Dan La Botz writes to LaborNotes (highlights below, original article here):
Workers in Brazil—in heavy industry, services, the public sector, and agriculture—are waging a series of strikes and mass protests such as the country hasn’t seen in decades.
Driving the new labor upsurge is the strength of the country’s economy, the powerful position of unions in the society, and rising inflation.
Brazil’s economy grew at a rate of 5 percent in 2007 and 2008, and rebounded from a dip in the depths of the crisis to grow at least 7 percent last year.
“Workers in Brazil are not afraid of losing jobs, so they’re not afraid of striking,” said Brazilian-born Eduardo Siqueira, a public health professional and activist in the Brazilian immigrant community in Boston.
And strike they have. Since the beginning of September Brazil has seen strikes by bank workers, postal workers, teachers, and metal workers, including the auto parts workers at GM plants. Bank workers have shut down 8,328 banks in the country’s 26 states. Several of these strikes are ongoing. Now the Brazilian petroleum workers union says it may strike too.
With inflation at about 5 percent per year, many workers are fighting to catch up with rising prices. They are demanding big wage increases: metal workers want 9.5 percent more, bank workers 12.8 percent. Postal workers are striking against a new law that gives the Brazilian postal service the power to form partnerships with the private sector.
Brazil’s Powerful Unions
Writing in the Oil & Gas Financial Journal last month, an American executive who works in the Brazilian petroleum industry warned his colleagues. “To say Brazilian unions are powerful is a gross understatement,” he wrote. “In Brazil, workers automatically ‘join’ a union. A worker, by law, must pay dues that to union (one day’s salary per year). In Brazil there are around 18,000 labor unions, all deeply rooted in their respective sectors, with guaranteed dues to fund their operations and enormous political influence.”
The U.S. oil man’s shock at the strength of Brazilian labor oversimplifies the great complexity of the labor movement. Brazil has several labor federations, each with political positions a little different from the others, some left, some center-left, some centrist. These federations both compete and cooperate with each other, and lately, says Siqueira, they’re cooperating more than in the recent past.
The unions are pushing President Rousseff and her party to fulfill their promises to the labor movement and the poor. What will happen when the government proves unwilling or unable to do so in the face of the next stage of the unfolding world economic crisis could be explosive.