World Cup begins with strikes and demonstrations

Submitted by Matthew on 11 June, 2014 - 11:54

In the run up to the World Cup, the Brazilian city of São Paulo was rocked by demonstrations, riots and a subway strike.

Striking workers successfully closed over half the subway stations in the city, and are threatening to strike again on the day São Paulo hosts the first match of the tournament.

Angry that their wages have stagnated whilst the government spends billions on the World Cup, the strikers are demanding a 12% pay increase.

With large parts of the subway closed down, congestion in the city has sky-rocketed. At its peak, it is estimated that up to 125 miles worth of traffic jams clogged the roads, a problem that will be exacerbated as hundreds of thousands of football fans begin to arrive.

The government, keen to break the strike before the tournament takes off, has responded brutally — riot police have stormed the subway to evict picketing workers, even using tear gas in the underground stations.

The strike has received support from other labour movement bodies such as the Landless Workers’ Movement, and the union says that if police repression worsens, it will appeal to other workers to strike in solidarity.

The prospect of a widespread strike across different sectors, slap bang in the middle of the World Cup, would put enormous pressure on the Brazilian government.

It’s not only striking workers who have been faced with heavy-handed police repression. In a bid to assert control over the slums or favelas of the big cities, riot police have launched a series of violent raids. For some years, Rio de Janeiro police have been implementing a semi-military policy of “pacification” to wrestle control of the neighbourhoods from armed gangsters.

However, the brutality of the operations, as well as the corruption of the police force, have lead the inhabitants of the favelas to protest against the raids.

With the World Cup about to begin, the police have become more aggressive in a bid to stamp out unrest, in turn further inflaming the anger of those who live in the affected communities.

Brazilians have seen their government splash out enormous sums of money on a lavish sporting event, while millions struggle in poverty. With the eyes of the world focussed on their country, they are making their grievances heard.