Brazil’s 2018 Trucking Strike PARALYZED the Country: Here’s How America Could Face Similar LONG-TERM Disruptions

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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. 

About Fabian

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

Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

Leave a Reply

  • It has begun.

    Fargo, ND has ‘teamsters’ striking against the food distribution center that delivers food to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
    Notably- Minnesota goes into ‘zero contact outside of your household’ lockdown at midnight about 36 hours after food distribution strike began.

    Time will tell how long it all lasts.

    Stay Free and Be Well

  • All true our society is only intact via trucking, no one has tools, seeds, animals or knowledge unless they go out of their way to be independent. The truckers threat seems kind of lame to me for now because they always take off the Thanksgiving weekend, so nothing gets moved then anyway, seems bogus to me.

  • “All that just from a 10-day strike alone”

    here’s a thought. imagine a politically-driven strike, targeting political populations, for political goals. sound like fun? hope so, ’cause that’s what’s going to happen. remember when the bolsheviks carried out all of the ukraine’s wheat and left the population to starve? the left would love to repeat that successful operation here.

    • That would be a neat trick.
      Hauling all that corn and wheat from all those flyover states to the coast.
      A lot of those flyover state types have more than a few firearms. And other various means of stopping those coming out of the cities to the hinterlands.

      • The government will buy the grain and the farmers will gladly sell it. No one will realize the final intent until it is too late.

  • “the production centers (i.e., rural areas)”

    you say “production centers” as if they’re independent or something. sorry, there are almost no independent “production centers” anywhere anymore. most “production centers” are banana republics, producing and exporting one or maybe two things efficiently and then importing absolutely everything else they need from other far-away banana republics.

    • Hi gman. Agreed, there are no independent production centers. Perhaps a few in some places, but not enough to matter.

      What I meant by that is absolutely nothing is either grown or processed in big or mid sized cities. These are as far from the chain of production of food and goods as it gets. Whenever the transport/delivery/supply gets disrupted, for whatever reason, big and densely populated cities get affected much faster and much harder. Because there’s essentially only one way to get stuff: the grocery store. If it’s not there people freak out. They lose it already if they can’t find their favorite iced tea flavor.

      Smaller towns in rural areas do have farms, big and small, more natural resources, less people (also more used thus better prepared to deal with production). That’s where it all comes from these days. For sure, that doesn’t mean there won’t be issues, or even that access to food, water or whatever is guaranteed. It just means more options, perhaps better chances and potentially less danger.

      That’s exactly what happened here during the strike. Rural areas suffered a lot less with shortages and also with issues between people. Can’t say it would be the same in case of a longer SHTF though. And I hope we never find out.

      • @Fabian O.
        You are correct.
        Out here in the hinterlands, the rural areas have more small and localized processing production. Can be anything from milk, cheese to beef, lamb, or hogs.
        For us, it is just fact of the matter.

        • Yup, same here. That’s my point. The big processing plants are spread out and near the crops, herds, etc. Always in rural areas.

          But those serve the big consumers i.e. big centers which concentrate not only the big supermarkets but also the big restaurants, big hotels, big malls with big food courts, big airports (and exporting as well). Too many people.

          Smaller communities are served by these too – big brands are everywhere – but also and in great part by smaller and local producers, organic farms, stuff like that. You can buy corn, fresh milk, even a live chicken and prepare it yourself on the day. Can’t do any of that in a big city.

      • “Because there’s essentially only one way to get stuff: the grocery store”

        I don’t know how it is in brazil, but here in the states that’s true for almost everyone everywhere. the hog ranchers buy their pork from the store, the butchers and meat packers buy their pork from the store, and the truckers buy their pork from the store. same for gasoline, corn, wheat, shoes, tires, pants, ammunition, canning lids, silver – everything.

        • Around here, in smaller cities you can buy directly from smaller producers. I remember doing the same in CA, CO, VT and various other states I’ve been to in US, don’t know how common that is anymore especially these days.

          Of course for industrialized and processed stuff everyone still have to go to a store. That’s the same in most places I’d guess. But food, especially fresh produce of all sorts (and water) are usually more readily available.

          During the strike the stores in these areas had less trouble than the ones in big cities too. It’s not just production but also storing/logistics are out of towns. When trucks stopped it wouldn’t move into big towns but some could still circulate inland.

          That, and the fact I’d be around in a much less populated area, are (to me) the main differences. It’s a matter of extending resources and gaining time, and hopefully staying safer.

          But sure, each one should adapt his/her strategies accordingly.

          • Fabian,
            I agree with you. I live in the boonies. In this area here in North Carolina, there are tons of farms which raise poultry, pigs, beef, and a variety of fruits and vegetables year round. Most of the farmers sell to the large grocery chains and slaughter houses but also directly to the public. Chicken can be at give away prices most of the year. I live within walking distance of a blueberry farm and across the way from someone who sells eggs, a short drive to a farmer who grows and sells to the public winter vegetables (which I purchased some today). Most of us in the county have well water and although we might be considered backwoods to some, I feel that even a non prepper in this area would have a better chance of getting basic needs than someone in more urban parts of this state.

