In Brazil, a demonstration by striking firemen in Rio de Janeiro for better salaries and a career plan ended Friday, June 3, when the strikers invaded the fire department headquarters.
The governor of the state of Rio, citing a breach of military discipline, ordered the arrest of 439 of them. The Special Operations Battalion of the Military Police (BOPE) went into action and removed the firemen, taking them into custody.
On Saturday, June 4, governor Sérgio Cabral spoke at a press conference and declared that a salary recuperation plan is in effect. He explained that the average salary in Rio for firemen is 1,500 reais (US$ 952) per month, which should rise to 2,000 reais (US$ 1,268) at the end of the year as part of the plan.
An angry governor added that the arrested firemen will face administrative and criminal charges.
On Sunday, June 5, most of the arrested firemen were transferred to holding cells in city fire department barracks. It is reported that the leaders of the strike movement were being kept separately at the Military Police’s Internal Affairs Division in São Gonçalo.
In Brazil firemen are considered military personnel; they form a separate military corporation from the Military Police and the Armed Forces.
There are conflicting reports about the behavior of firemen who were not arrested. Spokespersons for the firemen say they will stand down and remain in their fire stations, only going out in cases of emergency. However, at fire department headquarters, officers say that all services have been normalized.
The fact is that some firemen have posted themselves on the stairs of the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (Alerj) where they are trying to drum up public support for their grievances – the salary increase and the career plan, plus a new grievance: the immediate release of their colleagues.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission at the Rio branch of the Bar Association (OAB-RJ) says it will monitor the situation of the 439 arrested firemen. The president of the OAB-RJ, Wadih Damous, told reporters that the salary grievances of the firemen were fair and legitimate.
“Their salaries are absolutely debased. They provide the city with good services and are well-liked by the population,” Damous said.
He added that the OAB-RJ would be closely watching the situation as there were reports that lawyers were having difficulties talking to arrested firemen.
“We want to see the rules of democracy and the constitution being respected by all. We need the parties to sit down and negotiate. We want to avoid abuses on both sides,” he concluded.
The president of the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District (Brasília), deputy Patricio (Workers Party, PT), who is also the head of a national association of enlisted military personnel, has announced that he is mobilizing firemen from around the country to travel to Rio in a caravan to show support for the 439 Rio de Janeiro firemen who were arrested.
In a statement, deputy Patricio declared: “In all states where there were recent strikes by police and firemen there were arrests, as happened in Rio. However, at this time, all the governors have released the strikers, except in Rio.
Therefore, on Wednesday, June 8, we will begin to mobilize military policemen and firemen from the whole country. We will travel to Rio in a caravan and negotiate with the governor. This is no longer a Rio issue, it is a Brazil issue.”
About 30 firemen spent most of the last night camped out in front of the Rio’s Legislative Assembly.
In a note on Sunday, June 5, the state governor, Sérgio Cabral, once again repudiated the demonstration saying that the forced entrance into the headquarters building was “a gesture of immense irresponsibility.”
Also on Sunday, there was a short demonstration by around 50 firemen on the Rio-Niterói bridge.
Monday, there was an assembly of firemen soldiers and corporals (Associação de Soldados e Cabos do Corpo de Bombeiros) to discuss the situation.
This strike by Rio de Janeiro firemen must be seen against the background of the debate on a constitutional amendment (PEC 300) that would raise the salaries of policemen and firemen in all states to the level of the salaries of policemen and firemen in the Federal District (Brasília), which are the highest in the country, and about three times more than their Rio colleagues’ wages. Initial salary for a Brasília fireman is 4,129 reais (US$ 2,622) a month.
The problem, for the government and governors, is that the estimated cost of PEC 300 would be billions and billions more than anyone can afford.