Wednesday 21 February 2018

Striking Sao Paulo subway workers warn of walk out on opening World Cup day

Members of the Roofless Movement (MTST) join metro workers in a protest on the fifth day of a strike in Sao Paulo earlier today. Reuters/Stringer/Brazil
Members of the Roofless Movement (MTST) join metro workers in a protest on the fifth day of a strike in Sao Paulo earlier today. Reuters/Stringer/Brazil

Striking subway workers have gone back to work in Sao Paulo, but the union involved warned they could walk out again on Thursday - the day the city hosts the opening match of Brazil's World Cup - if workers fired over the strike are not reinstated.

Union members voted last night to temporarily suspend the strike they began last week, but also decided they would take a new vote tomorrow to determine whether to resume the stoppage.

Meanwhile, a union representing subway workers in Rio de Janeiro said members would vote later today on whether to strike.

The actions are a severe threat for World Cup fans because the subways in both cities are being counted on as the main way for spectators to get to the stadiums.

Union officials in Sao Paulo met the state government yesterday afternoon but failed to reach agreement. Subway workers went on strike last Thursday and threw already congested traffic into chaos in the city of 11 million.

The union's general secretary Alex Fernandes said it is giving the government two days to give jobs back to 42 workers who were fired over the strike.

Sao Paulo union members clashed with police yesterday when they tried to hold a rally in a central station. Officers used tear gas and muscle to push the strikers out of the station.

Altino Prazeres, president of the union leading the strike, said almost all of the 8,000 subway employees had been off the job. Marching with workers on a central street, he said they were not interested in disrupting 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."

Mr Prazeres said workers were willing to reduce their demand for a 12% pay increase if the state-run subway company offered more benefits, but managers refused. A labour court has ruled that the salary rise should be 8.7%.

A spokeswoman for the subway company declined to answer questions.

Sao Paulo state officials told reporters that 42 striking workers had been fired.

A Sao Paulo labour court over the weekend fined the union about £100,000 for the first four days of the strike and said it would add £130,000 for each day the work stoppage continued.

Other groups have supported the strike, saying workers deserve the raise and the government ought to invest more in public transportation, but many people are angry because of the longer commutes.

The subway strike was the latest unrest to hit Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup. Teachers remain on strike in Rio and routinely block streets with rallies. Police in several cities have gone on strike, but are back at work now.

There has also been a steady drumbeat of anti-government protests across Brazil blasting spending on the World Cup and demanding improvements in woeful public services. The protests that began last year have diminished in size but not in frequency, and they have sometimes disrupted traffic.

However, one of the movements behind recent demonstrations against the World Cup said it would not stage protests during the month-long event.

Guilherme Boulos, head of the Homeless Workers Movement, said the government had agreed to its demands for low-cost housing.

He said the government had promised to build 2,000 houses on land invaded last month by 5,000 people two miles from the Sao Paulo stadium.

The movement had pledged to stage massive demonstrations during the World Cup if its demands were not met.

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