Brazil: Unions prepare for new general strike as government teeters on the edge

A protest in Sao Paulo demanding early general elections.
June 12, 2017

Brazil's trade union confederations have called for a new general strike to shut down the country’s largest cities on June 30 in protest at neoliberal labour and retirement pension reforms, as well as to demand the resignation of unelected president Michel Temer who is currently embroiled in several corruption controversies.

While international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have supported Temer's neoliberal proposals as being conducive to economic growth, the policies have been widely condemned as harmful to the interests of the poor and working classes.

The proposals come in the midst of a huge wave of layoffs, with unemployment reaching a record high of 13.6%, or 14 million Brazilians without jobs.

More than 35 million Brazilians participated in a general strike in late April to protest Temer’s economic austerity.

The latest call for a general strike against Temer – who only took power after what some call a parliamentary coup to remove former President Dilma Rousseff – follows revelations by Temer’s publicist that companies paid for a campaign to bring forward the coup against Rousseff. 

Elsinho Mouco, Temer's publicist for the past 15 years, told O Estado de Sao Paulo that JBS, the world's largest meatpacking company, had funded a campaign involving social media to help propel Temer, then vice president, to the office of the presidency.

Mouco said he received US$100,000 from Joesley Batista, owner of the JBS group. According to Mouco, Batista expressed his willingness to "help" those who wanted to oust Rousseff and offered to pay for a series of actions on social networks that were allegedly going to be paid by Temer's party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party.

According to Batista, Temer asked him to develop a project to help him improve his image on social media.

Batista has previously testified that he paid bribes for US$10 million to choose as head of the lower chamber Eduardo Cunha, widely recognised as the chief mastermind behind the parliamentary coup against Rousseff. Cunha is currently serving more than 15 years in jail for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. 

This comes a month after Temer admitted in a TV interview that Cunha opened the impeachment process against Rousseff because her party, the Workers Party (PT), did not protect him from an investigation over corruption charges.

Meanwhile, as multiple corruption scandals continue to swirl around Temer and his government, the country's top electoral court has relaunched a case that could remove the president from office over alleged illegal financing in his 2014 campaign as running mate to Rousseff. 

The accusations stem from an explosive wiretap, reported on May 17, in which Temer was heard appearing to give his approval to bribes to buy the silence of Cunha.

The bribes were intended to keep Cunha silent about embarrassing secrets that could jeopardise the legitimacy of Temer's presidency. In the leaked wiretap, Temer is heard telling Batista about the payments: “Look, you've got to keep that up.”

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has accused Temer of corruption, criminal organisation and obstruction of justice as a result of the wiretap. 

Temer faces separate accusations of irregular campaign financing and has also been named in the central corruption investigations, known as Operation Car Wash, probing a bribery scheme in the state-run oil company, Petrobras. 

According to the Brazilian Constitution, if Temer resigns or is dismissed, Congress must approve an indirect election to choose the person who will continue the electoral period that Rousseff began in 2015 and that ends on January 1, 2019. 

A new poll released on June 5 by the CUT showed that nine out of 10 Brazilians prefer direct general elections and 75% reject Temer’s administration. Temer’s government received a mere 3% approval rating.

The poll also revealed that former Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of the leftist PT would win free, democratic elections if they were held today. 

 [Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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