After accepting the government’s offer of a 15.8-percent pay raise over three years, some 400,000 public-sector employees ended their month-long strike and returned to work on Monday. While the workers may have gotten what they wanted, popular patience with public sector workers and unions may be wearing thin.
The strikes started in May with university professors and in June spread to other sectors, causing widespread disruption. University students sat idle, wondering if they would have to repeat the academic year. Lines in airports were measured in hours, or kilometers, rather than minutes. Imports of food and medicines were stalled and visas delayed.
The public here has been historically sympathetic to organized labor; union resistance helped bring down the military dictatorship, and former President Lula da Silva, still wildly popular, started out as a union leader. But there are signs that, with these strikes, patience may have dwindled for a public sector that many consider too large and too coddled.
Folha has called repeatedly for a review of the right-to-strike laws, calling the strikes “excessive” and a “hazard to the population.” This aspect was not lost on the public: in an overpass above the main highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo someone reportedly hung a sign that read, “Police station closed—free passage for drug trafficking and arms.” The dry humor belied a serious threat: a separate 10-day police strike in the northeastern state of Bahia in February was said to have caused a spike in murders on the streets of the capital, Salvador.
Época referred to the Brazilian public sector as “giant and inefficient,” in the first in a series of color spreads that indignantly detailed some of the “supersalaries” of some of the most generously paid public servants. (“It’s you who pays,” ran the headline.) Estadão published a feature on the human consequences of the strikes, citing allergic children who are not receiving the special foods they need, dengue prevention efforts for Indigenous populations that had been stalled, and patients who were forced to wait for urgent bone marrow treatment.