Brazil strikes threaten chaos ahead of World Cup

Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – A wildcat strike by bus drivers in São Paulo continued for a second day on Wednesday, with many commuters struggling to reach workplaces and schools.

Drivers and conductors from five bus companies continued their walkout and protested at various locations, with buses lined up to block bus lanes and at least nine of 28 bus terminals out of action by early Wednesday evening.

The stoppages come just three weeks ahead of the World Cup, with other public workers also on strike with more threatening walkouts in the coming days that could weigh on the sporting mega-event.

“The State cannot be held hostage by a small group of people whether they are associated with a union or not,” the city’s municipal transport secretary Jilmar Tatto said, characterising the unofficial strikes and protests as “sabotage” and “vandalism”.

“The city of São Paulo cannot allow this type of behaviour,” Tatto said.

Analysts say disgruntled workers are taking advantage of the upcoming event to ramp up pressure on the government, but unions have said strike action is always a last resort.

The main bus workers’ union in São Paulo distanced itself from the wildcat strike, labelling it the work of “dissidents”. A planned strike was called off earlier this week after sides reached a deal on a 10% pay increase, but the “dissidents” are calling for salaries to rise by 33%.

Police are now investigating whether the unofficial strike action can be deemed illegal.

More to come

Local media estimated some 300,000 commuters have been affected on the second day of strike action. A total of 16 terminals were forced to close on Tuesday evening, choking many of the city’s bus services.

Chaotic scenes were witnessed in the city’s metro and local rail services, which have taken up much of the slack. However, these services might also go on strike next week, transport unions warn.

Professor Carla Diéguez, an expert on Brazil’s unions from São Paulo’s School of Sociology and Politics (FESPSP), said the situation will worsen as the World Cup arrives and will bring in other public sectors.

“These are opportunistic strikes but even though people’s commutes are disrupted, there is support from the public which sees what is happening as the result of government underfunding,” Diéguez told the Anadolu Agency. Underfunding of key transport infrastructure prompted mass popular protests 2013, she said.

“Smaller, union-led protests, some of which have adopted very confrontational and even violent tactics, have now taken the place of those mass protests,” Diéguez said.

The strikes will ratchet up pressure on both local and federal government and Brazil will see more uncontrolled, wildcat strikes, the union expert told AA, given how effective they are at bringing large swathes of the city to its knees.

World Cup threat

Strikes have also affected other public services, and not just in São Paulo.

Teachers have also continued their near-month-long walkout, which began on 23 April, and were joined on Wednesday by staff from a number of universities.

Wednesday also saw a 24-hour walkout by Brazil’s civil police over pay in at least 12 states, including in Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro.

The government has played down the industrial action by the country’s investigative police department, whose members are seeking a pay rise of up to 80%, according to the BBC.

However, threats of strike action during the World Cup by federal police – whose duties include overseeing immigration at international airports – and military police, charged with keeping order on the streets and responding to protests, are likely to cause more grey hairs for officials, despite the contingency plans they insist are in place.

Some 600,000 foreign visitors are expected to join over 3 million Brazilian tourists travelling around Latin America’s biggest country for the key football tournament, which begins in São Paulo on 12 June.

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