A strike by subway workers snarling Brazil’s biggest city threatened yesterday to disrupt the FIFA World Cup even after Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff denounced a “systematic campaign” against the tournament and her political party.
The work stoppage over wage demands by staff has caused massive traffic jams for the past four days in Sao Paulo as the city prepares to host the opening game.
With four days to go, authorities are hard-pressed to resolve the dispute before more than 60,000 fans descend on the Corinthians Arena for Thursday’s scheduled game between Brazil and Croatia.
The arena itself has been plagued by delays. Construction workers were racing to finish it before the opening whistle, wiping seats, checking beams and installing wiring in two temporary stands.
The city’s subway strike is the latest social upheaval to hit Brazil, where protesters angry at the World Cup’s US$11 billion bill have staged demonstrations.
Rousseff said the protests were orchestrated to derail her Workers Party (PT) before Oct. 5 elections.
“Today, there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup — or rather, it is not against the World Cup, but rather a systematic campaign against us,” Rousseff said late on Friday in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
Rousseff, a leftist political prisoner during the 1964-to-1985 military dictatorship, said that even when the likes of Pele led Brazil to glory, “[the nation] did not confuse the World Cup with politics.”
The president insists the money spent on the tournament will leave a legacy of modernized airports and transport infrastructure that will benefit Brazil for years to come.
However, much of the other promised infrastructure has been shelved, while five of the 12 stadiums have yet to be finished.
Rousseff’s popularity has taken a hit, with an opinion poll showing that her support for the October election dropped from 37 percent in April to 34 percent this month.
However, she still led the pack of candidates, with her main rival, social democrat Aecio Neves, falling by one point to 19 percent.
In Sao Paulo, a court was to rule yesterday on the subway strike’s legality, but the union said it could continue the work stoppage even if it lost the legal battle.
Workers have reduced a claim for a 16.5 percent wage hike to 12.2, but employers are offering just 8.7 percent.
The subway standoff led to a clash on Friday between picketing strikers and police inside a metro station, with authorities swinging truncheons and firing tear gas.
Last year’s Confederations Cup saw more than 1 million people take to the streets.
Although this year’s marches have been smaller, Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning captain Cafu said he anticipated more unrest.
“The political situation is boiling over — and I wish the talk could be of soccer. But that’s currently not possible given all the political arguments,” he said.
In Sao Paulo, people standing in a long bus line railed against politicians and striking workers alike.
“They should stop the strike. It’s hurting workers,” said Ademar Francisco do Santo, 31, a doorman wearing Brazil’s yellow team jersey whose commute was two hours longer than usual.
Carlos Alberto Torres, 63, a retired administrator of Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain, said the strike was political. He blamed corrupt politicians for Brazil’s problems.