Protests for urban mobility

Image: Clem Onojeghuo
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By FERNANDO BONADIA DE OLIVEIRA*

Comparison of complaints about the price of fuel and the increase in public transport fares

The recent increase in fuel prices led Brazil's institutionalist and partisan left to remember what they never understood: the June 2013 revolt. When comparing a price increase, which mainly affects the middle class, with the increase in public transport , which has always affected the poorest working classes, this left asks itself in posts on social networks: how did people take to the streets in 2013 because of 20 cents and now, in the face of the monstrous growth in the price of gasoline, do nothing?

In the first place, it is worth noting how frivolous this way of thinking is when ignoring the history of the struggle for a “zero tariff” led by the working class and, above all, by young people. The history of this type of struggle is not exclusive to Brazil. In Germany, in 1968, students from Bremen caused several urban riots over a fare increase; in Chile, in 2019, the increase in transport fares led to continuous acts, crystallized in street mobilizations that now culminate in the elaboration of a new Constitution. Screams against the increase in spending on urban commuting took place and, where democratic public transport does not reign, will continue to take place. Whether the motorized middle class wants it or not.

Second, the institutional left never puts the acts of June 2013 into proper chronology. She thinks of the struggling days of that month and subsequent months as if they were comets that never passed close to Earth. Remember, therefore, that before June 13, 2013, there had already been three acts in the city of São Paulo (06, 07 and 11/06). Such acts were not new in Brazil; in February of that same year, in Porto Alegre, relevant popular actions took place for the same cause. But for what reason did the fourth act in São Paulo, on Thursday night (June 13), cause, over the weekend, indignation to take over Brazil and the mainstream media newspapers to change their position from criticism of the street movement to the tone of praise and encouragement? We remember that day.

After three acts conducted by a number of young people who were tirelessly harassed and oppressed by police officers commanded by the Government of the State of São Paulo, the fourth act was held in a tense atmosphere, as the head of repression, Mr. Geraldo Alckmin, had assured (in the morning) that he would massacre the street demonstrations at night. Still in the afternoon, before the act, the journalist José Luiz Datena (everyone remembers this) had asked a question on his television program: “Are you in favor of protest with turmoil?”. To Datena's surprise, most of the audience answered yes. Even before the acts ended that Thursday, the National Journal exclaimed with Arnaldo Jabor: these protesters are nothing but playboys not worth “not even twenty cents”! However, the brutal scenes of police violence against the protesters have taken over the internet since Friday morning and, soon after, what we saw was an unending outrage taking over the entire country.

The media changed its discourse and began to support the acts. The keynote, however, was no longer the criticism of police oppression, which at that point was already practiced in all cities where mobilizations were made against the tariff or other agendas. The emphasis was on the fight against corruption, following, not by chance, the mea culpa made by Jabor at National Journal of 18/06 (in relation to the speech of the 13th), and his appeal for the country's young people to fight against the “PEC of impunity” that was being discussed in Congress. Behold, the "giant arose." And let's not fail to recognize: it was only at that moment that a good part of the party's left entered the movement headlong.

It is, as is clear, a strange left, which is always looking for a ride to hit the streets. A left, moreover, forced to deal with resentment, because on a certain night in June it had its party flags torn down by neo-Nazis that it still considers anarchists and members of movements fighting for zero tariff (precisely those who took a stand in its defense !). A left, I emphasize again, that has not understood the past and that is against any radical posture because it claims a democracy with low doses of conflict. A left that wants a light democracy, satisfied with a government supported by parties like the PP or similar, being able to have in the leadership of the political-economic boards representatives of big capital without the slightest problem. A left, in short, that takes the criticism of the radicals as if they were sabotage of their unfounded alliances.

Finally, the total nonsense: to assume as equal and complementary the fights for zero tariff carried out until June 13, 2013 and the “protests” against Dilma that started to occur in 2015 in the wake of the anger of the middle class against the gasoline defined at BRL 3,40. It's a lot of historical negligence for us to say that this comes from a conscious left. Therefore, comparing the current increase in fuel prices (which affects those who use motor vehicles) with the increase in public transport tariffs paid by those who do not use a car makes no sense at all.

It is evident that the increase in fuel prices will affect (and has been affecting) the increase in fares, but when they appear, these are problems of very different orders. As for the light and frivolous left, what matters is, in the style of Tom Zé, sending “the conscience along with the sheets to the laundry”, so everything is fine. Compare June 2013 to March 2022, and that's it.

*Fernando Bonadia de Oliveira is professor of philosophy of education at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ).

 

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