By Benjamin Parkin, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On the eve of the World Cup, strikes continue to flare up across the country. In São Paulo, host of the opening game between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday, five days of metro strikes saw as much as fifty percent of the service closed, and led to as much as 600 km (372 miles, roughly the distance from New York to Washington D.C. in the U.S.) of traffic in the city, according to local reports.
However, in an assembly on Monday the Metro Workers’ Union voted to suspend the strike for two days, after 42 strikers were fired by the São Paulo Metro, and the metro is once again working at full capability.
“Whether we re-begin the strike or not on the 12th [Thursday] depends on the reintegration of the demitted workers,” said the union president Altino Melo dos Prazeres, leaving open the possibility of renewed action on the day of the opening game.
The State Governor, Gerald Alckmin, denied that the workers were fired because of the strike, referencing “other factors.” However, strikers alleged the move was a pressure tactic to stifle the action. “The government negotiated with a club in its hand. Our demission is political. [The government] decided to cut off some heads to stop the movement,” complained dismissed worker Bruno Everton to Globo.
Prazeres made clear that they will take advantage of the World Cup and October’s election to press for negotiations. “There is a World Cup here, the largest sports event in the world. The state government has elections at the end of the year. It has to negotiate. We have to face the government,” he explained.
A wide variety of public service workers have gone on strike in the lead up to the World Cup. The current metro strike in São Paulo was preceded by a bus strike that left a quarter of a million commuters without service, while a bus strike in Rio de Janeiro earlier in May saw only a third of the fleet in operation.
In addition to transport workers, school teachers continue to strike in Rio, while police, bank security, museum workers and garbage collectors have been on strike in states across the country. An eight day strike by garbage workers in Rio during the Carnival was widely hailed as a success, with the workers achieving their demands for higher wages and better working conditions.
Of the 57,000 federal troops being deployed across the country to assist with security during the World Cup, 21,000 are on standby to fill in for potential police strikes, though the Brazilian Police Confederation told the federal government that officers do not plan to strike during the tournament, which ends on the July 13th.
On Monday night, as metro workers in São Paulo ended their strike, the MTST (Homeless Workers’ Movement) celebrated a victory when the government agreed to meet its demands. The MTST, whose focus is to campaign for better housing conditions, is one of the most important forces in Brazil’s recent protests.
They recently organized a protest of 10,000 outside São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium, where the World Cup games will be played, and are responsible for various land occupations, including the 4,000 person “Copa do Povo” settlement near the Itaquerão.
“The collection of our agendas was met by the Federal, State and Municipal governments,” announced MTST’s national coordinator Guilherme Boulos. Among them include the development of the “Copa do Povo” occupation into social housing, and the participation of the MTST in the management and distribution of resources in the “Minha Casa Minha Vida” social housing program.