not run for the entire morning in Londrina and Maringá, and in the capital Curitiba at least forty percent of public transport was down. In Porto Alegre (RS) workers blocked the garages of several bus companies, at which point the Rio Grande do Sul Military Brigade was brought in to repress picketers, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, injuring several and leading to a mass arrest of over fifty people.

Workers block the garage of VTC in Porto Alegre (RS)

In São Paulo (SP) several subway lines were shut down as well as bus stations and railways, causing major disruptions in the cities transportation system as the Copa America soccer tournament was set to begin in the city. Workers in the Federal District of Brasilia, the nations capital, also completely shut down bus transit as all vehicles remained in the garages.

Railway shut down in São Paulo (SP)

Mass Demonstrations

An estimated one hundred thousand took to the streets in a demonstration in Rio, a combative bloc of protesters including MEPR and Red Unit – Revolutionary Youth League (UV), who raised a banner that read “Neither Bolsonaro, nor Mourao, nor the Corrupt Congress, and out with the Reactionary Armed Forces!” The Army responded with severe repression, firing flash bang grenades at the crowd who responded with fireworks, bottles, and stones. A tank was also positioned on the street to intimidate demonstrators.

In São Paulo around fifty thousand participated in demonstrations where at least nineteen were arrested. In the interior of the state of São Paulo, in Campinas, another twenty thousand demonstrated, burning US and Israeli flags and raising anti-imperialist slogans as well as those of the peasant movement.

In Campo Grande, capital of Mato Grosso do Sul, twenty thousand people were mobilized, including indigenous people, peasants, bankers, construction workers, technical-administrative staff, teachers, and students. A combative bloc composed mainly of students and teachers also set fire to US and Israeli flags and started chants against imperialism.

Belo Horizonte (MG) saw one of the largest demonstrations with an estimated one hundred and fifty thousand participating. There was strong police repression against picketing construction workers and a union sound car was seized in an attempt to disrupt the demonstration. Workers, students, and numerous revolutionary organizations including MEPR, Moclate, the Worker’s League, and the Fight for Socialism (LPS), made up a combative bloc.