By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
BAHIA – Black smoke rose high into the cloudy sky on Highway 101 in Itabatan, Bahia. A solid line of burning tires lay across the road blocking traffic for kilometers in either direction. A truck eased its way through the barricade and the ranks of protesters closed lines in solidarity. One of the protesters in the crowd cried, “Don’t let them through!”
Union workers from the municipality of Mucuri in the state of Bahia organized the barricade to protest against the laying off of hundreds of public servants. The workers, their friends and families were among nearly 1,000 people taking part in the protest on Tuesday afternoon.
A form was handed out to the crowd detailing expenditures of the Prefeitura over 2009 along with the names of contracted companies, many of whose bosses are accused of having close personal ties with the Prefeitura. According to the form, garbage collection costs were near R$667,000 over a period of eighty days while the costs of the 2009 Carnival were quoted at approximately R$800,000. The average public service worker in Mucuri makes between R$450 and R$700 per month.
Nely Varanda, the Director of SINDISERVIM, the Public Servant’s Syndicate of Mucuri, stated that the syndicates’ only demand was the rehiring of the public servants who had been laid off.
Out of a total of 1,900 public service employees, 586 teachers, nurses and other public servants had been laid off in a move protesters claim was not even legally executed. “They weren’t given sufficient warning or any compensation package,” explained the middle-aged husband of one of the laid-off workers who chose to remain anonymous. “We have three kids to feed – she just wants her job back.”
“Now they want to negotiate,” one of her colleagues announced as she spoke on the phone to the Chief of the Federal Police in the midst of a crowd of workers and their families. In response to a plea to end the protest she answered, “You have a responsibility for public patrimony.”
Despite the burning tires and black smoke, the demonstration was conducted peacefully. Union leaders handed out soda to quench thirst induced from the hot sun and burning tires. The protesters barricaded Highway 101 for nearly six hours, stopping traffic until a water truck was allowed to douse the flames and clear the road.
The small village of Itabatan was inundated with frustrated travelers seeking food and a shaded respite from the afternoon sun. Police seemed more concerned with trying to get the traffic moving than persecuting the numerous drivers who had spent the afternoon drinking beer at roadside restaurants.
Mucuri is a municipality in the southeast of the state of Bahia.