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Street Sweepers Strike in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro has recently made exciting headlines around the world, not for its beautiful beaches and carnival festivities, but because of a victorious strike carried out by the cities Garis – or street cleaners.

  Rio de Janeiro Introductory Tour

Together with local activists, the Garis were able to launch a city wide strike to protest the deplorable conditions they were under. Unsanitary bathrooms, bug infested food, and terrible wages were all factors that caused the strike to take place.

The Garis released this statement in support of their strike “We have suffered too long with poor working conditions, unsanitary bathrooms; we do not have adequate safety equipment and low wages. The situation is so absurd that in the breakfast served by COMLURB we’ve found cockroaches in the bread and spoiled milk.”

They added that “There is still moral harassment against workers. We are being coerced to work.”  The protest has provoked police intimidation and threats from the city government. They have even been forced to work at gunpoint.

Corruption is said to be rife in the police forces of Rio de Janeiro. Taking this into consideration, the strike is absolutely revolutionary for the Garis, who are said to be the lowest of the totem pole in terms of the class system in the city. In spite of verbal harassment, coercion, and physical abuse during the strike, the Garis managed to stay strong and they came out on top.

Image courtesy of Flickr

The strike was planned strategically and took place during the busiest time of year for Rio, during its Carnival season.  The strike continued to take place as residents complained about the numerous piles of trash filling the streets, getting larger by the day as the festivities moved on. Police tried to intimidate the Garis to get back to work but they didn’t let this stop them.

The city signed a historic agreement with the Garis, raising their pay from 802 reals to 1100 reals (204 GBP – 280.74 GBP), and their food stamps will be increased from 12 reals to 20 reals (3.06 GBP – 5.10 GBP).  In addition, none of the strikers will be fired, they will receive overtime pay, and they will now receive a health hazard allowance.

Even though they were struck with batons and attacked with tear gas they still fought for their rights and now they enter a new chapter in the workforce of the city. The Garis have truly changed the face of workers’ rights in Rio de Janeiro and there is no question that this will inspire underappreciated workers throughout the rest of South America and the world.

By Marco Lomazzo

Find out more about Frontier's projects in Brazil. Frontier has over 300 dedicated conservation, community and adventure projects worldwide so if you're thinking about planning your round the world trip why not incorporate a volunteer placement and give a little something back along the way?

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