            Interestingly today on my way to get the veggies one person who sells eggs had a sign that read “Out of Stock”. Could be due to winter and hens decrease in laying, not sure. Where I am is not perfect (go figure), but there are some advantages to living in the boonies.

            • @Marti,
              That is the way it is around here too.
              A number of small producers sell to local grocery stores, and the grocery stores advertise that fact.
              But direct sales takes ups quite a bit of our production.
              The middle man may not like it, but everyone around here appreciates it.

              And I know of no rancher, hog farmer or anyone else who buys from the store vs just processing their own.
              I slaughter and processed two turkeys myself just last week.

            • Marti,
              yes that’s what I see in most places. In that sense US is a lot like most other developed and developing countries, that’s why I brought this up.

              In my opinion there’s a reason for that: The ‘system’ = everywhere. The ‘grid’ = cities. There’s a lot less infrastructure (grid) in rural and less dense areas. This forces people to be less dependent on conveniences and comforts and become more self-reliant.

              If we look closely and give it some thought, most people from rural areas live at least partially as preppers indeed. They deal more frequently and in higher levels with basic issues of food, water, communication, power and even safety.

              And all that also makes them less anxious. When supply faults, they tend to panic a lot less (if at all) exactly because they are better prepared and have more options. isn’t that what preparedness is all about?

  • “Similarities between the strike of 2018 in Brazil and this threat in the U.S.”

    one of the highly significant dissimilarities is the fact that many of the truckers in america are in fact mexicans, given special dispensation to drive mexican trucks on american roads as if they’re still in mexico. likely they will ignore any “american” strike – or they could strike all on their own in pursuit of la raza’s goals.

  • All the big crime-ridden socialistic extremely unsustainable cities that rely on everything being imported are the places to avoid if you at all can. Very basic prep info.

    With the UN saying that 2021 will see “Biblical” level famines, and given that they run the world, they seem to be telling us what they’re planning – although certainly have a plan to deflect blame onto their enemies somehow, which will be dutifully said by all mainstream media, big tech companies, “fact checkers,” Wikipedia, etc.

    • “cities that rely on everything being imported”

      what group of people doesn’t have .95 of everything they need imported?

  • I’ve got chickens and ducks for their eggs. Down the road there is a rancher with couple hundred head of cattle,got my own well for water,1 acre to grow whatever,and heirloom seeds. On good terms with all neighbors. Got a bunch of ammo,too Bring it on

    • Sylvia have you bought chicken feed or duck feed ? Truckers bring that to the Tractor Supply for you. Or do you grow your own? Free Ranging only provides so much food and most importantly for eggs Protein. Before Purina chicken farmers needed a 50-50 mix of crushed dried whole corn and field peas to feed their flocks.

      Same question to your Cattle Farmer down the road.

      I’ve got ammo, bring it on? Really?? Seems folks that have seen the bloody end of the Spear are less interested in combat than you.

      Maybe are-reading of Selco’s comments might be in order. Violence is a tool best avoided when possible.

  • Oh geez. I love this site and have frequented it for year. I bought Selco’s book and subscribed to your newsletter. I love it. But this recent onslaught of ads is way too much. When I have to close multiple pop ups, videos, turn down the sound, and scroll past dozens of ads to read an article, it’s not a good experience. The banner shows a “pay me or i release the ad storm” is not cool. I know it takes money to run a site…I host 4 of them. But this is way too much. I sincerely hope you scale it back some soon so your wonderful site can be an enjoyable experience again.

    – a longtime reader

  • Stop the scare tactics, Fabian, and point to CREDIBLE THREATS, not SPECULATION. The “Stop The Tires 2020” trucker slowdown Facebook group has stated that its proposed strike, originally scheduled for 11/26-11/29, has been canceled because “now is not the time.” The food supply chain in the US should be fine for the time being, although we of course need to be prepared as a general practice.

    • Not trying to scare anyone Rex, sorry if I made that impression it wasn’t my intention. I’m just telling what happened here in 2018 and how it affected us so perhaps you fellow american preppers can be alert and prepared.

      This is a prepper’s blog, and you said it well: we need to be prepared as a general practice. I agree wholeheartedly. And hey – if the threats and rumors turn out to nothing, then all the better, right? That’s what I hope and pray for anyway.

      Stay safe 😉

  • Let’s not hype the fear factor. Independent truckers (owner-operators) make up only 11% of the total USA truck drivers. They just don’t have the clout that they did in the 1970’s (50 years ago). The vast majority of drivers today work for fleets. Walmart, for example, has its own fleet of trucks. If you work for Walmart and drive one of their trucks and take it upon yourself to go on strike in sympathy with the independents, what do you think will happen to your job? Try explaining that one to your wife . . .

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