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One year on from the truck drivers’ strike: has anything changed?

. Apr 18, 2019
One year on from the truck drivers' strike: has anything changed?

In May 2018, truck drivers around Brazil staged a 10-day strike which brought the country to a near standstill. Protesting rising diesel prices, truckers blocked roads up and down the nation, causing food and fuel shortages in several cities. Animal breeders lost vast millions of livestock due to starvation and cannibalism, while an estimated 280 million liters of milk was spoiled. In all, Brazilian agribusiness lost around BRL 5 billion as a result of the 10-day stoppage.

Almost a year on, threats of another strike loom, suggesting that nothing has been done to solve 2018’s problems. Speaking to The Brazilian Report, Marcus Quintella, a specialist in transport at think-tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas, lamented the lack of progress. “When I go to give lectures, I’m just saying the same things I did last year,” he sighed.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Indeed, the situation is remarkably similar, with truck drivers once again revolting on the issue of rising diesel prices. Seeking to avoid a new stoppage, the government is trying to pander to truckers, with President Jair Bolsonaro intervening last week to block a bump in <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2018/05/28/petrobras-oil-prices-brazil/">diesel by Petrobras</a>, apparently without the knowledge of his Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. The move raised questions around government interference in Petrobras, and the state-controlled company lost a stunning BRL 32 billion in market value in a single day.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Petrobras eventually announced a smaller price adjustment in diesel on Wednesday, while the government pledged to create a new line of credit for truckers to assist with maintenance costs. The dispute has not been settled, however, and some union leaders have called a strike on April 29, while others have played down the possibility.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Evidently, this talk of a potential new strike is political,&#8221; said Mr. Quintella. He added that if it were seen from a technical point of view, there would be &#8220;permanent strikes&#8221; in Brazil. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;In better days, when the economy was doing well, there were no strikes. [Truck drivers&#8217;] costs were simply absorbed by a higher generation of cargo: drivers would drop off one delivery and already have another to transport in the opposite direction,&#8221; he explains. &#8220;Bear in mind, they faced the same infrastructure problems and drove on the same highways that they do today—nothing has changed.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s infrastructure bottlenecks</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The main conclusion arrived at by the Brazilian population after 2018&#8217;s strike was that the country is desperately dependant on truck drivers and highway cargo transport in general. The numbers are astounding in this regard, with 61 percent of cargo in Brazil being transported via roads. When considering iron ore and crude oil—which are not transported by road—highways&#8217; share of cargo transport surpasses 90 percent of the total.</span></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/559896816&amp;color=%230092cc&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With a country the size of Brazil, such domination of roads in the transportation of cargo forces truck drivers to take excessively long journeys, incurring a number of costs on the way, such as fuel, tolls, and vehicle maintenance. &#8220;What&#8217;s more, trucks aren&#8217;t even designed to take things over such long distances,&#8221; notes Mr. Quintella. &#8220;This transportation should be evenly shared out between road, rail, and waterways.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The government&#8217;s plans for the sector involve freeing up funds for investment by way of structural economic reforms, and promoting the involvement of the private sector in infrastructure projects. Marcus Quintella is skeptical of this plan&#8217;s chances. &#8220;The private sector needs all kinds of guarantees from the government, above all, political guarantees, a pledge that a given project will last for 30 years. Brazil has never given this kind of guarantee, ever.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;We would need a national infrastructure plan,&#8221; he says. &#8220;One that has constitutional guarantees and goes beyond whichever government is in office, and it would need to last. But can you imagine making a 30-year plan in Brazil? We can&#8217;t even manage one or two-year plans.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>2018 truckers&#8217; strike: a lockout?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As observers fear a new strike, a recent study has shed new light on last year&#8217;s stoppage and potentially points to why Brazil&#8217;s truckers remain so disgruntled. The <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Cristiano_Oliveira10/publication/329482332_E_cilada_Bino_Uma_analise_dos_impactos_das_medidas_tomadas_apos_a_paralisacao_dos_caminhoneiros_nos_rendimentos_de_motoristas_e_donos_de_caminhoes_no_Brasil/links/5c0a7505299bf139c745b051/E-cilada-Bino-Uma-analise-dos-impactos-das-medidas-tomadas-apos-a-paralisacao-dos-caminhoneiros-nos-rendimentos-de-motoristas-e-donos-de-caminhoes-no-Brasil.pdf">research paper</a>, authored by Cristiano Oliveira and Rafael Mesquita Pereira, both of the Federal University of Rio Grande, shows that the concessions made by the government to end May 2018&#8217;s strike ended up benefitting the employers of truck drivers far more than the truckers themselves.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since the end of the stoppage, these cargo transport employers have seen their earnings jump by 28 percent, while autonomous truckers have suffered revenue losses of 20 percent. This reinforces the suspicion, floated at the time of the stoppage, that the strike was in fact not a strike at all, rather a lockout promoted by employers for their own benefit.</span></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/451175997&amp;color=%230092cc&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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