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São Paulo Unions Threaten General Strike for World Cup Amid Subway Protests

Days of subway strikes raise fears of transport chaos during tournament in Brazil; union leaders say other sectors could join industrial action

By Hannah Strange - The Telegraph, June 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Saturday claimed that protests ahead of the World Cup were part of a “systematic campaign” against her government, as São Paulo union leaders threatened a general strike to coincide with the opening of the tournament in the city.

São Paulo, which is due to host the opening match on Thursday, has been paralysed by days of strikes and protests by subway workers which have led to clashes with police and deepened fears of chaos for visiting fans.

The cost of staging the event - at an estimated $11.5 billion (£6.9 billion) the most expensive World Cup ever - has ignited public anger at economic woes, corruption and poor social provisions. But Ms Rousseff said that criticism of spending amounted to “disinformation”.

“Today there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup - or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us,” she said, without revealing who she believed to be behind it.

Police fired tear gas and beat back protesters at one São Paulo subway station on Friday night, leading Altino de Melo Prazeres Júnior, the head of the Union of São Paulo Subway Workers, to insist members would not be deterred and instead would reinforce their presence at key interchanges in the city.

He vowed that any further use of force by authorities would trigger a day of citywide industrial action to coincide with the first game of the tournament, which is to be held in the city on Thursday.

“If the beating continues, we are going to talk to all the sectors. If our people bleed, we are going to ask for help from the metalworkers, from the bank workers, and have a day of general strike at the opening of the Cup,” Mr Prazeres said.

The country’s largest unions – the Central Workers Union and Conlutas – as well as the Homeless Workers Movement, all pledged to join a wider strike if the violence continued, according to the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.

The police blamed the strikers for Friday’s clashes at the main station of Ana Rosa, insisting they were forced to act after fighting broke out between commuters trying to enter and strikers blocking their path.

“Ana Rosa station, one of the most central stations, was closed and numerous users tried to enter. Clashes broke out between picketing strikers and users and the police had to intervene”, a military police spokesman said.

The strike, in a dispute over pay and lay-offs, has brought gridlock to the Brazilian city with almost half of subway stations closed and 125 miles of traffic jams snarling the roads during Friday’s rush hour.

As the main transport link to the World Cup stadium in the sprawling city of 20 million people, the strike on the subway has raised concerns that fans could find themselves unable to reach matches.

It has also fuelled fears of unrest during the tournament.

On Saturday Brazil's Fifa executive committee member, Marco del Nero, played down the prospect of a general strike as "a minor problem", but the organisation's head of security, Ralf Mutschke, said he was concerned about the impact such action might have on the opening game.

Last year over a million Brazilians took to the streets during a warm-up tournament ahead of the World Cup and disgruntled workers have seized upon the international attention to press their causes. Indigenous groups have also joined protests in a number of cities as they seek to highlight environmental and land disputes.

Failures to deliver many of the infrastructure projects promised for the World Cup have only added to frustration ahead of the event.

Ms Rousseff in May called in the army to protect infrastructure and ensure security for teams and fans, after a bus carrying the Brazilian team was attacked by protesters.

100,000 police and 57,000 troops are to be deployed during the tournament.

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