SÃO PAULO – Police in São Paulo clashed with protesters and striking metro (subway) workers on Monday, just three days before the World Cup kicks off in the city.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, some of whom were blocking access to the Ana Rosa metro station. At least 13 people were detained.
São Paulo’s metro workers have been on strike for five consecutive days, and are threatening to continue their walkout until Thursday’s World Cup opening match.
The metro system is the main means of transport for football fans to get to the World Cup stadium, known as the Arena Corinthians, although a suburban train line (known as the CPTM) also serves the venue.
São Paulo State Transport Secretary Jurandir Fernandes told Globo News that the decision to press on with the strike was “an insane step” to take after a regional labor court previously ruled it was illegal.
The local government has increased the daily fine to metro unions from R$100,000 (US$44,000) to R$500,000 (US$220,000) from Monday onwards. It also announced that 60 workers have been sacked and that those who did not go back to work Monday, without just cause, would also face dismissal:
“They absolutely must be sacked and rightly so. It’s our duty,” Fernandes said.
However, metro union leader Altino dos Prazeres said the government would have to “fire everyone” and said the government’s announcement of dismissals had “inflamed” the situation.
The state metro company’s had offered an 8.8% pay rise but this was rejected by strikers, who are aiming for “at least double digits”.
Three of São Paulo five metro lines are being affected, and around 30 of the 65 metro stations were closed during the Monday morning commute, but some stations have since begun operating.
Some 4.5 million journey are made on São Paulo’s metro system daily. Those stranded by the metro closures crammed buses or went by car, adding to the city’s already-congested roads.
Monday morning’s protests were coordinated between the striking metro workers and a number of other organisations, including the Homeless Workers’ Movement, which have recently convened protests of around 15,000 people.
The Homeless Workers are calling for the government to legalise a number of occupied sites around São Paulo and Brazil, and to provide help as part of the country’s main social housing program.
Concerned at the movement’s cohesion and ability to rally large numbers of protesters, it is reported that the government is paving ways for their demands to be met.
The movement told they Anadolu Agency it is not against the World Cup, but wants its members to benefit for the long-promised social legacy attributed to the country’s hosting of the tournament. It also told AA that it could “radicalize” its actions if necessary.
Protests are expected to continued, and have been called for 12 June by numerous groups to meet outside the São Paulo World Cup stadium during the first match, as well as in other cities and at other junctures during the month-long tournament.
The government told local media Monday that it had a contingency plan in place in case public transport was disrupted, by strikes or protests, but refused to elaborate, although it understood this would include an emergency shuttle bus system.
Even though some protests have turned violent and are capable of causing widespread disruption, their scale is still far smaller than those seen during the Confederations Cup in June 2013.
Brazil is expecting an estimated 600,000 foreign tourists and over 3 million Brazilians to make their way to the country’s 12 host cities, dotted around South America’s biggest country.