Showdown between Metro Workers and Police Heats Up Days before World Cup

Carlos Vera, Staff Writer

The strike by subway workers in São Paulo, Brazil, took a violent turn on Monday resulting in riot police firing tear gas in a central commuter station.  Metro workers are currently on strike and demand that the government increase their salary with a 12.2% raise, while the state government is sticking to only an 8.7% raise. The strike in the past days has slowed down metro lines and created hour’s long traffic in the notoriously congested streets of São Paulo. The metro will be the primary means of transportation for participants at Brazil during the World Cup. Government officials worry that if the strikes continue, it could cripple transportation when hundreds of thousands of soccer fanatics descend on the city for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday.

Talks stalled and eventually broke down on Monday between government officials and union leaders. Jurandir Fernandes, São Paulo State Transportation Secretary, says it is on the union to decide what their next move will be. The dispute, which first started out about pay, now is focused on the 42 subway workers who were sacked on Monday for misconduct and vandalism. The President of the São Paulo Metro workers’ union, Altino de Melo Przeres Júnior has already stated members would begin working immediately as an act of good faith but ended his statement by warning the state government that if the fired workers were not rehired than the strike would resume on Thursday.

For better or worse, the state government is already planning to add buses to transport fans to the Itaquerão stadium on Thursday if the union decides to keep good on its promise. It is estimated that over 20,000 fans plan to take the metro for the upcoming match.

This is only one of the many challenges Brazil is facing for this year’s World Cup. In the past year, the coverage on World Cup preparations has been less about soccer and more about the reports of cronyism, corruption, and mismanagement by government officials and developers. Some Brazilians believe the government could better use the billions spent on the games investing in public transportation, public housing and education. In a country where soccer is seen as the nonofficial state religion, many Brazilians have quickly turned their excitement about hosting the World Cup to disillusionment and anger. Protests, riots, and demonstrations have been in the abundance this past year and a half. Metro workers are not the only ones protesting, as Native Indians and those displaced by World Cup preparations all have joined together in solidarity demanding that the government worry more about its own citizens than an overpriced game.

Countries duke it out every four years to win a bid to host the World Cup. Common knowledge dictates that a host country benefits from hosting the cup, especially for rising economic countries such as Brazil. In many ways, it is seen as an investment. A country shells out a couple of billions and in return it receives rock star coverage from the world, increase of tourists, and a bump in foreign direct investment. Yet, recent history has proven otherwise. For many in South Africa, the 2010 FIFA World Cup still leaves a bitter taste in their mouth, and was largely seen as an overly priced event that had more hype than returns. To be fair, there are benefits of hosting the World Cup. A sense of national pride increases and tourists do flock to the host country, yet at what cost? While it is debatable how much South Africa benefited from hosting the World Cup, it does leave one pondering if countries such as Brazil, which has a large income inequality gap, labor issues, rising inflation, and a growing real estate bubble could have spent the 14 billion for the games elsewhere. Brazil may soon learn that for some countries, hosting the World Cup is more of a curse than a blessing in disguise.

Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science.  He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.

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