Striking subway workers threaten to bring World Cup to a standstill after clashes
Brazilian police and striking subway workers clashed yesterday as transport chaos threatened to mar the World Cup.
Tear gas was fired and union officials warned they may maintain the work stoppage through the tournament's opening match on Thursday.
Authorities are deeply worried about the strike because the subway is the main means of transportation for World Cup fans who will attend the curtain-raiser when Brazil takes on Croatia.
The stadium is about 20kms east of central Sao Paulo, where most tourists stay. Last year, a fare increase was reversed after violent protests broke out. Earlier, riot police firing tear gas forced about 100 striking workers out of the station as the strike threw Sao Paulo's normally congested traffic into chaos for a fifth day.
About half of the city's subway stations were operating, but with greatly diminished service.
"This is the way they negotiate, with tear gas and repression," said Alexandre Roland, a union leader, as he and others regrouped outside the station after confronting riot police.
Altino Prazeres, president of the union leading the strike, said as he marched along with workers on a street in central Sao Paulo that "we are not interested in ruining the World Cup".
"I love soccer! I support our national team. The point is not to stop the Cup," he said. "We want to resolve this today and all are willing to negotiate."
Prazeres said workers would settle for nothing less than a 12.2pc wage hike, which authorities have flatly refused. A labour court has ruled that the salary rise should be 8.7pc.
A spokeswoman for the subway company declined to answer questions.
Sao Paulo state's transport secretary Jurandir Fernandes told local reporters that 60 of the striking workers had been fired, but union officials said they knew nothing about any dismissals.
After being tossed out of the subway station by police early yesterday, striking workers marched in the city centre and about 400 gathered in front of the state government building housing the transportation secretariat.
A Sao Paulo labour court over the weekend fined the union $175k (€129k) for the first four days of the strike and said it would add $220k (€162k) for each additional day the work stoppage continued.
So far, the government-controlled company that runs the subways is offering an 8pc increase, and says it cannot go higher because fares haven't been raised for two years.
The stand-off with the Sao Paulo transport workers is the latest unrest to hit Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup. Teachers remain on strike in Rio de Janeiro and routinely rally and block streets. Police in several cities have gone on strike, but are back at work now.