In May, Brazil was paralysed for ten days by the truck drivers’ strike for a reduction in the rising cost of diesel. The strike won wide support from the working class and the population and channeled the huge indignation that bubbles up against president Temer and politicians in general. “Someone had to do something”, was the recurring saying at bus stops, empty supermarkets, or at short-supplied street markets.
The truck drivers protested something that affects not only them, but all the people, especially the poorest. The increase in the price of fuel drives up the price of food and other products transported by truck and cooking gas, essential in the life of every Brazilian.
The reason for this is the current policy of Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, vary the price of fuel daily according to its price in the international market.. This benefits a handful of international shareholders on the New York Stock Exchange, while imposing a crisis on the majority of the Brazilian population.
Who are the truckers?
The Truckers are not a homogenous sector. There are employees of the big transport companies, the small owners of up to five trucks and self-employed truckers who own their truck.
60 percent of the self-employed have not completed high school, work 11.3 hours a day on average and have an average monthly income of US$ 1,200, like the income of skilled workers in the high-end sectors of the industry.
Out of the 1.4 million trucks more than 900,000 belong to the self-employed. If the strike, at the beginning had the support of the big transport companies, they retreated after the first government offer, but that offer was rejected by more than 600,000 self-employed drivers, who continued the road blockades. It is estimated that 600 road blocks continued and nearly 300,000 of the self-employed maintained picket lines.
Support for a military coup?
The mainstream press and Temer government tried to isolate and defeat the strike. One of the most repeated accusations was that the truck drivers supported a military intervention. This was because the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, a former military figure who backed the 1964 coup and advocates torture of criminals and the death penalty, has an electoral base among the truck drivers as well in layers of the working class. In addition, small fascist groups tried to take advantage of the strike to propagandise for a military intervention in the country.
However, real life proved those stories wrong. A real military intervention was taking place: against the striking truckers. The government sent the army to crack down on roadblocks, which was joined by the military police of the state of Bahia, whose governor is Costa Pimenta, from Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT).
Bolsonaro himself, who opportunistically declared support for the strike at first, soon came out against the roadblocks and called for a return to work.
The Left and Trade Union Bureaucracy
The truckers strike was a spark. The indignation against the government and the social war against the workers and the poor is increasing. Militant strikes, such as that of São Paulo and Minas Gerais teachers and the São Bernardo do Campo Mercedes Benz metal workers are an expression of this. The Bus drivers’ strike in Manaus was particularly explosive, with the population setting fire to buses in opposition to high fares.
The truckers’ struggle received unprecedented support. Many people brought food, water and blankets to the picket lines. Moto-drivers, stall holders, school bus drivers and others entered the fight, they blocked motorways and paralysed the streets in support. A survey showed that 87 per cent of the population supported the strike. There was a real willingness to stop everything. The country was on the verge of a popular rebellion.
However, the bureaucratic leadership of the large union federations such as CUT, Força Sindical and UGT not only did not call the General Strike, but offered their services to the government to negotiate the end the strike.
The oil workers began spontaneous sit-ins at several refineries during the strike. But the United Oil Workers Federation (FUP), a branch of the CUT, called off a 72-hour strike 24 hours later.
All conditions were in place for a general strike that could overthrow the government. This was the call of CSP-Conlutas, a minority and combative trade union federation, and the PSTU, IWL-FI’s Brazilian section. It was possible to unify the struggles in the country: for the repeal of the labour reform, for a 100 per cent state-owned Petrobras and to prevent any further attempt to reform the pension system.
This was the best way to end the rumours of “military intervention” and bring those who no longer believe that electoral democracy can solve their burning questions to the workers’ side. By refusing the call for a general strike and relying on the presidential elections in October, the trade union bureaucracy, the PT and even sectors of the PSOL leave the door open for the extreme-right to capitalise on this anti-regime feeling.
We will not pay for the crisis!
The truck drivers’ strike did not achieve all its goals, but president Temer joined the living dead in the Planalto Palace. He is completely demoralised and weakened. The working class, in contrast, feels empowered .
It is necessary to unify the struggles, to build a broad process of mobilisation of the rank and file to link the workers’ economic demands to the more general struggles for jobs and against the labour and pension reforms.
Brazil needs a popular rebellion and a socialist project to put the workers and the people in power, backed by workers committees, against the rich, the corrupt and the powerful.