Nationwide Strike Brings Brazil to a Standstill
Public transportation, schools and banks were closed across much of Brazil as unions led nationwide strikes to protest austerity measures.
Millions of people stayed home Friday, either by choice or because they could not get to work. Thousands of others came out onto the streets to protest and block roads.
In one of the largest demonstrations, thousands of people gathered in front of Rio de Janeiro’s state assembly and clashed with police who tried to remove them. Police fired tear gas while protesters threw stones.
Protests also took place in Sao Paulo, with reports of police using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear demonstrators blocking major roads.
The strikes were organized by labor unions that are opposed to proposals by the center-right government of President Michel Temer to change labor laws and the pension system, including raising the retirement age.
The president argues that the changes will help revive the economy and says without them the country’s pension system will go bankrupt. Unions say the changes will take away too many benefits from people.
The proposals are being debated in Congress and are widely expected to be approved.
The CUT union said about 35 million Brazilians did not show up for work Friday, more than a third of the working population. The number could not be independently verified.
The strike is Brazil’s first general strike in more than two decades. The 24-hour strike started early Friday, ahead of a long weekend with Labor Day on Monday.
Brazil’s economy is in a recession, with unemployment of more than 13 percent.