Brazil – From Transit Protests to a Mass Movement

In the last weeks Brazil has seen the biggest protests in 20 years. People, young and old, and especially the poor and working class, have taken to the streets to protest the arrogance of the Brazilian government which supports the wealthy elite against the population.

It all started with a fare increase. Across Brazil various city governments decided it was time to raise the bus fares by an additional 20 or 30 cents. But this attack was one too many. Public transport is often the only means of transportation for workers in Brazil. Small protests against the fare increases began in May, but by June 17, the movement had become a massive national mobilization. There were 100,000. Even after the protests forced many cities to repeal the fare increase, on June 20th, over one million people across Brazil came out to demonstrate. As one protester’s sign read: “30 cents was just the beginning.” The movement had gone far beyond its beginning and now people were protesting everything from corruption to poverty to layoffs.

The government responded by sending the national guard to put a stop to the demonstrations. The police were brutal, imprisoning thousands of protesters. It is no wonder that the fare increase was one attack too many. Brazil’s poor and working class have been under constant attack. The government has spent lots of public money on projects benefiting the rich. Brazil is currently spending $26 billion to host the 2014 World Cup. In addition, another $33 billion is being made available for the Summer Olympics of 2016. Huge construction projects are proposed including $12.6 billion for new stadiums. The games are designed to bring in profits for the corporations, but meanwhile social services including transportation, health care, and education are being cut.

Brazil was supposedly an “economic miracle”. In the last ten years, Brazil’s economy has created 50 billionaires and 150 millionaires. At the same time, the minimum wage for a worker is only $288 per month. Extreme inequality and widespread poverty are the real causes of the protests. The government in power is called the “Workers’ Party,” but they have proven themselves to be anything but defenders of the working class. President Dilma Rousseff, like Lula De Silva before her, has supported privatization of ports and railways, cuts to public services and attacks on workers. Recently Rousseff’s government has become the scene of a corruption scandal.

The struggle in Brazil is far from over. Almost overnight, people have mobilized in the streets, counting their numbers and discovering their power. Rousseff’s government has also been shaken by this movement, and is making promises and using police violence, anything to get people to go home. Brazil shows us that things can change overnight, and even a small fight, like over a fare increase, can lead people to lift their heads and stop accepting the daily suffering imposed by the wealthy and the government that serves their interests. When a struggle begins, there’s no telling how far and how fast it can spread.

BART and AC Transit

Just like in Brazil, workers in the U.S. are under attack while the wealthy elite and the corporations enrich themselves. Here in the Bay Area, AC Transit and BART workers face major cuts to their wages, benefits and working conditions. By July workers’ contracts at both agencies will expire. A showdown is definitely coming.

Will There Be a Strike?

That is up to whether management insists on imposing further cuts to workers and riders. But either way, we have to be prepared. AC Transit and BART workers need to build links in order to organize together to face what seems to be coming. And workers can’t ignore the impact of scheduling and line cuts and fare increases on passengers. Since a showdown is coming, this should be a joint fight for safe and accessible transit systems. We are all in this together.