Historic victory of striking sanitation workers once again highlights the color of “place” in Brazil

Sanitation workers in protest in front of City Hall in Rio
Sanitation workers in protest in front of City Hall in Rio

Note from BW of Brazil: First of all, it’s necessary for readers to know that this particular story is from about two weeks ago and thus old news to anyone who lives in Brazil. But it is a story that speaks volumes about the endemic inequalities that have been and continue to be a continuous part of the country’s long history. Incredible how something like a sanitation workers’ strike can reveal so much about a country: elites that wanted to conduct its business as usual and workers who refused to simply be told to “get back to work” regardless of their working conditions and paltry salary.  

COMLURB on strike
COMLURB on strike

It once again focuses the spotlight on a Brazil that will be the center of the world in less than three months when the World Cup is scheduled to begin in stadiums throughout the country. It speaks to regular acts of brutality, oppression and disregard that a large segment of the population is continuously subjected to. Such oppression regularly leaves such communities in states of loss, sorrow and tragedy, as most recently demonstrated a few days ago. And if pictures are said to be worth a thousand words, each of the pictures taken from the week- long strike shows a face of Brazil that the media wants to pretend doesn’t exist.

Sign: "We are not trash"
Sign: “We are not trash”

In a previous post from last December, this blog featured a photo which displayed a glaring example of how “race” and “place” works in Brazil. One side of the photo showed a graduating class of medical students, overwhelmingly white. The other side, a photo of a large group of sanitation workers, overwhelmingly black. Obviously, for the casual reader or the uninformed, the photo could simply be disregarded as coincidental or for the hardcore racist, “proof” of black inferiority. Sure, someone could actually force themselves to believe this, but the racial majority in the medical student photo is repeated in politics, diplomatic careers, university faculties, television, magazine covers, journalism and many other areas of society.

Trash mounts in Rio during gari's strike
Trash mounts in Rio during gari’s strike

Regardless of what one thinks of the reasons for the overwhelming blackness of the street sweepers and garbage collectors, it is clearly not difficult to note the difference between the persons in the halls of power and those who clean up the mess. Slavery was supposed to have ended in Brazil in 1888, but judging from the color of the faces in power and those at their service, things haven’t changed very much. Exaggeration? Compare the images here, here and here with the photos in today’s post and keep in mind, this standard been in place for many years. 

6 de março - Moradores se esforçam para atravessar a rua sem pisar no lixo acumulado nas esquinas

Anyway, congratulations to the garis (sanitation workers) on your inspiring victory! You are clearly under-appreciated, but as your strike proved, Rio cannot live without you!!

Garis remain on strike in Rio, while garbage continues to pile up on the streets

The accumulation of trash was made worse by the added burden of Carnaval festivities
The accumulation of trash was made worse by the added burden of Carnaval festivities

A large part of workers that decided to continue the strike started in Rio de Janeiro three weeks ago to demand better wages and working conditions as the trash continued to accumulate and scatter throughout the streets of the city.

Mar6-Cinco dias após o começo da greve dos garis, o lixo se acumula pela cidade do Rio de Janeiro

According to Vinícius Roriz, president of the public company, of the 4,000 garis (street sweepers and garbage men) working the streets of the state capital, 65% are working, 35% stopped, either directly or indirectly, to defend the strike, being intimidated by the strikers or by making a so-called greve branca (white strike), in other words, going to work, but not taking to the streets.

A symbol of Rio's Carnaval and famous for closing the 2012 Olympics in London, Renato (Sorriso) Luiz Lourenço participated in the strike
A symbol of Rio’s Carnaval and famous for his closing routine at the 2012 Olympics in London, Renato (Sorriso) Luiz Lourenço participated in the strike

The percentage represents about 1,300 street cleaners with their arms crossed, well above the 300 number that the city of Rio admitted as having stopped.

Sanitation workers parodied a Carnaval procession during their week long strike
Sanitation workers parodied a Carnaval procession during their week long strike

On Friday (March 7th), the 7th consecutive day of strike, a group of about 500 garis – according to military police – protested in front of City Hall to say the stoppage would go on until Mayor Eduardo Paes accepted negotiating directly with strikers.

Besides initially refusing worker demands, Rio mayor Eduardo Paes was also caught on video throwing trash on the ground, against the law, in the middle of the strike
Besides initially refusing worker demands, Rio mayor Eduardo Paes was also caught on video throwing trash on the ground, against the law, in the middle of the strike

The strike, however, does not have the support of the Comlurb union majority, although some protesters have said that it does not represent the class and that they would not accept them as an intermediary.

