Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Author: Hannah Robbins
Photo courtesy of NY Daily News
In May, Brazilian truck drivers went on strike to protest increasing oil prices. The strike lasted two weeks, continuing even after the main truckers’ union reached a deal with the Brazilian government. It persisted so long after the end of the deal that the government had to call out the military to break it. The strike was very severe and caused many problems around Brazil. During the two-week period, overland shipping stalled, food shortages became common across the country and hospitals and universities had to close their doors or alter their operating hours as a result of the strike. Drivers, who felt that the government was not doing enough to support them, even went as far as to block off roads.
As the strike progressed, the Brazilian oil workers’ union organized a walkout. The Brazilian government declared the strike illegal, but it commenced anyway. The walkout, combined with the strike, led to the resignation of Pedro Parente from the Petrobras oil company. Parente was the president of the Brazilian-based oil supplier. Currently, the Brazilian government has a majority share of the company, but many believed that Parente planned on taking steps to privatize the company. This fact, along with accusations of mismanagement, incensed the oil workers; their walkout was a call for his resignation.
Parente became president of Petrobras in 2016 after the Brazilian government promised that they would not interfere with oil prices. Since then, the prices have crept up to the levels that drove the truck drivers to protest. The drivers claim that fuel prices are so high that they can barely make a profit. Along with many strikes in the past, the drivers decided to stop work because they had nothing to lose. The strike proved to be beneficial, pushing the Brazilian government into action. While Parente resigned from his position to please the oil workers, the government took steps to temporarily lower oil prices. While this caused the value of Petrobras stock to drop by a significant 15 percent, it put the oil drivers back to work.
Brazil will have elections later this year, and the strike has hurt the current government’s popularity in the polls. The strike was very popular in Brazil, with an estimated 87 percent of citizens supporting it. Through their support of the strikers, the Brazilians show their own anger at the workings of the current government. President Michel Temer has a very low approval rating, and lowering the oil prices has not made him more popular. A new president will be elected in October, but many feel that most of the candidates are just as corrupt as the current president. One candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, who belongs to a far-right party, supported the strikers; many think that this will boost his polling numbers throughout the months leading up to election day. The strikes in Brazil have already brought great change, causing leaders to resign and the government to interfere in the oil business. The elections in October will prove whether this change is a temporary response, or a long term alteration in government function.