SAO PAULO – Police in São Paulo clashed with protesters and striking 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 subway station. At least 13 people were arrested.
Monday morning's demonstrations were coordinated between striking metro workers and a number of other organizations, including the Homeless Workers' Movement, which have recently organized protests of around 15,000 people.
São Paulo's subway workers have been on strike for five consecutive days, and are threatening to continue until Thursday's World Cup opening match.
A threat the local government cannot take lightly as the subway system constitutes the principal means of transportation to the World Cup stadium, known as the Arena Corinthians, although a suburban train line does also serve the venue.
In fact, São Paulo State Transport Secretary Jurandir Fernandes told Globo News, on Monday morning, that the decision to press on with the strike was “an insane step” to take, especially since a regional labor court has already ruled it illegal.
Measures were thus undertaken to undercut the subway workers’ current momentum.
The local government increased the daily fine to metro unions from $44,000 to $220,000 from Monday onwards. It also announced that 60 workers had 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” adding that the government's announcement of dismissals had “inflamed” the situation.
Protests are expected to continue, and have been called for June 12 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.
Among those in the front lines and coordinating with the subway strikers, the Homeless Workers call for the government to legalize a number of occupied sites around São Paulo and Brazil, and to provide help as part of the country's main social housing program.
The movement told 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.
In this case, the government, concerned with the movement's cohesion and ability to rally large numbers of protesters, is reportedly paving ways for the Homeless Workers’ demands to be met.
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.
Three of São Paulo’s five subway lines, known locally as the “metro,” are affected by the strikes, and around 30 of the 65 metro stations have been closed.
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 three million Brazilians to make their way to the country's 12 host cities, dotted around South America's biggest country.
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