BY SARAH LOFSTROM '19
Last week, the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court ruled police strikes to be unconstitutional. The ruling followed a high profile police strike that took place in February in the coastal city of Vitòria during which 100 people were killed, according to United Press International. Police officers in Vitòria initiated the strike to demand higher salaries. Brazil has experienced a decrease in public finances as a result of it’s struggling economy. Many states in Brazil are having trouble providing and maintaining basic infrastructure such as health, education and security services, as reported by Reuters.
During the 3-week strike that took place in February, the Brazilian Army dispatched armored vehicles and airborne troops to reinforce the 1,200 soldiers and federal police officers stationed in Vitòria, the capital city of Espirito Santos, a coastal Brazilian state. Ordinarily the city would have been patrolled by over 1,800 state police officers.
Schools were closed and public transportation was halted as the city was devastated by muggings, theft, car jackings and a sharp increase in homicides, as reported by BBC. Furthermore, according to Al Jazeera, the city faced $29 million in damages to businesses, including looting from stores. The strike and resulting spike in criminal activity occurred during tourist season and cost the state $100 million in lost revenue, excluding the property damages.
Ana Karolina Sousa ’19, who is Brazilian, feels conflicted on whether or no she supports the strikes. “It’s a good strategy short term for the police to get what they want but it’s not a good strategy long term. However, [the police officers] don’t have any other options at this point. The only honest policemen aren’t getting paid enough and they are risking their lives every single day.
The ruling prohibits federal and civil police officers, as well as firefighters, from going on strike. The presiding judges said that anyone working in the area of public security had no right to abstain from working because they execute “essential activity for the safeguarding of the public order.” Furthermore, the judges argued that security personnel refraining from working were “promoting anarchy, which is not allowed under the constitution.”
According to the BBC, union leaders representing federal police officers said in response to the riot that they would protest without work stoppages by handing in their bulletproof vests and duty weapons. Those who oppose the ruling do so on the grounds that public security workers without the right to strike are at the mercy of the government, with no constitutional rights for their defense.
The low wages and poor working conditions of the state police officers are exacerbated by the high level of corruption in the Brazilian government.
Sousa said “If I were living there and felt unsafe having my family members on the street, I would probably be for the ban. At the same time, I have the privilege of an outside perspective and I think that officers should be allowed to strike when the government is corrupt as it is. It’s really complicated.”