Brazil: This is about public transport fares – but it’s about much more too

Sean Purdy, an activist in São Paulo’s Free Fare Movement, gives an update on events in Brazil

June 19, 2013
4 min read

saopauloThe movement on the streets of São Paulo. Photo: Movimento Passe Livre

Massive protests have exploded in numerous Brazilian cities in the last week over public transit fare hikes, preparations for the World Cup, political corruption and general frustration with the poor quality of public services.

On Monday June 17, there were huge demonstrations in 12 capital cities, including more than 100,000 people each in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In the capital city, Brasília, thousands of protestors invaded the national Congress buildings. There were sizable contingents of trade unionists (teachers, metal and chemical workers) and social movement activists with their own banners on all the demonstrations.

Despite massive police repression, the movement continues to grow, forcing municipal governments to the negotiating table over transit fare hikes and in eleven cities, including nine state capitals, promises by governments to actually lower bus fares. In São Paulo, the mayor has conceded that fare reductions are now on the table.

Majority support

Polls have shown majority support for the protests among the population and there have been demonstrations in solidarity from Brazilians abroad and their supporters in Berlin, New York, San Diego, Montreal, Washington and Dublin with dozens of other cities in North America, Europe and Asia planning similar demonstrations in the next week. Messages of solidarity from protestors in Taksim Square in Turkey have been sent which were reciprocated in the Brazilian protest on Monday with dozens of Turkish flags and placards with solidarity messages.

The Free Fare movement in São Paulo – especially high school and university students, but also trade unionists and activists from a broad section of social movements – organized the first protest soon after bus and subway fares were increased by 6 per cent on June 2.

The municipal government headed by Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT) claims that the increases are below inflation, but many analysts have shown that over the last twenty years the cost of public transit has increased well above inflation, making São Paulo the most expensive city for public transit in Latin America. Dozens of other Brazilian cities launched or re-launched similar Free Fare movements in the wake of the São Paulo protests. These movements dovetailed with mobilizations against the World Cup and other local issues.

After massive police repression of the demonstration in São Paulo on Thursday June 13, the movement spread even further across Brazil.

Growing dissatisfaction

The protests come at a time of growing dissatisfaction with the neoliberal politics of the two misnamed main parties in Brazil, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and the Workers’ Party (PT). Activists have shown that the politics of the two supposedly rival parties are exactly the same: making Brazil safe for business while neglecting the massive social disparities and inequality in the country. Politicians from both parties have condemned the Free Fare movement protests as has the Workers’ Party federal government. But many grass-roots activists from the PT have participated in the protests along with militants from PSOL.

At the same time as the protests against fare increases arose, activists across the country protested the preparations for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. Billions have been spent upgrading stadiums and thousands have been displaced from their homes in an effort which has boosted the profits of large companies and produced few benefits for the population.

Turkish parallels

As in Turkey, Brazil has recently experienced economic prosperity. Just like Turkey, however, economic inequality is staggering. The rich have benefitted proportionately more from the Brazilian “economic miracle”, but expectations have also increased among the population. Healthcare, education, public transport and other public services are still in a shambles and people are beginning to mobilize in large numbers. And also as in Turkey a relatively local and small-scale movement sparked off large nation-wide protests.

More demonstrations are planned in the next few days and militants are debating the next steps, including arguments for the necessity of strike actions in support of the Free Fare movement and against police brutality.

Sean Purdy is a member of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) and activist in the Free Fare Movement, São Paulo


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram


125