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Unions Try to Stop Brazil with Protests Against Temer and Reforms

Protest against president Michel Temer - Lula Marques/AGPT Protest against president Michel Temer - Lula Marques/AGPT

A general strike is sweeping Brazil this Friday for the second time this year. Why? Because Brazilian President Michel Temer, despite appalling approval ratings, is going ahead with proposals that would weaken labor laws and slash the country’s social security safety net.

The general strike is organized by the Central Worker’s Union, Popular Brasil, Fearless People, and a host of other social movements and worker’s unions, with protests planned to fill the streets Friday to demand his removal from office.

Various sectors will be participating, especially workers in refineries, operating platforms and distribution centers of state oil company Petrobras.

According to trade union sources, the strike will be held in São Paulo and the Federal District of Brasília by metroviaries, bus drivers and drivers, bankers, public and private school teachers, and federal public servants, among others.

It is expected that in the federal capital, the public transport system that serves around 1 million people daily will be shut down for 24 hours.

There are also actions coordinated in Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Paraná, Rio Grande do Norte, Maranhão, Ceará, Mato Grosso and Rio Grande do Sul, among other states.

While the impetus of the general strike is based on opposing Temer’s reforms, the overwhelming majority of Brazilians, 93 percent according to the latest Ipsos poll, reject Temer’s presidency.

Labor reforms proposed by Temer include the elimination of payment for worker’s commute from their contracts, a reduction in employer compensation for abuse, and allowing employers to reduce workers’ salaries while increasing their work hours.

While Temer’s vision of new labor laws would increase work hours, his radical proposal for pension reform would scrap the average retirement age of 54, making it mandatory that women retire at 62 and men at 65. He’s also proposing a 20-year freeze on public spending.

Enmeshed in a series of political corruption scandals and the general belief that his rise to the presidency was occasioned by a parliamentary coup orchestrated against Dilma Rousseff, Temer’s proposals aimed at stripping worker’s rights and pensions are finding stiff opposition nationwide.

Impeachment

Meanwhile, the corruption case against Temer reached Congress for the House of Deputies to decide whether or not to commence impeachment procedures.

Friday’s strike is not expected to be as forceful as previous acts of the same kind, because it will lack support from Força Sindical and UGT. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro demonstrations are expected by Friday evening.

Despite the president’s critical situation, his labor reforms seem to have a “life of their own” as it was moved onto the full Senate after approval by 11 votes to 8 in the Constitution and Justice Commissions.

The reforms – including the pension reform – will take place should Temer resign, Central Bank President Ilan Goldfjan admitted, trying to give confidence in the adjustment agenda to investors.

Temer’s Party of the Brazilian Democracy Movement (PMDB) suffered a resignation from a reform critic, the head of its bloc, Renan Calheiros, who aligned himself with the trade union centrals and opened a new crisis.

Calheiros accused the president of being ruled from prison by former deputy Eduardo Cunha, mentor of the impeachment to Dilma Rousseff last year, which cleared the way for the promotion of the then vice president. Rousseff herself has called for her impeachment to be revised, because “it is a plot by Cunha to put Temer in her place.”

Temer has already withdrawn from attending the G-20 summit next week in Germany in view of the charges against him.

“The labor reform carried out by the government makes work precarious, with loss of rights. It is unacceptable that a president wants to stay in power by approving the employer’s agenda, mainly because he has neither legitimacy nor morality and is the first president in office to have been charged with corruption,” said Vagner Freitas of the Central Workers’ Union (CUT).

The lab our bill is about changing wage bargaining, allowing employers and employees to negotiate without the unions’ involvement.

“We run the risk of returning to conditions similar to slavery,” warned former trade unionist and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) last week.

Temer Thursday night chose Raquel Dodge to be the countries new Attorney General after Rodrigo Janot’s term expires in September.

The House of Deputies must now decide whether to proceed with the impeachment or not. If yes, Temer will have to leave the office for 180 days and House of Deputies Speaker Rodrigo Maia would be sworn into the presidency.

tS/MP

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