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Sao Paulo metro workers suspend strike ahead of World Cup

© AFP

Video by Catherine CLIFFORD

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-10

Subway workers late on Monday voted to suspend a strike that crippled traffic in Brazil’s biggest city, but warned they could resume their walkout on Thursday, when Sao Paulo hosts the first game of the World Cup.

The union’s vote will come as a relief to commuters in the business hub of 20 million people as football teams, international media and fans from around the world fly into the country ahead of Thursday’s opening ceremony and the Brazil-Croatia game.

Around a billion people worldwide are expected to watch the opening game on TV, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and 12 heads of state and government will be in the stadium, which workers are rushing to finish in time.

Fans arriving in the city earlier on Monday were met by daunting traffic jams and other delays after police used tear gas to disperse the striking workers. Many waited for around two hours in lines for taxis at the city’s international airport and spent another two or three hours reaching their hotels.

“If this continues, it’ll be chaos,” Miguel Jimenez, a fan from Mexico, told Reuters.

The union decided to halt the five-day-old walkout after transport authorities fired 42 employees for “just cause” over actions they took during the strike, which was ruled illegal by a court.

“Whether we put down tools or not will depend on the re-hiring of the 42 workers,” union president Altino Melo dos Prazeres said after a heated debate among workers.

“I’m a fan of Neymar and I will root for the Cup,” he said. “Nobody here wants to mess up the Cup. But we see that there’s money for the tournament but not for the workers.” Workers are pushing for a 12 percent pay rise, well above the company’s offer of 8.7 percent.

A World Cup of ‘enthusiasm, problems and protests’

The walkout added to widespread concerns over whether Brazil’s government can prevent street protests and other simmering labour disputes from disrupting the Cup.

The South America country is expected to put on a good World Cup, but many Brazilians are angry over how much was spent and how the country still struggled to be ready.

Teachers and bus drivers have also staged strikes in Sao Paulo in recent weeks to demand higher pay. Analysts say the city is becoming a battlefield for dissenting political views, hurting its economy and creating a climate of unease ahead of the World Cup.

Frustration with broken promises and the ballooning cost of new World Cup stadiums contributed to widespread protests that drew over a million Brazilians into the streets during a soccer tournament last year.

World Cup organisers got a boost on Monday, however, when the homeless worker’s movement, which has organised most of the protests of recent weeks, said it had reached an agreement with the government and would not take to the streets during the tournament.

In a statement, Brazil’s government late Monday said it had agreed to build public housing units near the stadium as one of several concessions to the group.

“It’s going to be fascinating over the next few weeks to see how all these forces: enthusiasm; protests; problems, interact,” FRANCE 24’s Tim Vickery, who has been following the ups and downs of World Cup preparations from Rio de Janeiro, reported.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

Date created : 2014-06-10

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