Alfredo Saad Filho – Center for Research on Globalization, 07/15/2013
The mass movements starting in June 2013 were the largest and most significant protests in Brazil in a generation, and they have shaken up the country’s political system. Their explosive growth, size and extraordinary reach caught everyone – the left, the right, and the government – by surprise. This article examines these movements in light of the achievements and shortcomings of the democratic transition, in the mid-1980s, and the experience of the federal administrations led by the Workers’ Party since 2003.
On 6 June, the radical left Free Fare Movement (Movimento Passe Livre, MPL), an autonomist non-party organization that has been active in the country for several years led a small demonstration demanding the reversal of a recent increase in public transport fares in the city of São Paulo, from R$3 to R$3.20. The movement was criticized by the press for blocking the traffic and making unrealistic demands, and the demonstration was attacked by the police. The MPL returned in larger numbers in the following days, and the police responded with increasing brutality, beating up demonstrators and passers-by indiscriminately, and wounding several journalists.
In two weeks, the demonstrations had exploded in size while also spreading across the country. They attracted well over one million people in hundreds of cities, and movements are still taking place almost every day, including a large national mobilization led by the left on 11 July. They involve mainly young workers, students and the middle class, and localized movements of poor communities and categories of workers with demands that may be more or less specific to their circumstances (bus drivers, lorry drivers, health sector workers, and so on).