By Lucas Iberico Lozada
May 3, 2017
The strike, said to be the biggest in decades, was meant to rally opposition to an aggressive pension reform plan that would weaken labor laws and raise the retirement age by a decade—the centerpiece of an array of austerity measures put forth by President Michel Temer, whose approval rating sits at a dismal 4 percent.
As darkness fell in Rio de Janeiro’s historic center on Friday evening, the smell of tear gas hung heavy. It had been a day of mass mobilization across the country: more than a million Brazilians in at least 254 cities participated in a day-long general strike on Friday, according to organizers; more are taking to the streets today for May Day, a national holiday here. The strike, said to be the biggest in decades, was meant to rally opposition to an aggressive pension reform plan that would weaken labor laws and raise the retirement age by a decade—the centerpiece of an array of austerity measures put forth by President Michel Temer, whose approval rating sits at a dismal 4 percent.
The strike, organized by Brazil’s biggest unions, had perhaps the greatest impact in industrial capital São Paulo, where protesters were able to march through the city for hours; buses and services were shut down in Brazil’s other major metropolises. The hashtag #BrazilEmGreve (Brazil On Strike) had a wider reach on social media than the massive protests that led to Rousseff’s impeachment.
Brazilians have good reason to be angry. The country is in the grip of a years-long recession that has cast millions of people out of work; meanwhile, a long-running corruption investigation has revealed that every major political party received bribes from most of the country’s largest businesses in exchange for lucrative government contracts. The unelected, right-wing government of Michel Temer, who nominally came to power on the wings of an anti-corruption movement against the Workers’ Party (PT)—which governed from 2003 until last July—is revealing itself to be at least as corrupt as its predecessor. One-third of Temer’s cabinet ministers, and nearly every congressional leader, are currently under investigation on corruption charges; Temer himself has been accused of soliciting a $40 million bribe, though presidential immunity shields him from sanction for now.