top of page

Brazil's unions prepare for war with Bolsonaro

In 2017, the conservative Congress passed a labor reform bill that gutted workers’ rights, ended mandatory union contributions, opened the door to outsourcing and allowed bosses to negotiate directly with individuals, side-stepping unions. With Bolsonaro’s election, it got worse. Bolsanaro has lowered the minimum wage, dismantled labor law enforcement and is threatening pension cuts.

Bolsonaro is a former military captain who promised to fight corruption, violence and Brazil’s Left. He vowed to put guns into people’s hands, end activism and eliminate his political opponents. “You have to do away with unions in Brazil ,” he told reporters. Labor analysts believe the closure of the Ministry of Labor is a move in that direction.

The registration of unions now falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, overseen by Minister Sérgio Moro, the former judge who jailed ex-president Luiz Inacío Lula da Silva on controversial evidence, blocking him from running against Bolsonaro. In January, Moro announced he would choose a Federal Police officer to oversee union registration. Many fear Moro and his people may move to strip the registration of unions as a way to weaken labor organizing in the country.


Shortly after his inauguration, Bolsonaro announced plans for a first round of privatizations.

“We will quickly attract initial investments worth roughly 7 billion reals, with concessions for railroads, 12 airports and 4 ports,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.

In late January, the new privatization secretary, businessman Salim Mattar, announced plans to sell off $20 Billion in state shares of public companies, including Brazil’s state-oil giant Petrobras.

During a talk in late January, Mattar said that the Brazilian government is looking to auction the majority of Petrobras’s 36 subsidiaries in less than four years. The move would mean big money for Brazil now, but a loss of major government assets, investments, and profit, in the longterm. For oil workers it would be disastrous, with potential layoffs, outsourcing and loss of benefits.


Bolsonaro and his allies in Congress are looking to slash pension benefits and drastically increase the years of work required to earn them, in the name of staving off financial disaster.

The unions will fight

Unions across the country have promised to do everything to stop them, including a general strike, if necessary. Brazil’s unions carried out two general strikes in 2017 against the pension and labor reforms.Bolsonaro’s allies don’t yet have the votes they need, but they have powerful forces on their side, such as the evangelical caucus.

Unions, however, believe this is a fight workers can win. On February 20, thousands rallied against the reform in São Paulo and 11 other cities. Thousands more protested again on March 8, International Women’s Day, and another day of rallies is planned for March 22. Unions are laying plans for more protests in the coming months: printing materials, handing out flyers and locking in dates.

Photo: IndustriALL Global Union


bottom of page