Brazil’s 2018 Trucking Strike PARALYZED the Country: Here’s How America Could Face Similar LONG-TERM Disruptions
by Fabian Ommar
When I opened my browser and read Daisy’s article about a truckers’ strike threat in U.S., I felt a tightening in the chest. As the article mentions, we went precisely through that in Brazil less than three years ago. All I could think was, this is serious. And yes: it can be big. And ugly too. I’m here to tell this story. To give a heads-up about the risks, and maybe help you get prepared.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and the 5th in the world. Population 210 million, with ten cities over 1.5 million people. São Paulo alone (the biggest and richest) is 13 million souls. That is where I live, with its endless buildings, avenues, malls, parks, restaurants, traffic jams, pollution, and stress. Despite some obvious differences, I suspect someone from L.A. or N.Y. would feel quite at home here, or in Rio de Janeiro (7 million).
I mention all that to trace an important parallel
Even though the U.S. is bigger than Brazil in area (15%), population (60%), and economy (statistics vary between 8-10 times), both countries have a somewhat similar infrastructure and ground transportation model. Both are continental, urbanized nations (88% in Brazil, pretty close to U.S. 85%).
Historically, both have a logistics system largely based on roads and trucks, big and small, to transit and deliver products and goods.
Thus, when we talk about truckers, we refer to a crucial cog of the system. Not only that: it is a vast, capillary category of workers with colossal power, long and wide reaches, and high organization and mobilization capacity.
I see most of the world headed toward system instability right now.
System instability, strikes and what that leads to
The thing is, life in a “developing country” (a.k.a. 3rd world before the arrival of political correctness) is what I call a continuous, slow-burning SHTF. Inflation, poverty, violent transit, and crime. Joblessness, homelessness, significant inequalities. Suffocating bureaucracy, decaying infrastructure, and paralyzing levels of (big-size) government corruption and inefficiency. There’s a system in place, but it’s inconsistent and fickle.
This combination leads to a fractured society and a constantly dissatisfied population, which often manifests in protests. During periods of deeper economic turmoil, strikes become a frequent form of protest. That is what happened during the ’80s, and we have a very similar social, political, and economic arrangement shaping up nowadays.
Sure, things have significantly improved for the past 30 years or so, as it has for most of the world. Even with the big protests of 2013, which culminated in President Dilma Roussef’s impeachment in 2016 (the second in recent history – talk about political instability), things have been relatively good and stable for Brazilians in general.
But after the 2008 crisis, something started brewing on the roads, away from the eyes of society.
When transportation fails, everything STOPS
Deep discontents and long-running disputes about the soaring diesel prices/taxes and ever-decreasing freight tariffs reached a boiling point in late 2017. A formal protest against rampant corruption within the government was thrown in for good measure. The rulers of the nation turned a blind eye to the truckers’ demands. Then they decided to show everyone who really runs Bartertown.
On the 21st of May 2018, the entire country woke up to a nationwide truck drivers strike.
From the farm to the industry and back. From the production to the stores. Suddenly nothing moved. Food and fuel had to be escorted by federal forces to warrant minimum supply. Trucks lined roads for miles, practically isolating cities and ports (where ships accumulated). Strike evaders got attacked, their rigs burned or vandalized. Traveling became risky as blockades, gridlocks, and protests broke out in many places.
After only a couple of days, things started to get critical, especially in cities, as long lines formed at gas stations. Cars had to stay home, and public transportation was impaired. Police, ambulances, and trash pick-up got affected. Shelves emptied, driving some products’ prices higher. Soon people had trouble going to work or just moving around. Hospitals, restaurants, and commerce had trouble getting resupplied, wherever that was even a possibility. Suddenly we were facing a large-scale disruption in the production and supply chains.
The system is the people running it
Even though we tend to focus on things, it’s never just about food or fuel. But it is always about people. People are behind everything: production, services, goods. People need stuff, of course. But without people, there’s nothing, and then there’s chaos. It’s always the system you must worry about.
Without fuel, people can’t move, travel, work. The disruption caused by the sudden strike made people tense. When shelves empty and pumps dry, tension quickly turns into desperation and panic. I witnessed fights and brawls over gas and supplies. With the shortages came the protests. Looting and crime rose in some areas, making deliveries even more dangerous and worsening the shortages in those places.
We were fortunate in the sense that the government saw the seriousness and the potential explosiveness of the situation, intervening rather swiftly and decisively to put an end to the strike and get stuff moving again. Had it lasted any longer, no doubt things would have spiraled down.
Officially, the strike lasted ‘only’ 10 days. In reality, it dragged on
Not all truckers agreed about ending the strike over the deal accepted by the leaders. Heck, not even the government was entirely in accordance with itself about the deal offered (unsurprising). The army and federal troops were called to force remnants to comply. It took a while for things to go back to normal in all states and places.
And then there were the ripple effects, some of which can still be felt today. Fresh produce was lost: food, flowers, basics. Contracts were questioned and canceled over delays. Imports and exports got impacted. Tourism, public and private services were affected. In 2018 Brazil started to see a slow recovery after 2008 (not to mention subsequent years of crisis, mismanagement, and rampant corruption). According to some studies, the strike unwound those gains and hammered the 2018 and 2019 G.D.P.s down.
