Rio de Janeiro’s Military Police are threatening a general strike in response to working conditions and low salaries. The movement is driven largely by Police Pacification Unit (UPP) officers who allege that they work more than seventy hours per week. The city’s firefighters and Civil Police may strike as well. The strike will begin on February 10th, a week before Carnaval, unless the city meets their demands, which include a meeting with Governor Sérgio Cabral and a monthly minimum wage of R$3,500 (approximately 2,000 USD). Military police officers throughout Rio de Janeiro state currently make between R$1,277 and R$1,471 (730 and 850 USD), the lowest salary in the country in this category. About 5,000 people turned out to support the strike at a protest in Copacabana on Sunday.
According to an article in Terra, a Military Police strike this month is “inevitable,” and will leave the “without routine policing” during Carnaval. The article quotes Corporal João Carlos Soares Gurgel, one of the leaders of the movement:
“Our leaders…hide behind cowardly regulations that allow them to arrest us if we rebel. Today we live in conditions comparable to slavery.”
Firefights and lifeguards declared a strike over the same conditions in June 2011 and occupied the Fire Department’s headquarters. Governor Sérgio Cabral responded by sending in the police’s elite squad, BOPE. Hundreds of protesters were tear gassed and arrested, and the salary dispute was never fully resolved. Cabral was criticized for referring to the strikers as “irresponsible vandals.”
According to Terra, it is likely that the government will rely on BOPE and the Shock Battalion to control this strike as well; these two divisions receive better pay and are more likely to be loyal. Gurgel responds:
“Because BOPE is well-regarded by society, the government thinks they can send them in to repress any protest, as they did with the firefighters. We have the support of some BOPE officers. They attended the protest on Sunday too. BOPE officers get good bonuses, but they know that if they’re shot in the line of duty and taken out of combat, they go back to earning the same as an ordinary policeman. We’re fighting to give everyone the bonuses they deserve.”
Colonel Erir Ribeiro Costa Filho, commander of the Military Police, is attempting to remedy the lack of communication that created chaos during last year’s strike. According to O Globo’s Crime Reporter, Jorge Antonio Barros, Costa Filho invited representatives of the striking factions to a meeting to discuss their demands, and created a commission to analyze current salaries and recommend changes. Barros suggests that the UPP program’s greatest asset–the fact that its officers are not a part Rio de Janeiro’s corrupt police culture–could undermine the government’s ability to control strikes. Young UPP officers “show a greater capacity for protest, because they have not yet been contaminated by the stagnation of older officers who settle for any benefits they’re offered.”