Brasilia, May 26 (EFE).- Brazilian labor unions protested here Wednesday against the privatization plans of rightist President Jair Bolsonaro and demanded more financial assistance for the country’s poorest, who have been hardest-hit economically by the pandemic.
The demonstration was held outside the National Congress building in Brasilia and preceded the delivery of a document to legislative officials calling for an “emergency agenda” of political, economic and health care measures in Brazil, where Covid-19 is blamed for more than 450,000 deaths and restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic contributed to a 4.1 percent drop in gross domestic product last year.
In that regard, they demanded an expansion of the Covid-19 vaccination program – which has proceeded at a snail’s pace – to cover workers in the transportation and retail sectors.
The unions also expressed support for new temporary restrictions on economic activities ordered by governors and mayors, who have sought to slow the rate of new coronavirus infections amid warnings by health experts about a new wave of the pandemic.
Those actions have been slammed by Bolsonaro, who has opposed lockdown measures since the onset of the health emergency.
As a compensatory measure, the unions called for an increase in the federal government’s Covid-19 subsidy for the poorest Brazilians that now ranges from between 150 reais and 375 reais ($30 and $75) per month.
They are demanding the reinstatement of a minimum subsidy of 600 reais per month, which was in effect during much of 2020 but was cut due to a worsening fiscal situation.
The unions also want a halt to a privatization program being carried out by Bolsonaro, including plans to end state control of Latin America’s largest power utility, Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras (Eletrobras).
They say privatizations will only exacerbate an already high unemployment rate that currently stands at around 14 percent and will only improve, Bolsonaro’s administration acknowledges, once there is significant progress in the vaccination drive and an economic recovery takes hold.
Just 300 people took part in the protest, a reduced number that the unions said was justified to avoid large crowds during the pandemic.
Labor organizations have lost much of their former influence under Bolsonaro and his predecessor Michel Temer, with just 10 percent of workers currently affiliated with a union, according to official figures.
The union movement, however, now is eying a chance to regain loss ground in the October 2022 elections, when center-left former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a towering figure in Brazilian politics who ruled the country from 2003 to 2010, is expected to square off against a weakened Bolsonaro.
The approval rating of the incumbent, who famously dismissed Covid-19 as “a measly flu,” has plummeted due to his cavalier approach to the pandemic.
Recent polls show that the 75-year-old Lula, a one-time confrontational union leader who has been cleared to run after his corruption convictions were annulled by Brazil’s Supreme Court, would defeat Bolsonaro by a whopping margin of more than 20 percentage points in a hypothetical runoff. EFE