Sao Paulo subway strike continues as World Cup looms

Police use tear gas to break up start of protest blocking access to city subway station

Protesters scuffle with police today outside the closed entrance of Ana Rosa subway station during the fifth day of a continuing metro workers’ protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Protesters scuffle with police today outside the closed entrance of Ana Rosa subway station during the fifth day of a continuing metro workers’ protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Mon, Jun 9, 2014, 13:15

Subway workers went on strike in Sao Paulo, Brazil for a fifth day today even after a court ruled the stoppage illegal, spreading chaos across the county’s biggest city just days ahead of the opening match of the World Cup soccer tournament.

The decision by subway workers, who are seeking a pay rise of almost twice the annual inflation rate, may trigger another day of record traffic jams in the city of over 20 million people.

Workers were to vote on extending the strike at 1pm local time (1600 GMT) following a downtown rally to be joined by groups representing homeless workers.

Earlier today, police used tear gas to break up the start of a demonstration blocking access to the Ana Rosa subway station in downtown Sao Paulo’s southeastern corner. Workers burned waste bags in protest of the detentions of several subway union leaders. No injuries were reported.

“The World Cup is not an excuse for us” to strike, Paulo Pasin, president of Fenametro, the country’s nationwide union of subway workers, told Reuters at Ana Rosa. “We want to reopen negotiations.”

The World Cup kicks off on Thursday as Brazil and Croatia face off at the Arena Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo’s north end.

Geraldo Alckmin, governor of the state of Sao Paulo, warned of massive dismissals following a labour court ruling yesterday that the strike is illegal. Workers lashed out at the ruling, fanning concern over potential clashes between police and strikers.

Analysts say Sao Paulo is gradually becoming a battlefield for dissenting political views, hampering the city’s economy and creating a climate of unease ahead of the World Cup.

Frustration with broken promises and the ballooning cost of new World Cup stadiums contributed to widespread protests that drew over a million Brazilians into the streets during a warm-up tournament last year.

This year, the largest demonstrations so far have been by homeless groups and striking workers using the backdrop of the World Cup to press their causes.

Workers want a 12 per cent pay rise, with the state’s subway company offering 8.7 per cent. With major subway lines closed since Thursday last, commuting in Brazil’s largest city has been chaotic.

“This whole thing is making my life hell. Many times during the day I have to switch buses and vans. I have missed work - and I know am not the only one,” Djalma Melo, who works as an office assistant, said near Ana Rosa station.

Police patrols were parked outside several other subway stations in Sao Paulo’s west and southeast corners, with no incidents being reported.

Reuters