During the strike, garis chanted, "in this Carnaval the mayor will sweep alone"
During the strike, garis chanted, “in this Carnaval the mayor will sweep alone”

The strike started on Saturday, but on Monday, the City announced an agreement to increase the wages of those workers by 9%, of up to R$1,224 reais, a value that doesn’t come even close to the 40% increase demand.

After strike, street sweepers collect 11,000 tons of garbage

Sanitation workers celebrate victory
Sanitation workers celebrate victory

The strike was ended last Saturday, March 8, after eight days that exposed working conditions of employees cleaning the capital amidst the mess of Rio’s annual Carnival. At the hearing, which ended the work stoppage, the city accepted the proposal to increase the base salary to R$1,100 reais (US$469) (an increase of 37% from R$802.57 or US$342), a 40% increase in insalubridade (danger pay) and an increase in meal vouchers from R$12 (US$5.12) to R$20 (US$8.53).

After more than a week on strike, sanitation workers celebrate victory
After more than a week on strike, sanitation workers celebrate victory

After the historic strike, Comlurb employees of Rio resumed their routine work on Monday with the support of over 600 vehicles and cleaning equipment, resulting in a collection of 11 tons of trash.

Workers react to news of victorious negotiations
Workers react to news of victorious negotiations

The day Rio cheered trash collectors

Victory in the historic strike suggests not losing hope in a country where Carnival helps bring down the gates of the Senzala (slave quarters) and dancing the samba in the doors of the Casa Grande (Master’s/Big House)

Workers end strike after city negotiates 37% wage increase
Workers end strike after city negotiates 37% wage increase

By NINJA Media

Over a thousand garis, mostly black, fathers and mothers, residents of Rio’s peripheries and favelas (slums), were cheered by locals on Sunday in an unforgettable rally that began in Rio City Hall and took downtown like an abolitionist orange wave. Because the first thing that Brazil needs to recognize is that the struggle garis stands against the most entrenched remnants of slavery in our society.

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There were successive attempts to disqualify the strike movement from both city executives and the corporate media, the faithful representatives of more conservative positions of an elite that is so slavish that is able to live with one of the most aberrant economic inequalities of the entire planet and even sponsor a genocide whose greatest murderer is precisely the State, through the Military Police.

Political cartoonist Carlos Latuff combines the gari victory with iconic goal celebration of the legendary Pelé
Rio’s garis in victory over Mayor Paes. Political cartoonist Carlos Latuff combines the gari victory with iconic goal celebration of the legendary Pelé

Vestiges of (military) dictatorship (1964-1985) and slavery repulsively combined in the same scene. But there shall be a dawn, there is hope and garis are proof! The struggle of the Comlurb workers touched the hearts of Brazilians and immediately won the support of the Rio population that, moved, saw as victorious the struggle carried out by them.

7 de março - Garis protestam em frente à prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro 2

They overcame a scab union. They overcame the intimidation and threats from the mayor. They overcame the demobilizing harassment of the media that insists on the ‘version offered by the sponsor’ at the expense of its own social function. They overcame the scourge of the tronco (whipping post) and the oppressive hand of the whip on their backs.

Striking sanitation workers celebrate victory
Striking sanitation workers celebrate victory

Whoever saw the Shock cars following garbage trucks, saw with their own eyes that the gari strike is an uprising of the senzala. It’s poor, black and working people here, inventing for themselves this country that is theirs. You cannot lose hope in a country where garis take advantage of Carnival to knock down the gates of the slave quarters and samba on top of the trash, in the doors of Casa Grande.

Congratulations to Rio's garis! For the struggle! For the victory!
Congratulations to Rio’s garis! For the struggle! For the victory!

Source: Terra,  Terra (2), Outras Palavras, R7, Gazeta Online, Agência Brasil – EBCBlack Women of Brazil

About Marques Travae 3237 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

4 Comments

  1. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess
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    • Thanks for your comment!
      And thanks for checking out and supporting the blog.

      In terms of blogging, the first rule would be to write about something you like very much! If you don’t have a passion for your topic, you won’t have the discipline to keep doing it and will become a task that you detest doing and will soon give up.

      Also, whatever the topic, try to narrow down your focus. For example, Brazil is an enormous country with 200 million people and too many issues and topics to approach. This blog focuses generally on issues of race and space for Afro-Brazilian women who are nearly invisible in the media.

      Now, think along these lines and get started!
      Good luck!

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