Protesters urge general strike for World Cup opener

SÃO PAULO – Saturday’s anti-World Cup protest in São Paulo, the latest to be held under the #nãovaitercopa (“There Won’t Be A World Cup”) banner, might not have had the crowds of Thursday’s march led by the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), but it seemed to herald a change in tactics for the group and other protest movements: coordinating calls with the public sector for a general strike to disrupt the event and pressure the government.

Having seen the abilities of a range of official and wildcat strikes by public sector workers to wreak chaos across Brazil in the last two weeks, particularly action by São Paulo’s bus drivers which left 300,000 commuters without transport, the anti-World Cup group is now looking to join forces with those in public sector positions using strikes and pressure generated by the football tournament on the government as leverage to get their demands met.

A call for a general strike on 12 June, the day of the opening game of the World Cup here in São Paulo, is not entirely new, but it now appears to have found far wider support.

“We’re protesting against the World Cup, as the famous World Cup legacy of improvements to the country hasn’t come true, as they saw in South Africa, and as they’ll see in Russia and Qatar,” 17-year-old student Henrique Silva, a protest leader from the Território Livre movement, told me.

“We are changing tactics and together we are going to coordinate calls for the general strike on 12 June.”

It is, quite obviously, more a numbers game than any ideological thread joining them, besides general contempt at public expenditure on the World Cup.

When the anti-World Cup groups head out on their own, they are lucky to get 1,000 people right now. When the MTST calls a march alone, they normally manage around 4,000-5,000.

But when joined together and mixed with other groups and political factions, as Thursday’s protest showed, then we can see something more robust, of between 15,000 and 20,000, which starts to take on the look of the mass protests witnessed during last year’s Confederations Cup, when over a million people took to the streets in over 300 cities across Brazil.

Government figures have recently made light of the numbers of protesters seen in anti-World Cup demonstrations, but they are likely to have been rattled by Thursday’s protest, and we know the government takes the MTST seriously – a recent run-in over land near the World Cup stadium forced the president into a meeting with one of its leaders.

Despite the #nãovaitercopa groups’ chants that “there won’t be a World Cup”, most now realise the tournament is a done deal, and that they are powerless to stop it.

Most protests have shifted from “You can’t spend that money on the World Cup, it has to go on x” to “Well, if you’ve got enough money for the World Cup, why aren’t you spending it on x?”.

However, if the anti-World Cup movements join forces with disgruntled public sector workers and unions – and representatives were present at this protest – then they still have the chance to highlight their causes and turn the screw on the government, by disrupting the city both by marches on the streets and public transport stoppages at a time when Brazil is in the global spotlight.

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