Workers mobilized against the privatization of Brazilian state-owned companies have organized at least 14 strikes this year in seven states, shows a survey produced by the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (Dieese, in Portuguese) responding to a request by Brasil de Fato.
Dieese’s work mentions the 24-hour strike on October 3 led by workers of the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp), São Paulo’s Metropolitan Train Company (CPTM) and the Metro against the plans of Governor Tarcísio de Freitas (Republicans Party) to sell the companies.
The survey also cites protests in the states of Ceará, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Sergipe. In most cases, the strikes are against state projects to sell state-owned companies.
However, there was also a mobilization of workers in the oil industry against the sale of Petrobras assets in February and June this year. The June strike took place in Fortaleza, Ceará’s capital city, against the sale of the Lubrificantes e Derivados do Nordeste Refinery (Lubnor, in Portuguese), a privatization process negotiated during the government of Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party).
Two strikes by workers from the Brazilian Urban Train Company (CBTU) in Recife, Pernambuco’s capital city, were also mentioned. CBTU is a state-owned company responsible for the transportation system of four capital cities in the Northeast region. Discussions are being held about the privatization of the metro system in Recife, which is under the responsibility of CBTU, whose workers led the strike.
A survey carried out by Brasil de Fato shows that governors of six Brazilian states have already sold or given clear signals that they want to sell state-owned companies during their current terms. The states are: São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Minas Gerais, Goiás and Espírito Santo.
In July, Eduardo Leite (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) sold the Rio Grande do Sul Sanitation Company (Corsan); in that same month, Renato Casagrande (Brazilian Socialist Party) sold Espírito Santo's Gas Company (ES Gás). Ratinho Júnior (Social Democratic Party) sold Paraná’s Energy Company (Copel) in September.
Last month, the governor of Minas Gerais state, Romeu Zema (New Party), sent to the state Legislative Assembly a proposal for amendments to the Minas Gerais Constitution aiming to facilitate the privatization process of Minas Gerais Energy Company (Cemig) and Minas Gerais Sanitation Company (Copasa). Ronaldo Caiado (Union Brazil) sanctioned a law in September that authorizes the government of Goiás to sell Companhia Celg de Participações (Celgpar).
Dieese’s survey also points out workers’ mobilization against the possibility of privatizing the Sergipe Sanitation Company (Deso) by Governor Fábio Mitidieri (Social Democratic Party). Besides, there are workers’ mobilizations in the state of Santa Catarina, whose governor is Jorginho Mello (Liberal Party), against the privatization of the state’s energy system, known as Celesc.
Lula, in turn, cancelled the privatization processes approved by his predecessors Michel Temer (MDB) and Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party). In April this year, he removed seven state-owned companies from the so-called National Privatization Program (PND, in Portuguese) and three other companies from the Investment Partnership Program (PPI, in Portuguese), including the country's postal office (Correios, in Portuguese) and the National Supply Company (Conab).
Under the Lula government, Petrobras also suspended the sale of its assets. The Office of the General Counsel for the Federal Government (Agu, in Portuguese) requested the Supreme Court to consider unconstitutional an excerpt of the law that authorized the sale of Eletrobras and reduced the government's voting power over the company.
In the opposite direction
While the privatization of public service providers advances in Brazilian states, countries around the world are moving towards the renationalization of this type of company. According to monitoring carried out by the Dutch entity Transnational Institute (TNI), there have been 1,658 cases of renationalization of services around the world since the year 2000.
According to data collected by the TNI, from 2000 to 2010, 417 cases occurred – an average of 37 per year. From 2011 to 2021, there were 1,227 cases – an average of 111 per year, reaching 196 cases during 2016 alone.
"Indeed, after the pandemic, there is a tendency towards renationalizing companies", said Mauricio Weiss, an economist and professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). "It was observed that many countries were becoming dependent on others and that some privatized companies provided strategic services for their sovereignty."
TNI says the renationalization processes of water and energy companies were the most common. There were 393 cases of water companies becoming state-owned ones again and 383 energy companies were renationalized. Together, they are 46% of all the renationalization processes since 2000.
"There were notorious cases," added Pedro Faria, an economist and researcher at the Center for Development and Regional Planning at the Faculty of Economic Sciences (Cedeplar) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). "There was the renationalization of the energy Électricité de France, the country’s energy company, and discussions about the renationalization of the UK water and sanitation company Thames Water."
Improving services and reducing costs are the most frequent reasons for renationalizing companies.
The TNI survey is also based on indications from citizens about the renationalization of companies around the world. Therefore, it may not provide a complete overview of the topic and may even omit recently announced cases.
Edited by: Nadini Lopes e Thalita Pires