People usually don’t consider the effects of a strike like this. It has serious, disruptive immediate ramifications. But it has a continuous, tailing SHTF-effect that has a direct, lasting impact on the economy and thus on the population. Jobs, income, productivity, commerce, and the standard of living go down. Even with a tailwind, it takes years of hard work and sacrifices to recover from the impact of a 2-3% (or more) fall in economic activity.
All that just from a 10-day strike alone.
Here and there, past and present.
I’ve been following the situation in the U.S. because, well, America is the modern-day Rome. The entire world is heading more or less the same way. (I think it is the way of the 3rd world or the 70’s/80’s). And the importance of America in the international scenario is obvious. Of course, there are differences between countries, east, and west, all that. But people are people, and the basic economic structure is very similar across most developed and developing countries. And everything is interconnected.
Now imagine something similar happening in the current context. Even during normal times, when something like this starts, no one knows how it will unfold and when (or if) it will end. The strike can go nowhere, or it can snowball. It can spread to other areas and sectors.
After all, it is 2020.
Everything is deeply divided and highly politicized these days too. Yet this is not a political matter. I mean, it may be for the truckers and their supporters, their primary motivation to go strike. But for us citizens/preppers, it is a very practical matter.
Similarities between the strike of 2018 in Brazil and this threat in the U.S.
The backdrop is a deep discontent with the state of affairs: the economy, the politics, working conditions: possibly a few more undisclosed things and hidden agendas. We’re in the middle of a pandemic with boomeranging lockdowns and a crazy economic downturn. Things are volatile, to say the least.
I also spot the same pattern of mobilization and communication. There, as here, the whole movement seems to be organized and coordinated through social media. But let’s forget the form and focus on the content: the feelings of discontent and revolt in the messages are palpable.
An essential category of workers is sending a warning. Things can escalate and reach a tipping point if the government or someone doesn’t sit down and work on defusing the whole thing (if that is even possible, which we don’t know at this point).
What you can do
Whether you think this or that is fair/unfair, whether you are for/against X or Y in politics, and whether or not you support the truckers’ demands – know this strike can affect you and everyone around in many different ways. I say that not to spread fear but awareness.
We can’t control what happens, nor the outcome. But we can control how we react. Regardless of your ideals and beliefs, it is wise to take this seriously and be prepared.
Stay tuned: Search for news from reliable sources to remain updated. I’ve been following the U.S. situation closely. The Organic Prepper was the first place I read a warning of this. Look for smoke signs from the truckers on social media. Separate noise from the signal: government and authorities work in tandem with the M.S.M. to keep us blind and alienated. Don’t panic, but don’t get complacent either.
Stay on top of things: Do the work in regards to your city and your neighborhood. This may or may not become an SHTF event. There’s no way to know for sure. But it can be a good idea to work at the community level, coordinating resources and sharing information. Keep family and friends informed. Advise others on preparedness, positively, without spreading fear. People are more attentive these days. They usually react well when faced with potential threats, as long as they are honestly and objectively informed. Just remember to practice OPSEC and don’t give away your prepper status.
Be prepared. You have the forewarning going on for you. Back in 2018, almost no one around here knew about what was about to come. I didn’t, I confess. But I’ve been preparing and training since the crisis of 2008, so I had food, fuel, and cash to weather the strike and remain calm. I could even help others once I saw it would end shortly (again as OPSEC-y as I could). So if you don’t already, stock up on essentials for you and your family: basics, medicines, food, fuel, water, and some cash. A couple of weeks is a start. A month is better since it is winter up there in the north.
Avoid trouble. I’ll take Selco’s wise words and advise that you either leave to a smaller city or safer place before things get ugly (if you think they might) or stay home until it turns for the better. Usually, the closer to the production centers (i.e., rural areas), the better during these situations. If going that way, though, consider resources and mobility, so you are not isolated in case of a prolonged shortage. Either way, everyone knows how a trip to the gas station or grocery store can become risky business during shortages and riots.
Just don’t be there. I know I keep hammering that. But it’s because I consider it very important from a prepper’s perspective, in any and every case. Back in 2018, I was able to keep my routine (for the most part), going to work, and even doing my ‘Urban Survival Training’ walking the streets. Observing from a distance, I saw a lot of tension and craziness going on.
But it was 2018, and the world was very different. Things got weird during those days, even a bit dicey, yet not dangerous in most places. The institutions were far more reliable (for lack of a better word), allowing for an expectancy of return to normalcy at some point in the near future regardless of immediate turmoil.
For obvious reasons, anything out of the ordinary and with such explosive and broad-reaching potential taking place nowadays would have me twice as concerned, thus twice as alert and twice as prepared.
Remain alert. Since 2018 there has been an ongoing buzz about new strikes, threats, etc. Every once in a while, the press notes that truckers are considering/coordinating a new protest. That they are calling to remobilize, that they are again in discontent. It’s a fact: once something like this comes up, it’s here to stay, even more so in the current environment.
The strike may not start at the scheduled date. Who knows. But it doesn’t mean it won’t happen the next week, or anytime, maybe without warning. Whatever brought the truckers to this point is unlikely to go away. At least not in the foreseeable future, or until the whole situation improves vastly – which is doubtful in the short term, realistically speaking.
Remember the 80’s
In other words (and to cap it off), strikes and threats like these are something that should be on our watchlist from now on. That is my humble opinion, taken from history and the signals everywhere.
Stay safe. Stay prepared.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” (in his own words) that is living in a 3rd world country with recurring crises and all kinds of issues.
From these activities and his extinct blog came the e-book Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor