Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Political and Labor Demonstrations in Brazil

Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Labor unions are among the concerns of investors and entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in Brazil. Learn in this article what does the law says about strikes, how they occur in Brazil and what its effects are.


The right to strikes is guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution and the workers are the ones deciding when to put it into practice as well as the rights being claimed. Strikes must be approved by the workers and not by the union, although in many cases it is the union that proposes the strike and workers only adhere to it.

The right to strikes is restricted to social claims, so they cannot be used for political reasons, for example. However, many unions are somehow related to political parties, as it is the case of Partido dos Trabalhadores - PT (Labors’ Party).

As strikes suspend the labor relations between employer and employee, workers on strike do not receive for the days in which they were absent. Workers who are members of a labor union do not have to justify their absence, but the same “benefit” is not granted to those who are not affiliated to the labor unions, so they must justify their absence by stating their support to the strike.

Also, the right to go on strike has got some exceptions. Although there is the guarantee that every worker can go on strike, the constitution states that public organizations and institutes cannot have all their members going on strike at the same time as at least the minimum amount of service must be provided. For this reason, we will not see a public hospital in Brazil closed because its workers are on strike.

Most common types of labor demonstrations

The first strike in Brazil happened in 1917, in São Paulo. At the occasion, the strike affected the city of São Paulo as a whole and was conducted by labor leaders who were adept to anarchist and socialist ideologies.

The main claims were higher salaries, improvement of the work conditions and the access to some rights. The workers were brutally repressed by the State, but even so the strike was a landmark for the working class movement.

These public demonstrations were also strongly repressed during the Military Dictatorship, that went from 1964 to 1985. At the beginning, the claims were only related to work conditions, but they quickly began to include political issues, claiming that they were necessary to the democratization of the country.

Just to give an idea of how the labor union was so strongly connected to politics, one of its leaders, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (known as “Lula”) was elected president in 2002 and reelected in 2006. The candidature of the current president Dilma Roussef was supported by the former president.

The right to strikes is granted to all workers in Brazil, but they are frequently observed among:

  • Teachers;
  • Bank staff;
  • Subway workers;
  • Bus drivers;
  • Federal police workers (agents and scriveners);
  • Highway police;
  • Anvisa and Ministério da Saúde employees;


Some workers cannot completely interrupt their activities. This is the case of public services rendered to the population, such as public medical care, transportation, safety and the distribution of drinking water. These restrictions are based on the continuity principle, that guarantees that the population has access to the basic services offered by the State.

In 2012, the military police of Salvador went on strike and the army had to go to the streets and perform the activities the military police was responsible for. At the occasion, minister Marco Aurélio de Mello, from the Supreme Federal Court, stated that their strike was illegal as the federal constitution states that police officers, firefighters and the army cannot go on strike or join a labor union.


Labor issues in Brazil have been one of the major hurdles for foreign investors and companies planning to settle in the country. Brazilian workers have some rights that are uncommon abroad such as “cesta básica” and a six-moth maternity leave. But allied to this, is the constant fear that employees will find a reason to sue their employers as a way to get some extra money or that they will go on a strike.

Also, the frequent strikes on public organizations and institutes increase the already astonishing bureaucracy to get anything done in Brazil.

Of course, a strike does not happen so easily. It requires organization, team spirit and a very well-articulated leader to put everyone together for the same cause.

Strikes bring several benefits to workers such as the access to rights, the reinforcement of laws, salary increase and decrease of the working hours. However, depending on who is on strike, the losses to the population are very jeopardizing.

Students of public schools, for example, will very rarely make up for the classes they’ve lost due to the teachers strike; when Anvisa goes on strike, for example, there is a shortage of medications at drug stores; when the subway workers go on strike metropolitan areas face severe chaos and absence levels increase; and, not to mention, when the police goes on strike, as it happened in Salvador, criminality goes out of control.

In 2012, in only three months (from June to August) at least 350 thousand public workers went on strike, constituting one of the major strikes in the Brazilian history. The effect of this strike reached health surveillance, customs clearance and border patrol. In financial terms, the strike loss has surpassed BRL 1 billion.