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I Was Fired Because I Dared to Leave the Slave Quarters

For the original in Portuguese, by Célio Gari, published in Outras Palavras, click here.

Many garis (trash collectors) have been persecuted after winning historic victories for their rights as workers. The City has dismantled leadership and favored subcontracting as a form of revenge against the garbage collectors.

I worked fifteen years for Comlurb (municipal waste management company), and at the end of April I was fired. I was not the only one. Seventy-seven of my colleagues were also let go in the final days. All of the garis that committed the ‘sin’ of exercising their right to strike, who organized and decided to become visible, were punished. My friend, Bruno da Rosa, for example, was fired because he dared respond to one of the managers who acted as if he were a real-life slave driver.

One day before receiving the letter of dismissal, I participated in a public hearing titled ‘The right to strike and protest in the city of Rio de Janeiro.’ It was my first time in the City Council building and I was proud to be there. I wore the Comlurb uniform and I spoke of the dignity I feel carrying out my duties as a gari, cleaning the environment and taking care of the overall well-being of the city. I spoke of the victories we had won recently, but also of the retaliations we confronted. I spoke of the power of self-organization among the workers and of our discussions of the city we want, in spite of the difficulties imposed on us by the company, the municipal government, and our own union, none of which represent us.

Garis, activists, and professors are three groups of people that have been suffering from the oppression imposed on them by the City. We are being persecuted in our work spaces, criminalized by the police, and discredited by some of the press. The objective of the City is to subcontract the garis and tear apart the unity of the workers. They speak about beginning to subcontract, but its progress is already quite advanced.

This beautiful, festive city of Rio de Janeiro is going through a very difficult time of oppression. Rights are not respected anymore. Even when the law prohibits retaliation against striking, we are being run over. I was fired even though I was the head of the opposition party in our last union elections. Unfortunately, slavery and the dictatorship have not ended for many people.